Community First Bank of Lansing, Mich., doesn't want to wait and see what will happen to its federal thrift charter.
The small thrift is the first in an expected wave of federally chartered thrifts to apply for Michigan's new state savings bank charter. "We're in the capital city, and the state regulators live and work right here," said Robert Becker, president and chief executive of Community First. "We feel we can work well with them."
Michigan bank regulators anticipate a flood of applications in the next few months as thrifts worry about the future of their federal charters.
Michigan, which created the state savings bank charter last year, is one of several states that established such charters in response to 1989 thrift bailout legislation.
Nervous about the future of the Office of Thrift Supervision, many thrifts have left or are considering leaving the federal agency for state regulators.
"This provides the thrifts with a degree of certainty," said Patrick M. McQueen, Michigan banking commissioner. "We expect to have a handful of applications pretty quickly."
Under the new charter, the state is the thrift's primary regulator and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is the secondary regulator.
The Office of Thrift Supervision regulates federally chartered thrifts and is the secondary regulator for state-chartered savings and loans.
The board of Citizens Federal Saving Bank in Port Huron, Mich., recently voted to apply for the new charter.
"We like the idea of working with local regulators who have experience auditing thrifts," said Duane Cutler, president and chief executive of Citizens Federal.
The state charter was designed last summer to allow the 27 thrifts in Michigan to keep their focus on mortgage lending, regardless of federal legislative changes.
Mr. Becker said he views state savings bank charters as a transitional step leading to a merger of the banking and savings and loan industries.
"When the industries are combined, we look forward to being a state- chartered bank," he said. "That's the way we are heading already."
Mr. Cutler said he is worried the thrifts could lose political clout in the states if they switch to savings bank charters and participation in thrift trade groups declines.
But Mr. McQueen disagrees. He said banks, thrifts, and credit unions tend to agree on legislative issues that affect the financial services industry.
"They won't lose any clout in Lansing," hesaid. "Nine out of 10 times, they are all on the same side of the political issues."