getting increasingly concerned about their future as Congress wrangles over a merger of the bank and thrift charters. Uncertainty about what form a mutual bank charter might take and who would become the primary regulator are driving many federal mutuals to rethink whether they want to switch to a state charter or even convert to a stock institution, thrift executives and industry observers said at the annual convention of America's Community Bankers in Boston earlier this week. "We're struggling with the decision-making process as to what the future will hold for mutuals," said Douglas L. Ulery, president and chief executive of Home City Federal Savings and Loan Association in Springfield, Ohio. "We were always comfortable saying we were always going to remain mutual. We can't say that anymore." House and Senate negotiators are currently hammering out a final version of legislation to recapitalize the Savings Association Insurance Fund. The Senate wants to deal only with the financials right now, and leaders of the House Banking Committee, who had wanted to eliminate the thrift charter concurrent with recapitalizing the fund, has agreed with the Senate Banking Committee to tackle the charter merger issue later this year. (See related story on Page 1). Thrift executives and regulators have lobbied hard to preserve a mutual form of ownership in a new bank charter and lawmakers say they are amenable. But the details have yet to be worked out, leaving more questions than answers in the minds of most thrift officials. Industry leaders caution that it is still premature to make decisions based on what Congress may or may not do. "Anytime you throw something up in the air like that, you raise difficult questions in different people's minds," said David E.A. Carson, former chairman of America's Community Bankers and chairman of People's Bank, Bridgeport, Conn. "That's the kind of concern you get with any change." But the mutual institutions, most of which plan to remain in that form at least in the near future, say they are not convinced that they'll be protected during the unpredictable legislative negotiations. And even if mutuals are protected, an industry merger would likely mean the end of the Office of Thrift Supervision as a separate agency. That would leave federal mutuals under the auspices of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, worrying thrift executives who point out that the OCC isn't accustomed to the differences between mutual and stock ownership. "We're concerned about a mutual institution having to opt for a mutual national bank charter and getting lost in the morass of the OCC," said Donald S. Glass, president of the Community Bank League of New England, which represents about 115 institutions, most of which are mutual. "They really don't have a grip or a grasp of the mission of a mutual." The last time thrifts had to deal with a new, unfamiliar regulator was in the late 1980s, when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. began examining thrifts. "I've already told my directors that if they want to stay mutual, we're going to switch to a state charter because we'll have a user-friendly regulator," said C. William Landefeld, president of Citizens Savings Bank in Normal, Ill., and first vice chairman of America's Community Bankers. "He knows what our balance sheet is like."
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