WASHINGTON -- The Federal Reserve Board has adopted seven measures to streamline paperwork requirements for bank holding companies.

Though the changes announced late Tuesday are mostly technical, they should make it easier for bank companies to merge and expand. They are in keeping with efforts by the Bush administration to weed out unnecessary rules.

The Fed said it will consider applications more quickly, provide early feedback on issues that raise questions, and delegate more decisions to the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks.

"They're not monumental steps," said Richard Whiting, general counsel of the Association of Banking Holding Companies. "But the changes are helpful and a good-faith effort to streamline the process."

More Leeway

The centerpiece of the changes would give the regional Fed banks full authority to process applications that are delegated to them. The Fed handles about 3,000 applications annually, including requests to engage in nonbanking activities, form holding companies, and acquire banks.

In 1991, only 34% were considered sufficiently uncomplicated to require no review by the board of governors in Washington. Fully 52% were handled by both the reserve banks and the board.

The duplication will be eliminated, the Fed said.

Other key changes would:

* Raise the threshold for reviewing potential anti-competitive effects of banks mergers. The Fed will routinely review mergers that produce a combined market share of 35%, up from 30%. Merged banks will also get six months to conclude divestitures, which until now have been a condition for consummating deals.

* Limit the time reserve banks can spend analyzing large or sophisticated proposals before an application is officially accepted for review. This "pre-acceptance process" can take months, and is sometimes perceived as a delaying tactic by the Fed.

* Give prospective applicants a chance to identify issues in an application that will raise concerns by permitting them to submit pre-filing notices describing their proposals.

* Permit well-capitalized bank holding companies to buy or redeem their own securities without notifying the Fed in advance. Currently, holding companies must notify the Fed before paying out 10% or more of net worth in 12 months.

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