OCC Widens Insurance-Complaint Sharing

WASHINGTON - The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has reached new complaint-sharing agreements with three states and the District of Columbia, bringing to 23 the total the agency has signed with state insurance regulators.The pacts with Illinois, Iowa, and Mississippi were announced last week by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The agreements are meant to encourage cooperation between turf-conscious state and federal agencies; they call for the OCC and state insurance regulators to exchange copies of any local complaints about insurance sold by a national bank.

"With the passage of [financial reform], state insurance regulators are forging ahead with our plans to regulate insurance products in this new environment," said George Nichols 3d, Kentucky's insurance commissioner and the NAIC president. "These agreements are a significant, historic step between these states and the OCC."

Jurisdictions remain intact. State regulators continue to investigate complaints about individual agents, whom they license, and the OCC confronts problems with the practices of national banks themselves.

- Dean Anason

Peoples-Banknorth Deal Deadline Extended

PORTLAND, Maine - Peoples Heritage Financial Group Inc. has pushed back the deadline to complete its $780 million deal for Banknorth Group Inc., in order to address regulatory concerns.The delay came after the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Banknorth's regulator, raised concerns about the post-merger company's risk management policies and staffing during a September examination.

The $13.6 billion-asset company extended its merger agreement with Burlington, Vt.-based Banknorth until May 31. The deal had been slated to close by April 1. If it is not completed by May 31, Peoples Heritage has agreed to pay Banknorth a $5 million fee.

But William J. Ryan, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Peoples Heritage, said he expects no problem meeting the new deadline. "We are confident that regulatory authorities will agree that our risk management procedures are adequate and will approve our applications," he said.

- Louis Whiteman

Visa Contest's Rebates Exceed $1 Million

SAN FRANCISCO - Three French hens, two turtle doves, and a gall bladder operation.The winners - more than 13,000 so far - of Visa International's Magic Moments holiday promotion have reaped more than $1 million in prizes, with winners pulling in credits for goods ranging from ski trips to surgery.

Catherine Carruthers of Winston-Salem, N.C., was reimbursed for an $8,600 family ski trip to Switzerland. Howard Korpus of Lafayette, Calif., got his daughter's $1,900 tuition at California State University.

Stuart Krone of Phoenix charged his wife's gall bladder surgery on a Bank of America Visa card and won the $2,600 cost of the surgery plus $2,600 in cash as part of Bank of America's bonus prize program.

One shopper, Debra Turner of Clayton, N.C., decided to share the wealth; she plans to give away the $2,400 she won for buying her daughter's computer. "It was a really nice surprise at the holidays. I will definitely help a needy family with the winnings," she said.

The contest, in which Visa reimburses purchases that occur at a randomly selected second each day, runs through Dec. 31.

- Miriam Kreinin Souccar

Bank, Realty Firm in Mortgage Lending Link

READING, Pa. - Main Street Bancorp and William F. Higgins Inc., the parent of national real estate brokerage Coldwell Banker, have formed a joint venture to originate mortgages.Blue Mountain Mortgage is to be based in Orwigsburg, Pa. It plans to originate conventional, FHA, and VA loans and will have special programs for first-time homebuyers, second homes, and people with past credit problems.

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