WASHINGTON - Cracking down on institutions with mediocre management, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is forcing more than 300 banks and thrifts to pay more for its guarantee.

With bills for the second half of 2000 mailed last week, the agency said 318 institutions will pay more for deposit insurance, including 273 that had been getting it for free. That is offset in part by 201 banks and thrifts with lower bills, including 170 reduced to zero.

"We want to make sure that the riskier institutions start paying premiums," Art Murton, director of the FDIC's division of insurance, said in an interview Wednesday.

The second-half assessments accelerate a trend started in early 1998. Today, 92.4% of 10,171 institutions receive free deposit insurance - the fewest since the second half of 1995. Still, those banks and thrifts hold 96.6% of domestic deposits.

Charging more banks and thrifts for deposit insurance will raise the agency's premium revenues roughly 10%, to $58 million, this year. That's $4 million in additional revenue for the Bank Insurance Fund and $2 million for the Savings Association Insurance Fund.

FDIC Chairman Donna Tanoue in March launched a high-profile campaign to reform deposit insurance, and said in a speech last month that banks and thrifts with risky practices have not been paying their share of premiums.

After noting the Bank Insurance Fund had its first annual loss last year since 1991, Ms. Tanoue said, "The banks that accounted for most of that loss were not paying premiums two years or less prior to their failures."

The FDIC began basing its fees on the risk an institution poses its insurance fund in 1993. It uses a simple nine-box matrix with one axis for bank management and the other charting its capital. Those banks and thrifts with the best managers and the most capital are slotted into the so-called 1-A category and receive free coverage. All other institutions pay 3 cents to 27 cents per every $100 of domestic deposits.

American Bankers Association chief economist Jim Chessen said the FDIC is headed in the wrong direction.

"If we start splitting hairs among institutions in the top category, I worry there could be a huge cost on good institutions that are healthy, well managed, and meet the needs of their customers," he said. "The goal should be to get 100% [of banks] into the 1-A category."

Bert Ely, an independent consultant in Alexandria, Va., praised the agency.

"The FDIC is telling banks, 'We don't believe your capital ratio numbers,' " he said. "The agency thinks management problems at some of these banks impair the quality of their assets. The problems aren't showing up yet, but they are thinking they will."

Karen Shaw Petrou, president of ISD/Shaw Inc., a consulting firm here, said the FDIC should move more aggressively. "When you have 92% of institutions paying no premiums, those in that [1-A] group that are risky are not disadvantaged," she said. "There is no incentive to be a better institution when it comes to deposit premiums."

The FDIC is expected to propose a series of reforms next month, including a possible overhaul of the premium matrix.

"We want to find out, Does 92% of institutions paying no fee for deposit insurance make sense?" Mr. Murton said. "Changing the premium system is just one of the options out there."

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