The Office of Thrift Supervision on Friday granted a charter to Excel Communications Inc., the nation's fifth-largest residential long-distance phone company.

Dallas-based Excel, which becomes a unitary thrift holding company, plans to open FirstExcel Federal Savings Bank by summer, after receiving Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. coverage.

The thrift would initially serve the general public in Dallas and Excel's 500,000 employees and independent agents. It would operate from its home office and a branch at an Excel operations center in Addison, Tex.

"We are excited about the approval and the opportunity to deliver financial services to our targeted market," said Paul D. Fletcher, vice president and treasurer of Excel.

The OTS is requiring Excel to provide the thrift with $7 million in capital and to give the agency veto power over the selection of the institution's chief lending officer.

The thrift also must maintain core capital of at least 8% for three years. If the thrift cannot open the Addison branch within a year after opening its headquarters' office, then it must maintain at least 12% capital reserves until the branch is ready.

FirstExcel is the fifth application for a unitary thrift holding company that the OTS has approved since Congress began considering a financial reform bill that would eliminate the thrift charter. The approvals included charters for Principal Mutual Insurance Co. and Travelers Group.

Excel named Lawrence C. Heller as president of the thrift in September. He was previously a vice president within the private banking group at Citibank, where he marketed commercial banking and investment products to 41 New York law firms.

Excel Communications, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, employs independent representatives who sell the company's long-distance services to family, friends, and business associates. It has six million customers and produced revenue of $1.5 billion in 1997.

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