The federal government will propose a new assessment system today that experts predicted would reduce the fees paid by healthy, traditional thrifts.

Nearly 65% of thrifts, or about 780 institutions, could see their semiannual fees fall as much as 19% under the proposal, according to the Office of Thrift Supervision.

However, the plan would raise the fees paid by many small institutions by imposing a base fee on all thrifts to cover standard regulatory operations. The minimum fee would be $1,250 for institutions with less than $67 million of assets and rise with asset size.

The revision would also force thrifts heavily engaged in trust or other complex activities to pay more. These institutions drain more regulatory resources, so they should pay a larger share of oversight costs, said Richard M. Riccobono, deputy OTS director.

For instance, institutions involved in securitizations, loan servicing, and trust services are more difficult for regulators to oversee than traditional mortgage lenders. These activities are not counted on balance sheets and are excluded from the OTS' asset-based assessments.

"The current system isn't keeping up with the changing times," Mr. Riccobono said. "We do not want to continue to use asset size as the only basis for assessing institutions .... Some people will pay more based on condition and complexity."

Under the plan, thrifts would have to pay higher assessments if they administer more than $1 billion of trust assets or service more than $1 billion of loans. The government also would charge institutions more if they have recourse obligations or direct credit substitutes exceeding $1 billion.

Initial industry reaction was positive.

"This kind of reform is long overdue," said Herbert M. Sandler, chairman of Golden West Financial Corp., Oakland, Calif. "It is entirely appropriate that thrifts needing greater supervisory resources should pay a commensurately greater share of the supervisory expense."

Gary G. Gilbert, regulatory affairs specialist for America's Community Bankers, agreed but said the thrift trade group would object to higher charges for small institutions.

The proposal also would charge a 25% premium above the asset-based assessment for thrifts with a supervisory rating of 3. (Healthy thrifts bear ratings of 1 or 2. Thrifts rated 4 or 5 already pay a 50% premium.)

OTS officials said they expect the new rates to slightly increase the agency's revenues but could not give an exact figure. This year assessment revenue totaled nearly $130 million.

The OTS was expected to publish the proposal in today's Federal Register and will accept public comments until mid-October.

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