WASHINGTON - Striving to eliminate red tape, Comptroller of the Currency John D. Hawke Jr. was set to unveil plans for the agency's latest high-tech exam tool last weekend at the American Bankers Association annual convention here.

As part of an initiative called "Examination in the 21st Century," the Comptroller's Office is developing an online system that would let regulators remotely view bank documents and analyze data to reduce time spent in the institutions. Examiners could then devote their visits more to discussions with management.

"No longer will it be necessary for bank employees to compile vast stacks of paper for examiner scrutiny," Mr. Hawke said in remarks prepared for delivery Sunday. "Our examiners will be able to sit at the computer terminals at their duty stations and do the analytical work that needs to be done before meeting with bank management."

Though technical and legal issues will arise, Mr. Hawke said, he urged bankers to help examiners develop a technology that could benefit both.

"Online, real-time access to bank information holds the potential to further transform the supervisory process," he said, " - to reduce burdens on you and to ensure that the time of our examiners is spent productively and well."

Mr. Hawke did not establish a time frame for this project.

The comptroller also said the agency is in the midst of updating its National BankNet Web site to include early warning standards for monitoring banks' health, methods for calculating risk-based capital, internal agency reports, legislative and regulatory analysis, and economic and risk updates.

National BankNet is a secure Web site - available only to national banks - that is designed to improve communication between the agency and bankers. Since its launching about a year ago, the first BankNet application, called comparative analysis reporting, has been adopted by about 1,250 national banks that use the database to compare their performance with that of other national banks.

Further, Mr. Hawke said, the agency is continuing to improve Project Canary, an early warning computer system that rates national banks against 15 benchmarks, including credit and liquidity risks.

Project Canary is helping the agency focus on banks with the biggest financial risk and the most potential for problems, Mr. Hawke said. "Canary is meant to be a dynamic system that will constantly evolve to reflect changing circumstances and improvements in our understanding of risk," he said.

Separately, in a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference on Friday, Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers emphasized that regulators are keeping a close eye on what products and services banks offer to low-income people.

"Universalizing access to bank accounts" is among the top challenges of the new century, he said. "It is wrong that 25% of minority Americans do not have a bank account."

Mr. Summers said the Treasury and bank regulators are paying "more attention and focus[ing] more on the question of deposit-taking activities, as well as lending activities."

Michele Heller contributed to this article.


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