In remarks on Wednesday before the Exchequer Club in Washington, Acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika responded to State regulators and consumer advocates who have criticized the OCC’s proposed special purpose fintech charter (the proposed charter is discussed in this Covington client alert).
Acting Comptroller Noreika’s comments on the fintech charter reflect an evolution — but not a fundamental change — in pre-existing OCC policy toward fintechs, as initially established under Comptroller Thomas Curry. In particular, the Acting Comptroller’s comments reflect the OCC’s effort to adapt to a legal challenge to the proposed special-purpose fintech charter brought by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (the challenge is discussed in this Covington blog post).
Acting Comptroller Noreika suggested that the OCC would seek to rely on other OCC chartering authorities not affected by the legal challenge. For example, the OCC may be open to chartering “innovative de novo institutions” with fintech-focused business models under its (uncontested) authority to charter full-service national banks and federal savings associations, or under its special purpose charter authority for trust banks, banker’s banks and CEBA credit card banks.
At the same time, the Acting Comptroller made clear that the OCC would continue to defend its special purpose fintech charter in court, emphasizing that State regulators had sought to challenge it before the OCC had evaluated — or even received — a single application for such a special purpose charter. While he did not discuss the OCC’s legal strategy, his remarks may well presage a ripeness challenge to the State regulator lawsuit (i.e., an argument that the State regulators jumped the gun by effectively bringing a lawsuit against a white paper that had not yet been put in practice).
The Acting Comptroller’s remarks also reflected continuity in the OCC’s approach to supervising fintech banks. He emphasized, as had Comptroller Curry, that banks holding a fintech charter would be held to equivalent regulatory standards to other banks, including with respect to capital, liquidity, consumer protection and, “where appropriate,” financial inclusion (emphasis in original — as explained in our client alert, the financial inclusion requirements of the Community Reinvestment Act would not apply to a special purpose fintech bank that did not accept Federally-insured deposits).