California regulators want to amend the state's thrift charter to make it more appealing to federal thrifts fearful of an elimination of their charter.

Like several other state banking departments, California's wants the existing charter changed to make it least equal in powers to the federal charter, and better if possible-to make it an attractive alternative should the federal bank and thrift charters be merged.

Federal thrifts "may not want to become a national bank or a state commercial bank," said Conrad Hewitt, state banking superintendent. "We want to be on a parity, and we want to give the federal savings banks an option to convert if they wish."

The two thrift charters differ significantly in four or five areas, Mr. Hewitt said. For example, the federal charter allows up to 20% of assets to be in commercial loans and up to 35% in consumer loans. The state limits are 10% and 30%, respectively, but regulators want to adopt the federal rules.

Regulators have already discussed the proposed new charter with officials from California's federally chartered thrifts, who are "looking into it very diligently," Mr. Hewitt said. Officials hope to introduce legislation during the next month to accomplish any changes.

Thrift officials said they don't know any details of the state's plan but would consider a state thrift charter should Congress throw out theirs.

California officials "seem to be fairly interested in helping savings and loans," said Barrett Andersen, president and CEO of $398 million-asset SGV Bancorp in West Covina. "Nobody's switched yet, but they have had some dialogue with us."

But Larry M. Rinehart, president and chief executive officer of $2.5 billion-asset PFF Bancorp in Pomona, was skeptical that the state charter would be needed.

"I really can't see any reason ... why they would not combine the (federal) charters," he said. "It makes sense to me. I would be absolutely stunned if they didn't."

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