The Senate has confirmed former Hawaii bank commissioner Donna A. Tanoue to be Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman.

Ms. Tanoue's term runs through October 2000, completing the final two and a half years of Ricki Helfer's six-year term.

Andrew C. "Skip" Hove Jr. has served as acting chairman since Ms. Helfer resigned in May 1997; he will return to his position as the agency's vice chairman.

The April 30 confirmation of Ms. Tanoue, a banking lawyer who will turn 44 on Tuesday, gives women a majority of the FDIC's five board seats.

"I think it's really reflective of the President's commitment to diversity," Ms. Tanoue said in an interview Friday.

Though she declined to discuss her plans for the agency or any of the issues until she is sworn in this month, Ms. Tanoue said the recent wave of giant merger deals is bound to mean big changes at the agency.

"Just as the marketplace is so rapidly changing, I think the same will hold true for regulators," Ms. Tanoue said. "They have to adjust to the changing times, they have to be flexible."

The two other women on the FDIC board are Ellen Seidman, the first to run the Office of Thrift Supervision, and Julie L. Williams, the first to serve as acting comptroller of the currency.

Ms. Tanoue "comes to this with a lot of intelligence, a lot of savvy, and an open mind," Ms. Seidman said.

She downplayed the role of gender on the FDIC board. "I don't think we're going to have a women's caucus," Ms. Seidman said. Alliances form for other reasons, she said-for example, Ms. Tanoue and FDIC Director Joseph H. Neely might see some issues the same way because both are former state banking regulators.

Ms. Helfer said she had felt when becoming FDIC chairman that being a woman was "interesting, but was not directly relevant" to her goals. But when bankers began bringing their wives and daughters to hear her speak, she said, she realized she had unintentionally become a role model.

Darina McKelvie, vice president of government relations at Citibank and head of the professional organization Women in Housing and Finance, said Ms. Tanoue's nomination "is quite symbolic of how far we've come in the past 15, 20 years."

Ms. Tanoue was nominated by President Clinton on Nov. 7. The Senate approved her appointment by unanimous consent.

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