Thrift Regulator Gives Greater Flexibility on CRA Tests

Large thrifts will have more flexibility in meeting their Community Reinvestment Act tests under a final rule approved by the Office of Thrift Supervision last week.

CRA scores for thrifts with more than $1 billion in assets will no longer be based on a strict 50% lending, 25% investment and 25% services test.

Under the final rule that goes into effect April 1, large thrifts can determine the mix of investments and services they want to provide based on their resources, opportunities and needs of their communities.

"While the final rule maintains a 50% floor weighting for lending activities to ensure that community credit needs are met, it provides flexibility for large institutions to assess areas of greatest CRA need in their community and to tailor their CRA activities accordingly," OTS said.

The final rule moved OTS another step ahead of the other federal banking regulators, which are considering a similar proposal for banks with assets of between $250 million and $1 billion - but not for larger banks.

America's Community Bankers welcomed the OTS action, noting it provides real regulatory relief and provides a "good alternative to the current three-pronged test."

But the National Community Reinvestment Coalition complained that the OTS rule allows large thrifts to get a "satisfactory" or passing CRA score even if they stop making community development investments and stop providing services to low-income neighborhoods.

NCRC president John Taylor complained that OTS ignored 95% of the comment letters that opposed the rule and he called on President Bush to fire OTS director James Gilleran.

"Director Gilleran has shown disdain not only for the collective decision-making of the other bank regulatory agencies, but for the general public as well," Mr. Taylor said. "What is the purpose of the public comment period if one renegade regulator can chose to ignore the public's input."

OTS declined to comment on Mr. Taylor's remarks.

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