For two years Amerus Bank, Des Moines, beat its chest about not charging customers who use other banks' automated teller machines. Now it's beating a retreat from that policy.

"The costs of ATM usage have risen dramatically," said Marcia Hanson, president of the $1.4 billion-asset thrift, which spent $1 million on ATM fees in 1996 and $500,000 in 1995.

The change shows that for community banks trying to differentiate themselves with no-fee ATM use, the cost can be high.

"That's just not something we could continue to eat without some remuneration," Ms. Hanson said.

Amerus, a subsidiary of Amerus Group insurance company, operates 55 branches in five states but has only 17 ATMs, so its customers frequently use the machines of other banks.

Starting March 1, the $1.4 billion-asset thrift will charge customers $1 a month for the cards. Customers will be charged 50 cents for each withdrawal over six a month at outside machines.

Customers with $10,000 in balances will be exempt.

ATM fees are nothing new for Amerus. The thrift charged customers for ATM use until Norwest Corp., Minneapolis, started assessing fees. Sensing a marketing opportunity, Amerus dropped its fees and started advertising the fact.

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Kansas community bankers are helping protect their protectors.

The Community Bankers Association of Kansas on Jan. 22 presented the Kansas Bureau of Investigation with a $15,000 check to purchase 35 new bulletproof vests, said trade group administrative director Kathy Lovelace.

The gift was the fruit of a speech by bureau director Larry Welch at the association's annual meeting last fall. Talking about the agency's history of funding shortfalls, he mentioned that many of the bulletproof vests in use were purchased in the 1970s and not up to snuff.

After the speech, bankers decided to do something, Ms. Lovelace said.

"We practically had all of it collected at the meeting," she said.

The gift was significant to Judd and Rosie Durner, the president and vice president of State Bank of Burrton. Twenty-one years ago, Mr. Durner was kidnapped and shot twice in the head in a bank robbery; his wife was kidnapped. Mr. Welch was in charge of the investigation, and they have kept in touch with him ever since.

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For years, The Press of Atlantic City had been handing out an annual George Bailey Award to businesses that help the New Jersey community. This year, the paper gave it to Ocean City Homes Savings for its work in high schools and urban development, and its efforts to raise money for the families of three men killed in an auto accident.

The prize is named after the fictitious thrift executive played by James Stewart in the Frank Capra classic "It's a Wonderful Life." u

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