In the wake of the Bert Lance disclosures, the Securities and Exchange Commission has begun asking bank holding companies to report favorable loans made to executive of companies which have dealings with their banks.
The SEC says the queries are simply a part of the Commission's generally more aggressive effort to enforce federal disclosures rules.
Howard Hodges Jr., chief accountant for the Division of Corporation Finance, denied any direct relationship between the new probes and the case of embattled budget director Lance, who was found to have received several million dollars in personal loans from two banks with which his Calhoun, Ga., bank had established a business relationship.
Though a report by the Comptroller of the Currency concluded that the loans themselves contained no favorable terms, it also stated that Lance's "recurring pattern of shifting bank relationships and personal borrowing needs raises unresolved questions as to what constitutes acceptable banking practice."
The SEC staff suspects that Lance's situation is not unique and that some banks may have made loans at unusually favorable rates to officials of corporate borrowers or correspondent banks.
Under existing law, publicly held companies are required to report to the SEC whether their executives or directors received any special benefits from third parties. Favorable bank loans count as a special benefit. Hodges said the bank queries will provide a way of checking up on whether companies have been complying fully with the law.
"It is just a way of finding out more about loans that may have been made," Hodges said in the phone interview. "Instead of asking General Motors, for instance, for list of all loans, we've started asking the banks."
For the moment, the commission is limiting its probe to bank holding companies that register for new securities offerings or acquisitions. The queries have been included as part of a standard "letter of comment" which the SEC customarily sends out in response to a registration filing.
The commission is asking for information about loans to "officers, directors and other persons related to corporate borrowers whose loans are more favorable than is customary for persons who aren't related to corporate borrowers," or about loans that reflect "deposits or other similar benefits derived from the corporate banking relationship."