When the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. cleared the way last week for thrifts to shift deposits to banks, the decision directly affected only two small thrifts that had applied to make such a move. But the effects of the decision extended far and wide.

For starters, that are trying set up banks insured by the Bank Insurance Fund.

These companies, which are looking to dodge the high insurance premiums of the thrift insurance fund include California giants Great Western and Cal Fed Bancorp, TCF Financial Corp. of Minneapolis, and Charter One Bank in Cleveland.

As these thrifts and others encourage depositors to shift funds to new bank units, the Savings Association Insurance Fund will be further depleted, the bank fund will get diluted, and the thrift industry will have a harder time making payments of $800 million in annual interest on Financing Corp. bonds. The payments are made from SAIF premiums.

The FDIC decision, coupled with Congressional inaction on a solution to thrifts' troubles, may well prod more thrifts to seriously consider a bank charter, despite the costs involved.

To be sure, no one expects the ruling to have a dramatic impact right away. But increasingly, as thrifts give up on Congress, they are factoring in the 23 basis-point discrepancy between bank and thrift deposit insurance premiums in their business plans, said Paul Schosberg, president of the thrift trade group America's Community Bankers.

Large institutions with the resources to handle the significant legal and administrative costs of a charter application likely will be first to act, he said. By next March, the increased depletion of the thrift insurance fund ought to be visible, he said.

But the charter option also is making sense to smaller institutions. The $3.2 billion-asset MAF Bancorp of Clarendon Hills, Ill. - one of the two that got FDIC insurance approval last week, is a case in point. MAF wanted to grow, and growth made more sense with a bank charter, said Allen Koranda, the thrift's chief executive officer, citing plans to develop new business in commercial checking, business lending, trust, and financial management services.

There is no strategy in place to actively persuade customers to move their thrift deposits to the bank, he said. But if the thrift were going to grow more deposits, Mr. Koranda said, "it made a lot more sense to do it under a BIF charter, and eliminate the competitive disadvantage." MAF projects a three-year growth in deposits of nearly $32 million, all insured by the bank fund, at an annual premium savings of $650,000.

The approval process resulted in a "fair amount of paperwork" but has not been particularly costly, he added.

"At what point do thrifts give up on the legislative process?" Mr. Schosberg asked. Each thrift will make its own decision about that, he said.

But he regrets that institutions have to spend time and energy trying to cope with the thrift fund problem when they could be doing more-productive things. "We had hoped it would not get to this point."

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