B of A Gets OK to Open Thrifts Nationwide : Banking: The move comes over the objections of some state regulators, who call it an end run around federal laws.


In a move that angered officials in several states, the Office of Thrift Supervision on Friday approved BankAmerica's application to open savings and loan offices in every state where it doesn't already have a presence.

The approval was expected, but it came over the objections of state regulators in Wyoming, Maine and New Hampshire, who called it an end run around federal laws that they say are intended to give the states authority over interstate banking within their borders.

Wyoming plans to appeal the OTS ruling, Banking Commissioner Sue E. Mecca said Friday. She added that Gov. Jim Geringer planned to send a letter to BankAmerica Chairman Richard M. Rosenberg "expressing our disenchantment with the bank's predatory action."

BankAmerica officials had no comment on the states' objections.

BofA spokesman Peter Magnani said there is no current timetable for opening the offices, except that all are to be up and running within a year. The OTS approval expires in a year if it is not exercised.

Of the 279 branches approved, 182 will be in Jewel-Osco supermarkets in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Most of the others will be in existing offices of BofA's mortgage lending, mobile-home lending and community banking businesses. Another 17 locations are planned as new, free-standing branches in states where BofA does not now have a presence.

BankAmerica's idea is to use the new branches--all of which will be offices of the company's savings and loan subsidiary, Bank of America, FSB--to establish the first truly nationwide branch network before Congress changes interstate banking rules.

But according to the state officials protesting the move, BofA is trampling laws that are already on the books, especially the Riegle-Neal Interstate Bank Branching and Efficiency Act of 1994, which they contend was meant to give states control over interstate branching within their boundaries.

The law allows commercial banks to branch across state lines as of June 1, 1997, subject to state restrictions.

However, the OTS noted in a letter to New Hampshire Bank Commissioner A. Roland Roberge that courts have repeatedly affirmed the agency's authority to regulate branching by savings and loans.

BofA, according to analysts, believes that that savings and loan advantage--Roberge calls it a "loophole"--may be eliminated by Congress. The San Francisco-based banking giant wanted to get its foot in the door of all 50 states before that happened.

"If these people are going to be that flagrant and ignore state laws, how are they going to treat consumers?" Roberge asked Friday.

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