The new comptroller of the Currency, C. T. Conover, favors interstate banking and cross-industry acquisitions, and believes that banks should be able to pay market rates of interest "as quickly as possible."
In his first meeting with reporters since his confirmation Dec. 16, Conover expressed a firm commitment to deregulating the banking system. However, he declined to give a timetable or to name measures he would advocate as the regulator of federally chartered banks or as a member of the government group charged with phasing out interest rate ceilings. Under current law, ceilings such as the 5 1/2 percent limit on passbook accounts are not scheduled to be phased out competely until 1986.
Commenting on cross-industry acquisitions, Conover said a bank holding company should be able to acquire a savings bank or savings and loan "whether it is failing or not." Similarly, he urged that a savings and loan holding company be able to acquire a bank in those circumstances.
Current law prohibits bank holding companies from making acquisitions across state lines. Paul Volcker, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and William Isaac, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., recently indicated they would consider applications from out-of-state bank holding companies to acquire failing thrifts even though Congress does not explicitly approve such transactions.
Sources in the banking community say that regulators soon will approve the first such merger. Conover declined to comment yesterday on the possibility of such a merger. The Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which is not subject to the same prohibition, has approved five interstate mergers of failing savings and loans this year.