Chemical Corp. of New York and two Ohio securities firms have asked the Comptroller of the Currency for charters to open banks in the District, taking advantage of a loophole in federal bank law that will be closed next week.
Usually, the comptroller -- the chief federal bank regulatory agency -- charters national banks, and state banking regulators charter local banks. But in the District, the comptroller now has the power to charter both local and national banks.
That power will end next Tuesday when the interstate banking law passed recently by the D.C. Council takes effect and transfers to the District government the power to charter local banks.
The three applications for D.C. charters were filed this week to avoid coming under the authority of the April 8 law, representatives of the three firms said.
The applications were filed by Chemical, the nation's sixth-largest bank holding company; Prescott, Ball & Turben, a Cleveland securities firm; and Cranston Securities Co. of Columbus, Ohio.
A spokesman for Chemical said it seeks to open a limited service bank, better known as a nonbank bank. Officials at Prescott Ball and Cranston would not comment on their applications.
Federal and local authorities said they do not know if the two securities companies seek full- or limited-service institutions.
A bank is defined by federal law as a financial institution that offers checking accounts and makes loans to businesses.
A nonbank bank gets around that definition -- and regulation by the Federal Reserve Board -- by performing one or the other, but not both activities.
Chemical and the other two applicants want to set up banks here because they believe D.C. is a lucrative market and because it allows locally chartered banks to engage in a wider range of activities than national banks or those in most of the 50 states, representatives of the applicants said.
The activities could include allowing corporations to engage in many banking activities, such as making loans and taking certain types of deposits, while also selling insurance or security trading.
"That's our belief," said a top official at Prescott.
Federal and District officials said yesterday they are not sure what restrictions will apply to the three banks if the charters are granted.
A Chemical representative said that firm wants to set up a wholesale bank to serve government, international and corporate clients.
Chemical officials said the bank will not now accept consumer demand deposits.
The applicants also may have been encouraged to seek charters here by the Supreme Court decision in January that struck down the Federal Reserve Board's attempt to limit nonbank banks, one banking attorney said.
The court's decision made clear that ownership of nonbank banks is not limited to bank holding companies, which the Fed regulates.
A federal district court in Florida has barred the comptroller from granting federal charters for limited-service banks.
But the applicants believe the ban does not prevent the comptroller from granting local charters for banks in the District.
By side-stepping the new D.C. law, the applicants also could get around the law's reguirements that out-of-state businesses entering banking here invest millions of dollars in the community.
Any attempt to avoid investments in the local community would be opposed by D.C Councilwoman Charlene Drew Jarvis, who sponsored the bill.
"We've been round and round and round and round on this issue," Jarvis said.
"There's a route to do banking in the District of Columbia and now that route requires a community investment plan.
"We expect anyone who seeks a new charter here to respect the spirit of the law," Jarvis said.
She said that the D.C. Council is required by law to file official comments on the applications and that the comptroller would give "great weight" to opinions expressed by local authorities.