WASHINGTON -- Bankers will be keeping a nervous eye on their mailboxes in the first week of December.

That's when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. will send out bills specifying the new premium rates that 13,000 banks and savings and loans will pay beginning next year.

Most executives already have a rough idea of how much their institutions will have to pay. But because the FDIC will use somewhat murky criteria for calculating premiums under its new risk-based pricing scheme, bankers won't know for sure until their get their bills.

Starting on Jan. 1, premiums will range from 23 cents to 31 cents for each $100 of domestic deposits, with weak institutions paying a higher rate. The average payment will be 25.4 cents, up from the flat 23 cents now charged to all banks.

In an interview this week, Roger Watson, a senior FDIC official, provided additional details about how the new system will work.

The Management Factor

For one thing, Mr. Watson said, the FDIC's bills will specify the agency's method of calculating the charge.

Capital ratios, which have received most of the attention so far, are just a part of the equation, Mr. Watson emphasized. How well a bank is managed is an equally important factor.

But management quality is harder to measure than capital ratios, Mr. Watson acknowledged. The main determinant for this half of the premium calculation will be a bank's Camel score and a thrift's Macro score, Mr. Watson said.

While FDIC officials have previously noted that an institution's supervisory evaluation will factor into its premium rate, Mr. Watson confirmed for the first time the importance of Camel and Macro in the calculation. These are the numerical rankings from 1 to 5 that institutions earn after regulators examine management, asset quality, liquidity, risk management, and operating results.

Countervailing Data

Mr. Watson, the agency's research director, said other factors may come into play if an institution's Camel or Macro rating is not up to date, including information on quarterly call reports, debt ratings, and announcements by the institution.

Some other major details of the new system:

* The FDIC will continue to collect premiums twice a year, Jan. 1 and July 1.

* Rates for each institution could go up or down each new billing period, depending on its performance.

* The FDIC will give banks and thrifts 15 days to notify regulators of any significant event that could affect its risk-based premium.

Possibilities, Mr. Watson said, include large loan charge-offs, a big lender-liability lawsuit, or a substantial loss from foreign exchange.

* The FDIC will notify a bank of its rate one month in advance.

* Increases can be appealed. Appeals concerning capital should be made to the FDIC, while appeals of supervisory ratings should be made to an institution's primary regulator.

Awaiting the Consequences

Bankers last week were wondering how supervisory ratings will affect their premium payments.

"Where are the regulators going to come down on making these distinctions?" asked Douglas H. Burr, director of accounting policy and reporting at PNC Financial Corp., Pittsburgh.

This first time around, about 75% of all banks and 60% of all thrifts will not experience any premium increase from the current rate, Mr. Watson said.

That's because they are well capitalized and have received a Camel or Macro rating of 1 or 2 in their most recent examination, placing them in the best of nine supervisory groups.

Price of Undercapitalization

Undercapitalized institutions with Camel and Macro ratings of 4 and 5 likely will fall into the worst supervisory group and see their premiums rise to as much as 31 cents.

Institutions with Camel and Macro ratings of 3 will fall into the seven categories that fall in between the best and the worst and pay 26 cents, 29 cents or 30 cents, depending on their capital levels.

Richard A. McNeece, chairman and chief executive of First National Bancorp., Gainesville, Ga., figures his banks will be in the adequate capital category.

But, like most bankers, because he does not know what supervisory subgroup the banks will be assigned to, he is not sure exactly how much he'll be paying in next year.

With $1.6 billion in deposits, First National's dozen banks could see premiums of anywhere from $4 million to $4.7 million.

"I really don't know how this affects us yet," he said. "I'm really looking forward to see how the weightings will work."

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