PaineWebber Group, insurer SunAmerica Inc., and a firm that provides financial services to Lutherans have applied for federal thrift charters.

In applications filed late last month but released Monday by the Office of Thrift Supervision, the three firms said they would use the charters to offer trust services.

"The ability to do business on a national basis and preempt state laws makes the federal thrift charter the best alternative for nationwide trust services," said Robert M. Taylor 3d, a partner with Day, Berry & Howard law firm in Hartford, Conn.

Mr. Taylor prepared the application for the Aid Association of Lutherans, which plans to charter AAL Trust Co. to provide fiduciary services to its members.

The Appleton, Wis., organization, founded in 1902 to guide and educate Lutheran families, has evolved into a $17.7 billion-asset insurance and financial services firm. The group filed the Dec. 29 application because members requested trust services, Mr. Taylor said.

"The application was driven by a grassroots push," he said.

Los Angeles-based SunAmerica, which owns several life insurance units, broker-dealers, and a mutual fund management firm, applied to convert its Colorado-chartered Resources Trust Co. to a federal thrift.

The trust subsidiary manages more than 200,000 retirement accounts with combined assets of nearly $14 billion, according to the Dec. 24 application. The accounts include individual retirement accounts, Keogh plans, and 401(k) plans.

SunAmerica wants to convert its trust subsidiary because as a thrift, it would have to comply with only one set of federal rules, said Karel Carnohan, vice president of investor relations.

Ms. Carnohan also said SunAmerica's application was spurred by debate in Congress to abolish the federal thrift charter.

"The thrift charter might go away," she said. "There might be some benefit down the road if we are grandfathered."

PaineWebber applied Dec. 31 to charter PaineWebber Federal Savings Bank in New York City. The brokerage would use the thrift to "meet the personal trust needs of our nationwide client base," a PaineWebber spokesman said.

Sixteen financial services firms have requested federal thrifts since Congress began debating whether to kill the charter. In November, the OTS approved applications from Principal Mutual Insurance Co. and Travelers Group. Still pending are requests from GE Capital and Transamerica Corp.

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