Most banks will have to file electronic quarterly call reports starting in the third quarter, regulators said Tuesday.

The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council this week voted to require banks with assets of $50 million or more to submit their Sept. 30 call reports by modem or on diskette.

Banks with less than $50 million in assets, receiving a one-quarter reprieve, must file the Dec. 31 report electronically.

Switching from paper reports will save the government and industry time and money, regulators claim.

Roughly 70% of all banks submitted call reports electronically in the first quarter of 1997, and more than 87% already own the necessary software, according to the exam council.

In its original proposal made last November, the exam council proposed phasing in the requirement over three quarters starting in the second quarter of 1997. The agency said it delayed the start to give banks more preparation time.

Officials compressed the time frame because they wanted the changeover completed before the first quarter of 1998, when the contents of the call reports will be revised. To help small banks that complained about the added expense of electronic filing, the exam council added an alternative.

Institutions without a computer and a modem or software will be able to send hard copies of their call reports to the government's collection agent, Electronic Data Systems. EDS will convert the paper reports to electronic form. Banks also may hire outside software vendors.

"That should solve the concerns of the really small banks that said they couldn't convert in time," said Paul A. Smith, senior federal administrative counsel at the American Bankers Association.

Elizabeth A. Aaron, a regulatory policy representative for the Independent Bankers Association of America, said the paper filing alternative would help small banks as long as EDS charges a reasonable fee.

No price has been set, but it is expected banks will pay no more than $200 to $250 per year, said Robert F. Storch, chairman of the exam council's reports task force and chief of accounting at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Mr. Storch added that "down the road" regulators may consider doing away with the paper filing alternative.

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