WASHINGTON - After years of delay and debate, bank regulators have reached a consensus on how to measure banks' interest rate risk.

But they still aren't sure their approach works, so they won't include it in their risk-based capital standards until it has been tested awhile.

Instead, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Federal Reserve Board, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are amending their risk- based capital standards to say simply that examiners must consider interest rate risk.

The three agencies are also going to issue a 202-page "joint agency policy statement" detailing how they propose to gauge interest rate risk and asking for feedback.

At its Tuesday meeting, the FDIC board was the first to take this step. The Federal Reserve Board will consider it at a meeting Friday, and the Comptroller's office is expected to issue its version of the proposals sometime in the next few weeks.

The Office of Thrift Supervision already measures interest rate risk and includes it in the capital standards for the savings institutions it regulates.

Under the joint policy outlined at Tuesday's FDIC meeting, 3,822 of the nation's 10,847 commercial banks and FDIC-supervised savings banks will have to start reporting information next March 31 on the maturity and repricing characteristics of their assets, liabilities, and off-balance- sheet positions.

Exempted from the reporting requirement are institutions with assets of under $300 million, a Camel rating of 1 or 2, and a low proportion of long- term loans.

Regulators will then use the information reported by banks to measure the institutions' risk. Banks will also be encouraged to report risk assessments calculated using their own internal models.

The agencies will use this information, according to their joint policy statement, to "evaluate the performance of the measurement framework before explicitly incorporating the results of that framework into their risk- based capital standards."

This indicates that regulators' struggle to come up with a standard for interest rate risk, which they were ordered to do by the FDIC Improvement Act of 1991 and were supposed to have completed in June 1993, is far from over. Earlier proposals met with criticism from banks for being too inflexible and burdensome.

Ann M. Grochala, director of bank operations at the Independent Bankers Association of America, was kinder to the agencies' latest proposals. "One size doesn't fit all, and the final rule and proposed policy statement provide the flexibility needed to evaluate a variety of institutions with varying degrees of complexity," she said.

But Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig said he wasn't sure his agency and its counterparts had done as good a job as possible. "Notwithstanding all our good efforts, the model we've come up with is long and tedious and burdensome," he said. "I'm interested in what the public commenters will say."

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