Shelter Mutual Insurance Co. won approval Wednesday from the Office of Thrift Supervision to start a full-service savings bank.

Shelter will launch the thrift, Shelter Financial Bank, in February with $9 million in capital, said Kathleen E. Topelius, a partner in the Washington office of the Bryan Cave law firm, who represents the company.

The thrift will operate a single branch near the insurer's headquarters in Columbia, Mo., and will market its products through 1,300 insurance agents in 13 Midwest states. Shelter has more than 1.5 million customers.

At the start, the thrift will offer mortgages, home equity and vehicle loans, and savings accounts. Checking accounts, credit cards, and debit cards may be added later, said J. Donald Duello, the insurer's vice president of finance.

Shelter Financial is expected to reach $80 million of assets within three years.

The thrift's Community Reinvestment Act assessment area will be Boone County, Mo., which includes Columbia. Shelter Financial agreed to report to the OTS data on low-income and minority lending in regions that it serves outside the assessment area, Ms. Topelius said.

Hard on the heels of the OTS' November ground-breaking decision to let State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. operate a thrift, the Shelter Mutual approval is the 10th this year for an insurance company and more grist for foes of the unitary thrift charter.

"We think such approvals are inappropriate," said Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America, who said no action should be taken on the remaining 43 nonbank thrift applications until Congress enacts financial reform legislation.

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