The Comptroller of the Currency today encouraged "nonbank banks" to begin operations as soon as they receive regulatory approval, even though the chairmen of both the House and Senate banking committees have promised Congress will shut them down.

C. T. Conover, at a press conference before addressing the annual meeting of the American Bankers Association, said that merely because the legislators promised to close any nonbank bank set up after July 1, 1983, it is a "long way from having these dates contained in law."

Rep. Fernand St Germain (D-R.I.), chairman of the House Banking Committee, immediately accused Conover of being "irresponsible" and said the banking regulator was encouraging the financial industry to "expend its resources" on futile and speculative ventures.

St Germain said he hoped wiser heads at the bankers convention would "properly evaluate the comptroller's self-proclaimed ability to predict the future."

He noted that the full Senate and both the House and Senate banking committees already have endorsed the July 1, 1983 cutoff date.

Nonbank banks are financial institutions that have been specifically developed to avoid the restrictions on ownership and interstate branching contained in federal law.

Either by refusing to accept checking accounts or by refusing to make business loans, a bank-like institution can escape the definition of "bank" contained in the Bank Holding Company Act.

The so-called nonbank banks themselves are regulated by federal banking agencies.

But their owners can be companies whose primary business is not banking, and the parent company can establish them in more than one state.

Conover declared a moratorium on approving nonbank banks last spring in order to give Congress time to deal with both the loophole and expanded powers for commercial banks.

He lifted the moratorium two weeks ago after Congress failed to pass a banking bill.

The Senate passed a bill last month, which Conover said today was "barely acceptable," but the House never considered legislation.

But St Germain, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Jake Garn (R-Utah) and ranking minority member Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) all promised that banking legislation would be the first issue considered in the next Congress and that the legislation would force the closure of any nonbank banks set up after July 1, 1983.

The comptroller's office has approved a handful of the nonbank banks, but said there is a backlog of 332 applications that now can come up for approval. He said that the first of them probably will be cleared by early or middle February.

Most of the applications need approval from the Federal Reserve Board, which is cooler to the idea than Conover.

The Fed tried to restrict the size of the loophole earlier this year, but a federal appeals court overruled the central bank.

The Fed said today it would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Conover said today that nonbank banks are legal.

Citicorp Chairman John Reed told reporters Tuesday that if the world's biggest bank company received approval on its 10 or so applications to set up nonbank banks, Citicorp would go ahead despite the congressional threat. But other bankers here said they might be more cautious because of potential congressional action.