A top federal banking official testified yesterday that a common element in many bank failures is overdraft abuses by officers and directors of the institutions.
President Carter's budget director, Bert Lance, has been accused. among other things, of running up large overdrafts at banks he headed in Georgia.
Charles M. Pickett, regional counsel for the Dallas office of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., said that in most of the 34 banks he has closed, officers and directors wrote checks without sufficient funds in their accounts that were covered at no interest charge by the bank.
He told the House subcommittee on financial institutions that when federal examiners began to question the overdrafts, the banks usually converted them into normal, interest-bearing loans, but they were usually loans the banks "couldn't have afforded to make."
The subcommittee, headed by Rep. Fernand J. St Germain (D.R.I.), is holding hearings on a bill designed to deal with various abuses in banking practices. including overdrafts and the use of one bank's deposits in a second institution to induce the second to make low-interest loans to officers of the first.
Lance placed large interest-free deposits from the National Bank of Georgia into two other banks - Manufacturers Hanover Trust of New York and First National Bank of Chicago - at about the same time he obtained large personal loans from the New York and Chicago banks.
Smaller banks often maintain interest-free, or correspondent, accounts with larger banks, and the larger banks provide services such as check-clearing to the smaller banks in return.
But when the accounts are established to induce the bigger bank to make loans to officers of the smaller one, or when the balances are kept higher than needed for the same reason, the correspondent accounts are being used illegally as compensating balances. lawyers agree.
While it is not illegal for a banker to have personal financial dealings with a big bank with which his institution has a correspondent relationship, Dallas FDIC Regional Director Quinton Thompson told the House subcommittee that it is a "highly unfavorable practice" that bank supervisors should discourage.
He said that compensating balances were widespread when he took over the Dallas office in 1969 - usually for loans to buy bank stock as in Lance's case - but that his supervisory efforts have "largely climinated" the practices.
Lance and the two banks maintain that the $2.7 million loan he received from Manufactures Hanover in 1975 and the $3.4 million he received late last year from First Chicago were good loans made at non-preferential rates.
Lance used the first loan to buy 164.228 shares of National Bank of Georgia stock, then used the First Chicago loan to pay off the New York bank and buy more stock in the Georgia bank.
Lance, his wife, members of her family and his campaign committees when he ran for governor of Georgia in 1974 all had sizable overdrafts at the Calhoun National Bank in the early 1970s.
Lance headed the Calhoun bank until he went to National Bank of Georgia.
No interest was charged on these overdrafts until federal examiners required it in 1975 and at the same time demanded that the bank stop allowing Lance and the others to continue to overdraw their accounts.
The FDIC's Pickett said that overdraft abuses are "widespread in the banks that were in trouble," but are not found often in sound banks.
He told a reporter later that overdraft abuses are not the cause of bank failures. but are symptomatic of managements that are not careful and engage in other unsound banking practices that eventually cause a failure.
The FDIC is one of three federal bank supervisory agencies. It examines those state-chartered banks that are federally insured but are not members of the Federal Reserve system.