WASHINGTON - The Office of Thrift Supervision said bank or thrift subsidiaries owned by the same holding company can perform basic banking services - such as handling deposits and withdrawals - for each other's customers.
The agency also suggested Thursday that it may be ready to allow nonbank subsidiaries, such as mortgage banking units, to perform basic services for affiliated thrifts.
The announcement comes on the heels of a series of recent decisions that expand the range of permissible activities for thrifts.
The agency recently allowed thrifts directly to sell fixed-rate annuities, credit life insurance, and disability insurance. And in late December, the agency ruled that thrifts may set up interactive screens at automated teller machines without meeting more onerous requirements for setting up a separate branch.
"In all these cases, what we are trying to do is respond to the changing environment for financial services," said Carolyn Lieberman, the agency's chief counsel.
The thrift industry's principal trade group praised the regulator's decision.
"We are delighted and thrilled that they are opening things up within the bounds of safety and soundness," said C. Dawn Causey, regulatory counsel for America's Community Bankers. "What sounds very positive is that she's encouraging creative thought."
While the agency has not yet ruled on whether nonbanks can begin taking deposits, cashing checks, allowing withdrawals, or accepting loan payments, Ms. Lieberman suggested that the agency is willing to consider taking that step.
"We haven't faced that yet," Ms. Lieberman said, since no thrift has yet asked for such permission, but she added that such a decision would likely turn on whether a nonbanking affiliate had "the same type of controls in terms of what a thrift would have."
The new decision applies to the 51 holding companies that own more than one thrift. It also applies to any bank holding company that owns a thrift and to the few thrifts that themselves own thrift subsidiaries, an agency spokesman said.
The OTS decision says there is "no difference between the services that will be provided to customers via interaffiliate banking arrangements ... and the services that can already be provided to those customers via ATM machines located in the retail offices of affiliates."
The trade group is especially encouraged that "we've gotten away from the punitive days and we are recognizing the healthy, well-capitalized, well-managed state of the industry," Ms. Causey said.