The Mississippi Banking Department last month got national accreditation from the Conference of State Bank Supervisors - ending a two- year examination.

"As we come into interstate branching and a sharing of supervisory powers between states, we felt accreditation was important," said John S. Allison, acting commissioner of the department. "We felt it would be a factor in making agreements with the departments of other states."

Accreditation from the CSBS does not come easily. The process, which the organization introduced in 1984, starts with an extensive self-evaluation questionnaire that examines all the department's functions and how well they are executed. A review team of veteran regulators then spends about four days on-site, analyzing all operations.

The process can last from six months to two years, depending on how high a priority it is for the department and what corrections need to be made. It costs $10,000, plus expenses for the review team's trip.

The banking departments in Arizona and New Mexico were also accredited this year, bringing the total to 38. In all, those departments supervise more than 85% of all assets in the country's state banking system, according to the supervisors group.

"It's become something that state banking departments realize they need for their own internal quality control and a way to demonstrate that to the other banking departments they'll be working with," said Ellen C. Lamb, a CSBS spokeswoman.

The process took so long in Mississippi because the department was told by the supervisors group that it lacked sufficient enforcement powers. It had authority to close down a bank but none of the intermediate sanctions, such as cease-and-desist orders.

As a result, the department asked legislators last winter to pass a bill giving it more enforcement powers - cease-and-desist orders, removal of directors and officers, and money penalties. The bill was signed into law last March.

"Even though it took a long time, we are better for it," said Mr. Allison.

The process was initially supported by Joseph Neely, who was state banking commissioner for several years until 1995, when he was nominated to be a governor of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

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