Insurance companies that apply for a thrift charter as a lobbying tactic are in for a shock, Ellen S. Seidman, director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, said Tuesday.
"Unless they truly have a well-developed business plan, people ought to think long and hard before they make an application to start a thrift," she said in an interview. "The notion that all you need for approval is to make an application is wrong."
Ms. Seidman issued her warning in response to comments made at a media briefing by the American Insurance Association. Officials of the group said its 300 members should press for financial reform legislation by applying for thrift charters.
They predicted banks would see the new charters as a competitive threat and agree to a bill that gives states the dominant role in regulating insurance. In return, banks would get the right to affiliate with insurers and securities firms.
Ms. Seidman said her agency would not dole out charters to assist lobbying strategies. "Granting a charter is a serious process," she added.
She noted that the 12 insurance companies with pending applications appear to have valid business goals, but several of them have been asked to revise their plans anyway.
"It's not going to be easy to get a charter, and it's worth thinking about what you want to do before going though the time and expense of applying," she said.
Preparing an application costs $50,000 to $250,000 in legal and filing fees, said lawyers working with several applicants. Costs go even higher if a company is forced to revise its business plan or fend off protests from community groups.
Companies must also be prepared to meet Community Reinvestment Act obligations and set aside sufficient capital to keep the new institutions financially strong, Ms. Seidman said.
In response to Ms. Seidman's concerns, David J. Pratt, the association's lobbyist, said his members had no plans to file frivolous charter applications.
"None of our members would expend resources to obtain a charter they didn't intend to use," he said.