Talk about neurosis in financial services: An identity crisis around whether being a thrift is a bane or bonus. Thrifts want to become bank- like; nonbanks want to create thrifts.

Maybe the confusion starts with the federal love-hate relationship with thrifts. A 1996 law bailed out the Savings Association Insurance Fund by merging it with the Bank Insurance Fund; now thrifts are no longer saddled with high insurance premiums. However, the same legislation called for joining the two charters in 1999. Yet Congress also loosened operation restrictions and cut thrift costs. It doubled the amount of commercial loans a thrift may make and eased the "qualified thrift lender test" by allowing credit cards and student loans.

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