After two failed attempts, Biden’s third pick for Comptroller of the Currency, Saule Omarova, is setting the stage for a radical shift in how the federal government regulates banking. A noted radical in financial circles, Omarova is harshly critical of the financial industry at-large, often arguing that the nation’s banking system needs to be fundamentally restructured with a particular emphasis on increasing the power of federal regulators.
Omarova’s nomination has drawn the ire of many. For one, she was reportedly nominated “over the objections of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen,” who staked out a more moderate position on financial regulations both at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. Outside groups are also concerned. The American Bankers Association issued a press release opposing her confirmation, saying her “proposals to effectively nationalize America’s community banks, end regulatory tailoring based on risk and eliminate the dual banking system are particularly troubling.”
- The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) is an independent bureau of the Department of the Treasury.
- It is tasked with regulating and supervising “all national banks and federal savings associations as well as federal branches and agencies of foreign banks.”
- The head of the OCC, the Comptroller of the Currency, serves a five-year term subject to Senate confirmation.
- Originally founded by Abraham Lincoln, the OCC was ostensibly created to provide regulatory clarity and increase faith in the federal banking system amidst a time of increased financial insecurity.
- Many financial technology companies (FinTechs) are not considered “banks” under federal regulations and are thus exempt from many federal restrictions like capital requirements.
- This structure has been essential to the blossoming of the FinTech industry, which has been pivotal in increasing access to financial services nationwide.
- Omarova has been harshly critical of the FinTech industry, arguing that many institutions should be regulated the same as banks.
- Omarova has also been critical of cryptocurrencies and the industry that surrounds them.
- From a banking perspective, Omarova has argued that “could allow banks to conduct more trading activity out of view of the Federal Reserve and other regulators.”
- In line with other federal financial regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Omarova is a crypto regulation hawk and is likely to make a hard push for heavy regulation for cryptocurrency holdings and transactions.
Why It Matters
President Biden and his administration have made it clear that they intend to return the federal government to heavy-handed regulation. From the Federal Trade Commission’s Lina Khan to the SEC’s Gary Gensler, President Biden has packed his administration with regulatory hawks that are seeking to use their newfound power to radically alter our financial markets and institutions. Omarova’s nomination is only the latest in a series of such appointments.
In particular, Omarova’s nomination to lead the OCC is worrisome in many of the same ways that similar nominations have been controversial. Omarova’s outspoken opposition to the regulatory status quo — and the institutions that rely on it — has led many to wonder whether she can serve as an unbiased regulator. Presuming she is confirmed, only time will tell how far Biden’s OCC is willing to go. Regardless, troublesome changes for the American financial system loom large on the horizon.