The nation's bankers yesterday proposed a sharp reduction in the amount of money Federal Reserve member banks must leave on reserve with the government and asked the Fed to start paying interest on a portion of those reserves.
The proposal brought swift denunciations from the chairmen of both the House and Senate banking committees, who claimed the plan would cost taxpayers millions of dollars in sacrificed Treasury revenues while providing another surge in profits for the banks.
In its first official policy statement on the matter, the American Bankers Association surprised legislators by abandoning an alternative plan that would have imposed reserve requirements on all banks and, to a limited extent, on thrift institutions including savings and loan associations and credit unions.
One banker said such a plan would be politically unfeasible in view of the determined opposition by the thrift institutions, which traditionally have been free of Fed control.
"We felt at this time the likelihood of bringing the thrifts in was unlikely and would confuse the issue," ABA president John Perkins said.
At issue is what to do about the Fed's dwindling membership problem. Membership in the Fed currently requires a bank to keep a percentage of its deposits in noninterest-bearing accounts with the government. In turn, the Fed provides for free to its members such services as check process ing, currency exchange and wire transfers.
But in the face of rising interest rates and increased competition between member and non-member financial institutions, many banks have chosen to withdraw from the Fed.
It also has prompted a flurry of legislative proposals. The leading bills favor the imposition of universal, uniform reserve requirements with some exemptions for thrift institutions and smaller banks.
But the ABA decided to reject these and instead outlined a series of changes that would directly ease the costs of belonging to the Fed. While membership would remain voluntary, the bankers said such changes should encourage more banks to join.
The proposed changes are:
A reduction in reserve levels on both demand and savings accounts and, instead of the current graduated range of reserve requirements, a uniform and flexible range of rates. For demand accounts, the ABA asked for a reduction from a maximum of 16 3/4 percent to anywhere in the range of one to 10 percent. For savings accounts, the ABA asked for a reduction from 3 percent to someplace in the range of one to 3 percent.
Payment of interest on the first $10 million a bank has on reserve with the Fed, plus interest on additional reserves if the Fed considers such action desirable.
Explicit pricing by the Fed of its services for members.
Authority to collect necessary data on current liabilities and assets for all depository institutions, whether they belong to the Federal Reserve system or not.
Rep. Henry Reuss (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Banking Committee, and Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, both issued statements opposing the ABA's proposal.