The Office of Thrift Supervision on Friday granted a thrift charter to T. Rowe Price Associates Inc.

The Baltimore-based investment adviser to T. Rowe Price Mutual Funds said it would use the charter to market deposit products by direct mail, telephone, and electronically. However, the thrift said it does not plan to make loans or sell mutual funds.

The OTS attached several standard conditions. T. Rowe Price Savings Bank would have to get agency approval before expanding into new product areas, conduct securities brokerage activities in a separate affiliate, and have 40% of its board members from outside the holding company.

There are 37 applications from nonbank companies pending at OTS. Of that total, OTS said at least seven were filed by commercial companies.

As currently written, the financial reform bill would prohibit OTS from approving any applications filed by commercial companies after March 4 of this year. OTS said only two missed that deadline, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Federated Department Stores.

Two protests were recently filed against Wal-Mart's application to acquire Federal BankCentre, a $26 million-asset, one-branch bank in Broken Arrow, Okla.

In a letter to the OTS, John R. Stipe, president of Forrest City (Ark.) Bank, argued that the giant retailer has destabilized small communities by underselling local rivals and driving them out of business.

"The downtown areas of small communities across America reflect the demise created by Wal-Mart stores," Mr. Stipe wrote. "Wal-Mart now wants to do to banks, thrifts, and to the communities the same as they did the small retailers."

Inner City Press/Community on the Move echoed that argument and added that Wal-Mart's proposed mix of banking and commerce could create conflicts of interest and breach consumer privacy.

The advocacy group's executive director, Matthew Lee, also assailed Wal- Mart's Community Reinvestment Act plan as "skimpy" and accused Wal-Mart of trying to evade the more thorough review that would be given to an application for a new thrift. Wal-Mart filed its application in late June.

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