The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has followed an "overly restrictive" policy in granting bank charters, according to a congressional study of bank chartering between 1970 and 1977 released today.
As a result, the OCC has effectively fostered the spread of large, multibank holding companies, while discouraging new entries to banking, the report said.
The report, prepared by the Democratic majority staff of the Senate Banking Committee, says that recent comptrollers appear to have been "more interested in protecting existing banks during this period than in promoting competition and meeting the banking needs of the public."
Senate Banking Committee Chairman William Proxmire (D-Wis.) said he plans to conduct hearings next spring on legislation to make it easier for banks to enter the national banking system.
The Comptroller, an arm of the Treasury Department, regulates as well as charters national banks, which comprise one-third of the country's 15,000 commercial banks. Almost 60 percent of the total U.S. insured deposits are in national banks, the study notes.
Describing the bank chartering process as "a classic example of how a noncompetitive situation can be perpetuated by government overregulation," the report concludes that under this policy "the public suffers, and entrepreneurs wishing to invest in new bank ventures are frequently prevented from doing so." w
Earlier this month, Comptroller John G. Heimann announced changes in the chartering process that answer some of the criticism in the study.
In the past, for example, in deciding on granting a charter in a particular community, the OCC has placed great emphasis on the community's economic and competitive characteristics. Under the revised policy, the comptroller will give more consideration to the resources and background of the group organizing the bank and to its operating plan.
The study found that deciding whether one group rather than another would get a charter was very much a subjective decision by the comptroller and staff. g
According to the report, hundreds of decisions of whether to grant a charter were made on the basis of whether there was a need for the new bank. But the pivotal issue of need, the report said, "was continually interpreted in an arbitrary and sometimes contradictory manner by comptrollers and their staff."
The senate staff suggests that politics may have entered into the decisions to grant charters to four Texas banks between 1970 and 1973. The Comptroller at the time, William Camp, himself a Texan, was appointed to the post by Lyndon Johnson, then reappointed by Richard Nixon.
In all four cases, Camp overruled unanimous recommendations by his staff and granted charters to the banks. The study notes that these four instances were the only times this happened during Camp's tenure when 406 charter applications were decided. Stockholders in the four banks included several powerful cronies of Johnson and of Nixon's Treasury secretary, John B. Connally.
The report says the OCC is more confident in granting charters to banks sponsored by holding companies or existing institutions than to independent banks. Only 46 percent of the "independent" applications were approved from 1970 to 1977, while 63 percent of the "sponsored" applicants were granted charters, the report said.
The report cites the Diplomat National Bank of Washington as an example of weak investigations by the OCC before granting a charter. Among the conditions for approval of the charter t0 Diplomat was that no one won more than 5 percent of the bank.
But it later turned out that the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church secretly bought 43 percent of the bank and Koren businessman Tongsun Park purchased 10 percent.