WASHINGTON — The Federal Housing Finance Agency said Monday it has approved the merger of the Federal Home Loan banks of Des Moines and Seattle, giving approval to the first voluntary combination in the history of the system.

The merger must still be approved by the individual members of both systems, something that is expected to happen early next year.

"This is a critical milestone in the merger approval process," said Richard Swanson, the president of the Des Moines bank, who would head up the combined bank. "The FHFA's support of this potential merger underscores the long-term value and benefit that would be derived from a combined bank meeting the funding needs of nearly 1,500 financial institutions serving 13 states and the U.S. Pacific territories."

The voting process for the merger will begin in mid-January and conclude in late February, the banks said in a joint press release. Members of each bank as of Sept. 30 will be eligible to vote.

The banks said they will send out disclosure materials early next month and plan to hold meetings in both districts to respond to any questions. Home Loan bank executives expressed optimism that members would sign off on the merger.

“We are confident they will appreciate the careful consideration that has been given to the proposed merger and recognize that the decisions their boards have made will result in a cooperative that is stronger than either the Seattle or Des Moines Bank on an individual basis,” said Mike Wilson, the head of the Seattle bank, in the press release.

Indeed, it appears likely the merger will be easily approved by both banks’ membership. Since the two announced in late July that they were considering a merger, there has been no significant opposition to the deal. Observers have said a merger makes sense, particularly because advances — the traditional business of the Home Loan banks — have dried up as a result of record-low interest rates. The Seattle bank has also struggled to rebuild its advance business after putting emphasis on its mortgage program prior to the financial crisis.

Observers have said a successful merger of the Seattle and Des Moines banks could pave the way for other Home Loan banks to merge.

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