WASHINGTON -- The Comptroller of the Currency is lowering its exam fees by 6% next year and dropping plans to hike fees to cover inflation.

Together the moves are expected to save national banks $30 million in 1995. Comptroller Eugene A. Ludwig said Wednesday that assessments may go down again in 1996 if the agency continues to reduce costs.

"We're absolutely delighted with this announcement," said Karen M. Thomas, regulatory counsel at the Independent Bankers Association of America. "This is really true, fight-to-the-bottom line stuff for national banks."

Assessments are based on a bank's asset size, and are paid twice a year. The first payment for 1995 is due Jan. 31.

With the new rates, a $1 billion-asset national bank will see its assessment fall $13,000 to about $200,000. An exam of a bank with $40 billion in assets will fall $300,000 to $4.5 million, the Comptroller's office said.

The cut in exam fees follows an earlier decision to lower the cost of filing applications with the agency. Those changes are expected to produce another $10 million in savings for the industry.

To pay for these reductions, the Comptroller's office said it is folding its 19 field offices into district locations.

The agency also is trimming its staff by 150 to 3,900 by 1995. New streamlined exam procedures for well-managed banks also are cutting down on expenses, the agency said.

National banks had been expecting exam fees to go up 2% next year to cover inflation, but the agency is also dropping that idea.

But the OCC has been concerned about the number of national banks that have opted for state charters over the past year. The agency has reduced assessments and application fees in part to coax national banks to stay with the OCC. There are now 3,135 national banks, down from 3,321 in 1993.

Ellen C. Lamb, a spokeswoman for the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, said "generally, state-charted assessments are lower than the OCC's." Even with the decrease, "They will continue to be lower," she said.

But Mr. Ludwig said OCC supervision has several advantages as a nationwide agency.

"We have industry specialists," that focus on derivatives or, say, metals trading, Mr. Ludwig said. "That's a tremendous resource for our examiners and benefits the banks."

Mr. Ludwig gave an example of the changes that have helped the agency cut its costs. "Our folks out in the small banks are focusing on what is really risky for the small banks and not making them jump through irrelevant hoops," Mr. Ludwig said.

"We have been very conscious that any efficiency we have achieved should not be achieved at the expense of the safety and soundness of the system."1995 Exam FeesBank size Savings $40 billion $300,000 $1 billion $13,000$100 million $2,500Source: Office of the Comptroller of the Currency

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