WASHINGTON - The Office of Thrift Supervision last week approved charters for three new thrifts and a lender converting from a state charter.

The number of thrifts has gradually declined in the past decade. In an interview Monday, however, OTS Deputy Director Richard M. Riccobono said the four approvals "bring to about 115 the number of new thrift charters we have granted over the past three and a half years, attesting to the continued popularity and versatility of the federal thrift charter."

The new thrifts are Fort Lee Federal Savings Bank in New Jersey; Cooperative Bank in Egg Harbor City, N.J.; and the PrivateBank in St. Louis. The conversion is of Affinity Bank of Ventura, Calif., which had been a state-chartered industrial loan company.

Mr. Riccobono said the New Jersey thrifts are targeting small-business borrowers turned off by bank mergers. Consolidation "has disrupted" the market, he said. "There is a huge opportunity to fill this void."

The PrivateBank is owned by PrivateBancorp, which also owns Private Bank and Trust Co., a state-chartered bank in Chicago. PrivateBank is to market its services to high-net-worth people "who have been disenfranchised by consolidation," Mr. Riccobono said.

"In this constant consolidation, what happens is that [banks] drop the service element," he said.

"The megabanks get bigger, and they come in and charge more fees but don't give you any more service."

Affinity Bank, which has $290 million of assets, is owned by Affinity Group Inc., an organization for recreational vehicle owners, campers, and golfers. Mr. Riccobono said it sought a thrift charter so that it would be free to offer banking services to members nationwide. Its state charter had restricted it to California.

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