Two key industry trade groups Thursday endorsed House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach's latest gambit to roll back regulations and expand bank powers.

In a joint letter faxed to all Republican members of Congress, the American Bankers Association and the Independent Bankers Association of America said, "It is time for this Congress to move forward with meaningful regulatory relief."

The scaled-back bill, dubbed "Leach Lite," was introduced by Rep. Leach last month after his grander scheme to break down the legal barriers among the banking, securities, and insurance industries failed.

The legislation would excuse banks with less than $50 million of assets from reporting requirements under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, allow well-managed banks with satisfactory Community Reinvestment Act ratings to open new branches without prior regulatory approval, and eliminate certain Truth-in-Savings disclosures.

The measure also would bar government-sponsored enterprises such as the Farm Credit Banks from sponsoring credit unions.

And the bill would let the Federal Reserve authorize bank holding companies to offer any product deemed "financial in nature or incidental to such financial activities." This test would replace the current, narrower standard requiring new activities to be "closely related or incidental to banking."

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