US Regulator: What is the OCC?

The OCC is the US national banks regulator.

The OCC stands for The Office of the Comptroller of he Currency – even though the OCC has nothing to do with the currency. The name is a historical artefact from when the OCC was established in 1863 and its role in the system was related to the currency. The OCC is now purely a banking regulator.

The OCC is one of the most important US regulators for financial services (including fintech).

The OCC is the body that provides licences (or charters) to: 1) US national banks, 2) federal savings associations, and 3) federal branches and agencies of foreign banks. This amounts to approximately 1,200 financial institutions being regulated by the OCC – with these 1,200 institutions doing around 70% of all banking business in the US. The largest US banks, including Bank of America, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo and Citigroup, are regulated by the OCC.

The OCC’s roles are to:

  1. Issue licences – for the types of institutions in its remit.
  2. Supervise – monitor licensed institutions,
  3. Regulate – to issue rules and regulations for licensed institutions.
  4. Enforce regulations – take action against banks that fail to meet rules.
  5. Protect consumers and communities – ensure fair access and equal treatment to banking.

The OCC has established an Office of innovation to help foster responsible innovation – within traditional financial institutions and in fintech firms. The Office of Innovation has inward-facing and outward-facing roles. Its inward facing roles include to research developments and trends in financial innovation and to train OCC staff across the organisation. Its outward facing roles include providing technical assistance to banks and fintech firms.

The OCC has also been working to develop a Special Purpose National Bank Charter for fintech firms – allowing fintech firms to conduct some activities across the country with a lighter-version charter than national banks. This has been litigated against by a group of states as being beyond the remit of the OCC (on the basis that it usurps some of the authority that state regulators have).

The OCC’s headquarters are in Washington, D.C.  and it has offices for each of its four districts: Western, Central, Southern and Northeastern.