Delaying a controversial decision, the Office of Thrift Supervision said Monday it will take an extra 30 days to rule on a charter application from Travelers Group.
Regulators said the insurance giant's application for a thrift was "complete" on Aug. 26, which required the OTS to approve or deny the request by Friday.
However, an OTS spokesman said Monday that the agency has pushed back the deadline, giving itself until Nov. 24 to decide. "We need more information," said OTS spokesman William Fulwider. "We have the prerogative to extend our decision by 30 days."
Interest is intense in Travelers' application, which is expected to be approved. How the OTS decides this case should foreshadow how the agency handles charter requests from nine other nonbanks.
Securities and insurance firms are rushing to charter thrifts before Congress outlaws them. If legislation pending in the House is enacted, the thrift charter would be eliminated but existing unitary thrift holding companies would be protected. These grandfathered companies could become the only vehicles for mixing banking and nonfinancial businesses.
The latest request for a thrift charter was filed this month by London- based financial services firm B.A.T. Industries. According to an Oct. 6 application made public Monday, CT Financial Services Inc., BAT's Canadian trust subsidiary, hopes to charter CTUSA Federal Savings Bank in Naples, Fla.
BAT also is in merger talks with Zurich Insurance Co., Switzerland's largest insurance firm. The marriage would create one of the world's largest insurance groups. BAT also owns the third-largest U.S. tobacco company, Brown & Williamson Co.
The surge in thrift charter requests has caught the attention of the Senate Banking Committee. At a hearing today, Senate Banking's financial institutions and regulatory relief subcommittee is expected to query OTS Director Nicolas P. Retsinas about the pending applications.
Subcommittee Chairman Lauch Faircloth wants to know whether the agency is prepared to supervise an influx of diversified holding companies and whether these companies are committed to mortgage lending, an aide to the North Carolina Republican said Monday.
Travelers, which filed its application May 11, wants to convert its state-chartered commercial bank, Travelers Bank, Newark, Del., to a federal savings bank and offer trust services nationwide.
Travelers last month announced a merger with Salomon Inc. Travelers already owns Smith Barney Holdings Inc., the nation's second-largest retail brokerage.