As regulators work to streamline their rules and make their agencies more industry-friendly, they're also taking a crack at that bane of bankers' existence - the quarterly call report.

Small changes are in the works for next year, and by 1998, regulators are trying to develop one form that all banks, thrifts, and their holding companies will submit.

However, the call report of the future is not likely to be the simple slim document bankers long for. While regulators struggle to eliminate questions, new developments such as interstate banking may require additional data.

A proposal to kill some items in the first-quarter 1997 call report is circulating among staff at the four bank and thrift agencies, said Robert Storch, chief accountant at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The agencies are reluctant to eliminate many questions, he admitted, but a few "not-too-controversial items" may be lopped.

"Cutting items is hard because regulators use call report information not just to assess individual banks, but to gauge the health of the banking system and the economy," said Zane Blackburn, chief accountant at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Staffers are considering cutting some questions that ask banks to categorize all their securities holdings. Also likely to go are questions about the taxes that banks pay to different levels of government.

This month, agency heads are expected to review the changes the staff has recommended for 1997, Mr. Storch said. Before any changes are adopted, they will be published in the Federal Register and the industry will have at least 60 days to comment. Final approval is expected in November.

By 1998, regulators want all thrifts, banks, and their holding companies to file a single "core report." Beyond this uniform filing, institutions also may be required to provide supplementary information. schedules to augment what is asked on the uniform report.

Regulators haven't decided what this core report will look like, but it may be closer to a bank call than a thrift report, Mr. Storch said.

To prepare thrifts for the changes, the Office of Thrift Supervision has begun asking thrifts to report detailed information about their subsidiary activities, as banks do, said Patrick Berbakos, director of OTS' financial reporting division.

"We feel that's a good segue into the core report," he said.

Beyond standardizing the report by 1998, regulators are considering developing reporting thresholds that would exempt some institutions from detailed responses to certain questions.

For example, if a bank made few agricultural loans, it wouldn't have to report them on a separate schedule. The goal is to stop requiring specific reporting on lines of business in which an institution is not heavily involved.

Likewise, the report might be restructured so that banks would report detailed information only when substantial changes took place during the quarter.

Changing the call report is not being done in a vacuum, however. Circumstances might prompt regulators to add some items while they're eliminating others.

The coming switch from regulatory accounting principles to generally accepted accounting principles may mean that regulators will ask for more information. For example, under GAAP, a bank could sell a pool of consumer loans with recourse and take that asset off its books, said Mr. Storch.

But regulators would continue to need information on such loans to determine whether a bank has an adequate level of capital, he said.

As interstate banking becomes a reality, regulators will need state-by- state breakdowns on some information, such as the ratio of loans to deposits in each state, Mr. Storch said.

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