Some Colorado community bankers are upset over two credit unions' plans to expand in the Denver and Colorado Springs metropolitan areas.

Bellco First Federal Credit Union of Greenwood Village applied last month to change from an employment-based charter to a geographical charter so it could draw customers from the entire six-county Denver metropolitan area. Ent Federal Credit Union of Colorado Springs plans to file a similar application this month for the six-county area around its hometown.

About 220 federal credit unions have applied to the National Credit Union Administration to change their charters from employee charters to community charters since mid-1996.

Many applications are in reaction to a 1996 court ruling that restricted credit unions from growing by simply adding employee groups to their membership rolls, said NCUA Chairman Norman E. D'Amours. The court decision is being reviewed by the Supreme Court. But many credit unions want to switch to a geographically based membership as a defensive measure, he said.

The Colorado bankers, who historically have gone to battle over credit unions' tax-exempt status, said community charters for large areas would give Bellco First and Ent a competitive edge. If the NCUA applications are approved, the Colorado Bankers Association would consider suing the federal regulator.

"They're already competing with community banks head-to-head in many areas," said Don A. Childears, president of the state association. "This would only make it worse."

John G. Jackson, chairman and chief executive officer of State Bank and Trust of Colorado Springs, said he already competes against Ent and doesn't want the credit union to have the ability to attract more customers.

"They're very strong on the consumer side," he said. "They don't pay any taxes, so they can give their customers higher rates."

Mr. D'Amours would not comment on the likelihood that either application would be granted. He said the agency has not considered any other community charter application that covers a large metropolitan areas like Denver, which is home to more than two million people.

The agency is being sued by the American Bankers Association and the California Bankers Association for letting Point Mugu Federal Credit Union draw members from throughout Ventura County, Calif., an area that includes 670,000 people. The suit is pending in U.S. District Court in Washington.

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