Comptroller of the Currency C. Todd Conover said yesterday that he has recommended to a White House task force that licensing and regulation of banks and savings and loan associations should be done by one federal agency rather than the four that do it now.
Conover also said he told the task force, headed by Vice President George Bush, that the separate insurance funds that cover deposits at banks and S&Ls also should be combined into one fund.
Conover, at a luncheon meeting with reporters, said he thinks that the Federal Reserve Board should not be responsible for both bank regulation and setting monetary policy. He said he recommended to the Bush task force that responsibility for setting monetary policy should rest with a separate agency.
The Bush task force is studying regulation of the entire financial industry--from banking to brokerage--to see where federal laws should be changed to keep up with fast-paced changes in the financial services industry.
Richard Breeden, task force staff director, has said he does not think the group will recommend creation of the kind of "superagency" that Conover proposed to regulate banks and S&Ls.
Conover's suggestions would streamline the jumbled federal regulatory scheme for the nation's banking institutions. Today, three agencies are responsible for examining banks. The comptroller's office examines federally chartered institutions that by law also must be members of the Federal Reserve system. The Federal Reserve, the nation's central bank, regulates banks that are chartered by a state but also choose to be members of the Fed system.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. examines state-chartered banks that are not members of the Fed system, but have federal deposit insurance. The FDIC also is responsible for insuring deposits to $100,000 in all but a handful of tiny state-chartered banks that are not federally insured.
The Federal Home Loan Bank Board regulates all federally insured savings and loan associations, while the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. insures S&L deposits.
Conover told reporters that ultimately Congress must decide what financial services will look like and what financial institutions will be able to do. The Senate Banking Committee early last month opened hearings on the changing shape of the financial system that could last for months.
Conover also said federal banking regulators are "walking a tightrope" in trying to inject more "discipline" in international lending by U.S. banks. "If we overdo it," he said, there is a risk that banks, especially regional banks that are relatively new to international lending, will stop lending to troubled countries like Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. If that happened, he said, it would virtually guarantee that those countries would not be able to pay back the hundreds of billions of dollars they owe U.S. and other banks.
Conover also said that in the last year he has attended board of directors meetings at nine of the nation's 11 biggest banks in order to present the results of his agency's examinations to their directors.