When TCF Financial Corp. became the first thrift to obtain a full national bank charter two weeks ago, industry observers predicted that a wave of similar applications would quickly follow.
But that wave isn't expected to come.
Only six other companies have similar applications pending at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and that paperwork was filed long before TCF got its good news.
They are Chatsworth, Calif.-based Great Western Financial Corp; Cal Fed Bancorp, Los Angeles; Bank United of Texas, Houston; Charter One Bank, Cleveland, and Chicago's St. Paul Bancorp and Bell Bancorp.
The number of applications is not likely to grow, observers say.
Regulators are requiring Minneapolis-based TCF - and presumably the other companies - to keep bank and thrift operations distinct, which could prove a deterrent for thrifts contemplating a national bank charter.
Because Congress has not acted on a plan that would eliminate the 23- cent differential between bank and thrift insurance premiums, the thrifts interested in bank charters plan to open bank branches at their thrift locations and then use higher rates to tempt depositors to shift their funds.
Although TCF's thrift and bank operations will be allowed to share building space, the OCC mandated that the banks must employ their own lending officers, outside directors, presidents, cashiers, and chief credit officers. The bank and thrift must be clearly identified to avoid any customer confusion, the OCC said.
"These may sound like petty details, but the more you have that kind of separation, the more expensive it becomes, and therefore the more likely thrifts aren't going to choose this as an avenue for deposit migration," said banking consultant Bert Ely.
But cost may not be the only deterrent.
S&Ls seeking to shift deposits from the thrift fund to the Bank Insurance Fund may opt for what a number of sources pointed to as a more attractive alternative: the state savings bank charter.
In order for a thrift company to charter a national bank, it must become a bank holding company. By doing so, it gives up the more liberal securities, insurance, and ownership powers that come with being a thrift holding company.
"Thrifts will question whether this is the right way to go, because the parent company has to abandon all the abilities and expanded powers it had," said Karen Shaw Petrou, president of ISD/Shaw Inc.
"Thrifts may be worried about the short-term premium problem, but their longer-term problem is franchise value," she added.
Opening a state chartered savings bank, which is insured by the Bank Insurance Fund, is an avenue for avoiding the costly deposit insurance premiums levied by the thrift fund without losing the advantages of a thrift holding company.
For TCF, the new constraints it will face as a bank holding company don't present a problem, according to the company's general counsel and vice chairman Greg Pulles.
"We basically operate as a community commercial bank already, so we're not do anything banks are not doing," Mr. Pulles said. "The activity restrictions are not a problem at all for us."
However, he conceded that it may be a stumbling block for other thrifts looking to charter national banks.
The OCC is expected to continue granting national bank charters to the thrift companies this week.
Great Western's approval is expected as early as today, and a thrift industry source said Charter One's application will be approved this week.