WASHINGTON Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig said Wednesday he will soon reduce the fees banks pay when they file branching applications and apply for other corporate changes.

Mr. Ludwig, speaking to OCC Northeast District's New England Community Bankers Outreach Program, said the agency will act "within a matter of weeks" to reduce charges for applications related to mergers, trust powers, head office relocations. changes in control, and other corporate activities.

Agency spokeswoman Leonora S. Cross said the fee cuts will be "substantial," but could not provide an estimate of the savings.

Mr. Ludwig said his office has also been trying to save bankers money by streamlining regulations.

Community bankers welcomed the news.

Kenneth Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America, said, "People do compare costs." He attributed Mr. Ludwig's move as a response to the 118 banks who have left its supervision in the past two years.

"OCC is having a membership problem - they are losing banks to other regulators," Mr. Guenther said. "This is an across-the-board effort by Ludwig to make staying with the OCC as a regulator more attractive."

"That is just not true," said the OCC's Ms. Cross. "This is something we have been looking at for several years. and determined that they are probably high and we should make some adjustments."

The Federal Reserve Board, which regulates state-chartered member banks and all bank holding companies, does not charge fees for exams and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which supervises state-chartered banks that do not belong to the Fed, does not directly charge for exams.

The OCC may also lower assessments that cover exam costs. Ms. Cross said that the agency is still deliberating, but, "They are clearly not going to go up.

Mr. Ludwig also described to the bankers gathered in Boston his approach for supervising the nation's largest banks, which has been in place for the last year.

"For each of our largest banks, we now develop an individual risk profile that incorporates all the risks the bank takes on," Mr. Ludwig said.

"We then try to determine whether the risks are appropriate for the individual institution, given its resources, and whether the controls the institution has in place are appropriate to the risks," he added.

He also pointed out that the banking system is in flux as it moves away from traditional lending activities.

"Today, banks make about a third of their income from fees, Mr. Ludwig said.

The OCC "is not exactly sure where that fee income is coming from," Ms. Cross said, and for that reason, regulators "are going to be looking more closely at exactly what activities are generating those fees."

The agency wants to determine to what extent fees contribute to individual bank profits, and whether the banks can count on that level of income in the long term, Ms. Cross said.

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