WASHINGTON -- In contrast to her colleagues on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. board, Chairman Ricki R. Tigert is advocating a go-slow approach to cutting bank premiums.

In her first public comments on the prospects for a rate reduction, Ms. Tigert acknowledged that the Bank Insurance Fund's coffers are being replenished fast enough to ensure significant rate reductions for most banks.

But in a speech Thursday night to the American Bankers Association's government relations council she warned that she is concerned about lowering premiums too far, too fast.

"I want to underscore, however, that a number of complexities -- practical and legal -- remain, and that these complexities will enter into the FDIC's consideration of BIF premium reductions," Ms. Tigert said.

"Given these complexities, our assessments are likely to overshoot the 1.25 target," she added.

The Bank Insurance Fund is required by law to hold $1.25 for every $100 of insured deposits before premiums may be cut. The goal will be met late in the second quarter or early in the third quarter of 1995, according to Ms. Tigert.

In contrast to Ms. Tigert's concerns, FDIC Vice Chairman Andrew C. Hove said last month that he doesn't see "any reason why BIF won't be lowered as soon as possible."

Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig promised at the ABA's annual convention in October "to press my colleagues ... to lower FDIC premiums as soon as the Bank Insurance Fund is replenished." The FDIC is expected in January to issue a proposal for public comment outlining how and when premiums wil be reduced. Most bankers have been hoping to see their rates come down in the second half of next year.

But that may be too soon for Ms. Tigert.

The complexities she referred to include: the FDIC's inability to pinpoint when the 1.25% will be reached; the legal requirement that the reduction be implemented through the rulemaking process; the uncertainty over what happens if the ratio falls below 1.25%; the question of whether the agency may rebate premiums if too much money is collected; and the effect lower bank premiums will have on thrifts that must continue to pay record high rates.

James D. McLaughlin, the ABA's director of agency relations, said Friday that the association is working through the same questions. While encouraged that Ms. Tigert recognizes rates will come down, Mr. McLaughlin disagreed with some of the FDIC chairman's concerns.

For example, Ms. Tigert noted that the FDIC by law must raise premiums to an average of 23 cents per $100 of domestic deposits if -- after falling below 1.25% -- the fund is not rebuilt within a year. "We think it is very unlikely," Mr. Mclaughlin said.

To avoid the potential problem, Ms. Tigert said, the fund may be increased above 1.25%.

"Put simply: Do we need a cushion to soften the impact from an unforeseen blow?," Ms. Tigert asked. "Do we need a cushion to assure that banks don't get hit with a 23-basis-point premium again and again."

Ms. Tigert was tight-lipped about the looming disparity in rates charged by bank fund and the Savings Association Insurance Fund. "A complexity that has cast a shadow over consideration of BIF issues is the related -- though not connected -- issue of recapitalizing the SAIF," she noted.

The FDIC staff is exploring what effect the rate gap will have on the thrift industry, according to Ms. Tigert. "Legally the BIF premiums are required to be set independently of the SAIF," she said.

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