The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency plans to issue risk management guidelines this year for Internet and phone banking, a top agency official said Tuesday.

Although details were sketchy, James D. Kamihachi, senior deputy comptroller for economic and policy analysis, said the guidelines would underscore the importance of keeping on-line transactions secure.

The agency also will urge senior executives to be directly involved in deciding which new electronic banking products to launch, he said.

"There's got to be some process for saying, 'We have gone too far'" in terms of risk-taking, Mr. Kamihachi said at an American Bankers Association conference on technology.

The guidelines would be the OCC's first application of its risk-based supervisory approach to high-tech services, he said. An exact release date for the proposal has not been set.

In preparation, OCC examiners are studying how 20 financial institutions shield their computer systems from attack, verify customer identities on- line, and scramble electronic financial transactions, he said.

Regulators do not want to retard the development of promising electronic services, he said, but they must ensure new products do not pose safety- and-soundness problems.

"While we are careful to avoid any unnecessary actions that could stifle new markets, we will take action when we think it is warranted," Mr. Kamihachi said.

The guidelines are expected to follow the same format the agency used in September for its stored-value cards policy, which stressed security but did not recommend specific actions.

Banks should welcome the guidelines, said Thomas P. Vartanian, an electronic banking specialist in the Washington office of the Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson law firm. "From management's standpoint, it's always good to know where the regulators think the risks are before you jump into the market."

Other agencies are taking similar steps. For example, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. issued examiner guidelines for electronic banking in late January, and the Office of Thrift Supervision proposed updatings of its rules governing electronic services in March.

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