WASHINGTON — As one bank in California suffered death throes, some depositors throughout the country decided it was time for a check up.

Federal regulators’ decision to seize the California-based IndyMac Bancorp, one of the largest bank closings in American history, prompted regulators and credit union trade associations to go to great lengths to assure members that their deposits are insured.

NCUA Director of Public and Congressional Affairs John McKechnie said the agency had received an “increased number of inquiries,” on whether credit union deposits were insured. He said those inquiries prompted NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson to issue a statement last Monday stating that all deposits are insured up to $100,000, with coverage of up to $250,000 for some retirement accounts.

She added that the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund’s equity ratio is estimated at 1.24% as of June 30. When the equity ratio reaches more than 1.3%, credit unions can receive a dividend; when it falls below $1.2%, the agency must assess a premium to the credit unions to bring it back above 1.2%. NCUA is currently predicting the equity ratio to end the year at 1.29%.

Regulators of financial institutions in several states also took steps to reassure consumers. In Pennsylvania, officials of the state Banking Department did several television interviews on Monday to calm the public’s nerves.

“In general, the banking industry in Pennsylvania is doing well,” Pennsylvania Department of Banking spokesman Dan Egan told WHTM-TV in Harrisburg. “This is a difficult economy for a lot of banks and earnings are a little down, but there are no banks that are in imminent danger of failing in Pennsylvania as far as we know.”

The television reports caused a trickling of phone calls to credit unions from members who were concerned, said Mike Wishnow, senior vice president of communications for the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association.

In turn, the association received “a couple of calls” from credit unions seeking a simplified explanation of how the insurance system works so they could explain it to their members.

Credit union leagues in Louisiana, Oregon and Wisconsin were holding seminars and sharing information for credit unions about the workings of the insurance system.

At the Louisiana session, which was run by NCUA insurance analyst Deborah Spearing, attendees were taught how to determine coverage levels for various accounts and also took an online tour of the NCUA Share Insurance Estimator, which provides estimates and explanations of insurance coverage.

First Capital Federal Credit Union is using the concerns about the soundness of financial institutions to promote the fact that it provides deposit insurance above the NCUA’s.

First Capital Federal Credit Union of York, Pa., sent out a news release saying it is one of 13 credit unions in the state, and the only one in York County, that offers Excess Share Insurance. This means that the credit union offers up to $250,000 worth of additional insurance for those accounts over $100,000. ESI is an arm of American Share Insurance, the last private primary insurance provider.

Consumer concerns about the safety of their deposits has sparked an increase of inquiries to Excess Share Insurance.

Dennis Adams, the president and CEO of the company and its parent American Share Insurance Co., said it had received about 60 calls from credit union members asking for information about the extent of their coverage, which covers up to $250,000 beyond NCUA’s coverage.

“It’s giving people comfort,” he said when consumers find out that their credit union has the additional insurance. “We’re getting lots of positive feedback.”

The company provides insurance above NCUA’s to 388 credit unions in 33 states.

Adams said the company’s marketing department has received seven inquiries this week from credit unions who want to apply for the additional insurance.

The 19,000-member First Capital credit union has offered the insurance since February 1997.

IndyMac, which was once part of leading subprime mortgage seller Countrywide Financial Corp., was seized by the FDIC on July 11 after customers withdrew $1.3 billion over a two-week period in the aftermath of the release of a letter by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to federal regulators that raised concerns about its soundness.

Most of the bank’s deposits were insured, but pictures on televisions and in newspapers of people lining up asking for their money triggered concerns.

–cmarx@cutimes.com