Since the expiration in April of Thomas J. Curry’s term as Comptroller of the Currency, it has remained unclear who would be tapped to replace him. Until today.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has announced that Comptroller Curry will step down for good on May 5 and be replaced temporarily by Keith Noreika. Noreika will serve as Acting Comptroller of the Currency for an undetermined period of time. It is unclear whether Noreika, or someone else, will eventually be nominated for the permanent position as Comptroller.
Noreika has significant credentials in the area of banking regulation. He has spent most of his career as a bank regulatory attorney at the law firm of Covington & Burling in Washington, DC, a firm that also produced one recent Comptroller, John C. Dugan. Noreika joined Covington as an associate after law school, became a partner, and stayed there through 2016, when he left to join another firm’s Washington office. He has represented a variety of national banks and other clients in the financial services industry.
In contrast to Noreika’s established record of experience on substantive bank regulatory matters, less publicly known are his political views and his views on the appropriate role of the OCC and the future of banking regulation. It thus remains to be seen in what direction he may want to take the OCC and what changes he may attempt to effect—and the extent to which he may be able to effect any change. The OCC is an independent agency made up mostly of career employees rather than political appointees (the Comptroller position being a notable exception). Thus, unlike at certain other agencies, a new Comptroller cannot arrive with a supportive network of political appointees whose mission is to effect a specific agenda of the White House or the individual Comptroller.
Rather, the Comptroller typically must obtain buy-in from multiple senior staffers (whose tenure, in many cases, will likely outlast the Comptroller’s term) for a given initiative. Therefore, it is unclear whether and how the arrival of a new Comptroller will change the OCC’s course on pending projects, particularly ones that have attracted controversy, like the fintech bank charter and the interagency incentive compensation rulemaking.
Still, the Comptroller—even alone, and even on an acting basis—wields a great deal of power and influence, due not only to his or her status as the head of the agency but also due to the power and influence that the OCC commands. As we have discussed in this space, the OCC fills unique and important functions in the banking system. The role that Noreika will play at the OCC will be worth watching.