How much progress has the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency made in the 13 months since Great Western Financial Corp. applied for two national bank charters?
By law, the Comptroller's Office has one year from the date it receives a completed application to deliver its decision. But the operative word here is "completed." In the OCC's eyes, Great Western's applications are not complete, so the clock hasn't even started ticking.
"This is clearly not being treated the way a regular application would be," said Brian Smith, director of policy and research for America's Community Bankers. "There haven't been any fresh policy issues over the last 13 months. The issue has been the same from the get go; the OCC just hasn't got going."
Back on March 1, 1995, the $44.6 billion-asset Chatsworth, Calif., thrift made front-page news when it asked the Comptroller's Office for permission to charter two national banks. Great Western's goal was to open bank branches at its 400-plus thrift locations in Florida and California, pay higher rates on bank deposits, and entice thrift customers to shift their funds.
As thrift deposits shifted to the banks, Great Western would avoid paying the 23-cent premiums thrifts are charged for federal insurance. As of Jan. 1, banks pay next to nothing for the government's backing.
But the OCC has sat on the applications for more than a year, delaying consideration to see whether legislation pending on Capitol Hill to remove the premium differential would pass and make the application irrelevant.
"We were expecting at various points throughout last year that a number of the key elements relating to the application would change because it looked like the law would change," OCC Chief Counsel Julie L. Williams said.
"But obviously nothing was changed by the Congress."
The OCC may finally be ready to move on Great Western's applications. The agency requested updated financial data and Community Reinvestment Act plans in February. The material was received by the Comptroller's Office last week.
"It would be rash to speculate" how soon the agency will act upon the applications, Ms. Williams said. But she added: "We can't predict anything in particular is going to happen on the Hill, so we're sort of trying to proceed by focusing on the questions we have about the applications."
Gil Schwartz, a partner at Schwartz & Ballen, the law firm representing Great Western before the OCC, said, "I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes much more high profile in the agency now that there doesn't seem to be a legislative fix."
Great Western spokesman Ian Campbell said his institution may not wait much longer.
"I can pretty safely say we won't sit around for another year enduring higher insurance premiums," he said. Great Western executives are "looking very carefully" at shifting deposits to two BIF-insured state banks it owns in Colorado and Utah, according to Mr. Campbell.
Six other thrift companies, including TCF Financial Corp., Minneapolis, and Cal Fed Bancorp, Los Angeles, also have national bank charter applications lingering at the OCC.