The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has announced the third and final test phase for collecting bank deposit insurance premiums through the automated clearing house network.

The agency expects to complete the testing and work out any bugs before mid-1995, when it proposes to collect all bank insurance premiums via an automatic electronic debit. The FDIC board is expected to approve the move to ACH collections next month.

Currently, banks calculate their own premiums and then write the FDIC a check. Under the proposed method, the FDIC would calculate assessments, notify the banks of the upcoming debit, and 30 days later debit the 'account through the ACH.

Karen Lyter, director of network communications with the National Automated Clearing House, said, "We encourage the government to use private-sector solutions whenever possible instead of building new systems from scratch. The existing ACH network is a cost-effective solution that works and will save the FDIC money."

The 30-day advanced notification, she added, left enough time for banks to request changes if they think the number is incorrect.

In the early test phases, the FDIC has been using Goldpac ACH software, which is marketed by Heathrow, Fla.-based Fitech Inc.

Thus far, the Goldpac software was the only system used in the pilots, but officials with the FDIC said they will be looking at other software for comparison during the final test, which will begin in January.

In the initial test, the agency teamed up with 37 banks, and started notifying and debiting them through the ACH, using Goldpac's PC-based system to originate and receive the ACH transactions.

The early testing featured ACH credits, in which the banks authorize the payments. The second test introduced direct debits, in which the FDIC initiates the transaction and debits funds from the banks' accounts.

Connie Brindle, chief with the assessment operations section of the FDIC, said the initial ACH credit test had too many incorrect transactions. That factor, plus the realization that not all banks could initiate credit payments, ultimately led to the debits-only proposal.

"We were in an initial pilot where the credit process was tested, but it didn't work very well for us; it created a lot of errors," Ms. Brindle said. "In the second pilot, we really tried to stick with the direct debit, but some institutions either got confused or asked us if we could stay with the credit program, and we did so out of courtesy."

However, said Ms. Brindle, when the proposal goes before the FDIC board for final approval, "every intent is to run this through direct debits only."

Bankers have expressed mixed reactions to this FDIC move.

Randy Beckham, president of Montgomery and Traders Bank, Mount Sterling, Ky., said there were benefits for banks. He said the proposal meant that bankers would Spend less time assessing premiums.

"I'm certainly in favor of this concept," Mr. Beckham said. "At some time in the not-too-diStant future, we will all be living in a paperless society. Bottom line, it's an improvement."

But Todd M. Vallie, vice president with Prineville Bank in Oregon, had reservations about the ACH debit method because the bank was not the originator of the transaction.

"I Suppose it's another issue with me of the loss of control of how we're running this bank," Mr. Vallie said. "The debit bothers me because I'm not the one initiating the transfer."

He also believed the "30-day window" might not be enough time for banks and the FDIC to settle differences in assessments. Mr. Vallie also. wondered how long it would take for debited funds to be returned if the FDIC miscalculates.

"What will be my recourse?" he asked. "We're only a $30 million[-asset] bank, and I know how dealings with large agencies are."

"The difference from a banker's perspective is control," said Kawika Daguio, federal representative for operations and retail banking with the American Bankers Association. "Basically, bankers don't like to give it up."

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