NEW YORK-- Comptroller of the Currency Eugene Ludwig promised bankers a big round of cuts in fees they pay and vowed to back a cut in deposit insurance rates once the bank fund is recapitalized.
Addressing the annual convention of the American Bankers Association, Mr. Ludwig drew loud applause when he pledged to use his position as a director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. "to press my colleagues... to lower FDIC premiums as soon as the Bank Insurance Fund is replenished."
The fund is expected to reach the legally mandated level of $1.25 per $100 of insured deposits by the end of 1995's first quarter.
At a time when some national banks are considering whether they would be better off with state charters, Mr. Ludwig sounded like a seasoned politician campaigning for votes as he spoke to bankers Saturday.
He ticked off a number of new initiatives -- new rules to make it easier for banks to sell securities and regulations that he said would make lending limits more flexible.
He also pledged to support the efforts of banks to offer new products, from mutual funds to derivatives.
"Let me assure you, so long as I am comptroller, I will continue to support new products for banks," Mr. Ludwig said.
However, in a press conference afterward, the national bank regulator was more vague when asked about a top concern of bankers -- whether he will back the Department of Justice when it threatens to bring fair-lending suits against individual banks.
Most recently, the Federal Reserve Board agreed to let Barnett Banks Inc. complete an acquisition, despite pressure from Justice. Had the Fed blocked the application, Justice would have considerably more clout in settlement talks with Barnett.
However, Mr. Ludwig must also sign off on the application, and bankers are waiting for his decision for its value as a precedent.
The comptroller brushed aside a number of questions on the subject Saturday, saying that the matter would be handled in the normal course of events.
"We have our responsibilities and Justice has theirs," he said.
Initially, Mr. Ludwig declined to say whether he thought Justice has gone too far in pursuing fair-lending violations.
Under persistent questioning, however, he said he "has no reason to believe that they are doing anything but following their responsibilities."
The comptroller also said that if Barnett's record turns out to be okay, "we will go ahead and approve it."
In his speech, Mr. Ludwig conceded that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency "is not the lowest-cost examiner" But he provided numbers to show how dramatically his agency plans to cut fees on Jan. 1.
The fee to process an application for an automated teller machine, he said, will drop to $400, from $1,500 today. Likewise, the fee to process a branch application will drop to $700 from $1,900.
Mr. Ludwig added that he is trying to cut trust fees as well, and plans to announce a "small but appreciable reduction in national bank assessments."
Mr. Ludwig joined Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan in worrying about credit quality, saying his examiners have found signs of eased underwriting standards and thinner loan pricing.
Mr. Ludwig made clear that he does not now see a serious problem, but rather signals "to all of us to remain alert."