WASHINGTON - The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is creating a class of examiners to enforce consumer protection laws.

The new examiners, numbering 100 to 150, will allow for more frequent compliance exams at national banks, according to Stephen M. Cross, deputy comptroller for compliance.

Most affected will be banks with less than $1 billion in assets. Once training is completed - it is expected to take about three years - these institutions will be examined every two years instead of every six years.

Banks with more than $1 billion in assets already get compliance exams every two years.

Fees Won't Rise

A spokeswoman for the Comptrollees office said banks' assessment fees will not

Mr. cross speaking to a group of compliance officers in San Diego this week, also announced that it will be next year before the Comptroller's office deploys testers to root out lending bias at national banks.

Comptroller Eugene A. Ludwig said on May 5 that he intends to send pairs of whites and minorities with similar financial characteristics into national banks to test for discrimination. But Mr. Cross said the program is proving difficult to develop.

Contracting Out for Testers

He offered few details, but said the testing will not be done by bank examiners. To groans from the audience, Mr. Cross said the Comptroller's office will contract out for testers, possibly with civil rights groups.

"We believe testing is a very serious business - not to be done on a part-time basis," Mr. Cross said.

The focus, at least initially, will be on pre-application bias, according to Mr. Cross. But if legal hurdles can be cleared, he said, the agency might go on and test for post-application discrimination, too.

The consumer regulations enforced by the new examinets will include fair-lending laws, the Community Reinvestment Act, Truth-in-savings, Truth-in-Lending, the Bank Secrecy Act, and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, Mr. Cross said.

New Approach for Agency

In addition to the full-time examiners that the Comptroller's office will develop, about 20% of its 1,200 examiners-in-training will do stints as compliance cops. These less experienced examiners make up half of the agency's exam force.

The Comptroller's office is the last banking agency to specially train and designate examiners for consumer compliance. Mr. Cross said the office has abandoned its "generalist approach" because "compliance has become too complex and too challenging to do it part time."

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is adding 100 examiners to its compliance team of 150, Janice M. Smith, consumer affairs director, said WC in San Diego.

The FDIC also is hiring a fair-lending specialist for a senior staff position in Washington, she said, and each regional office is hiring its own specialist in that area of concern. The fair-lending staff members will, among other things, analyze data generated under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

The FDIC already has community affairs specialists in each regional office.

The Federal Reserve Board employs about 200 compliance examiners.

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