A group of 20 large thrifts, banks, and diversified financial companies are asking Congress to leave the thrift charter alone. "We urge your support for deleting from any financial modernization legislation all provisions concerning the thrift charter," the group said in a May 16 letter to every member of Congress.

The companies, which include Citicorp, California Federal Bank, Capital One, Travelers Group, and Household International, were joined by the Association of Financial Services Holding Companies and the Texas Savings and Community Bankers Association.

The group, which calls itself the Thrift Charter Coalition, wants to block efforts to merge the bank and thrift charters. While the group supports melding the industry's two deposit insurance funds, this "should not occur if the cost is eliminating the federal thrift charter."

All the companies own thrifts and want to preserve the advantages they have over national banks, including:

Preemption of state rules on consumer disclosures, fees, licensing, and registration requirements.

Less restrictive interstate branching, even after Riegle-Neal takes full effect June 1. For instance, 29 states that have "opted in" to the law require that out-of-state banks enter their territory via an acquisition rather than by starting branches from scratch. Thrifts face no such restriction.

Authority to open mortgage lending and other subsidiaries without state approval.

Texas bankers may pay a high price for the right to offer home equity loans. The Texas Senate on Thursday will take up two bills passed by the House two weeks ago that include heavy restrictions and some pro-consumer measures opposed by the industry.

A constitutional amendment would permit home equity loans, but cap the amount to 75% of a property's value. Lenders also would be prevented from seizing any collateral other than the foreclosed property and would cap all lender fees at 3%.

The other measure would force lenders to contribute to an "Equity Loan Recovery Fund" to reimburse defrauded borrowers. Tacked to that bill is a ban on automated teller machine surcharges and a provision requiring all depository institutions to provide quarterly branch-by-branch reporting of loans and deposits.

Texas banking groups are scrambling to defeat the restrictions.

"There is tremendous sentiment to pass home equity legislation," said Christopher L. Williston, executive director of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas. "The question is whether we can live with the garbage that may come along with it."

Robert E. Harris, president of the Texas Bankers Association, called the restrictions "poison pills" added by real estate agents and consumer groups. "They're using home equity legislation to achieve victory on issues that could never make it by themselves."

Eric L. Richard has been named general counsel of the Credit Union National Association. Mr. Richard previously worked for Freddie Mac, where he was associate general counsel for state regulation and legislation.

Mr. Richard has worked in private practice, specializing in bank and thrift regulation. From 1985 to 1986 he was legislative director for Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. During the Carter administration, Mr. Richard was special assistant to the attorney general.

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