On January 29, OCC Comptroller Joseph Otting testified at a hearing held by the House Financial Services Committee to discuss the OCC’s Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) modernization proposal. (See Buckley Special Alert covering the joint notice of proposed rulemaking issued last December by the OCC and FDIC.) Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters expressed concerns with the NPR, arguing that the proposal “runs contrary to the purpose of the CRA and would lead to widespread bank disinvestment from low- and moderate-communities throughout the country.” Waters cited additional concerns with the NPR, including what she believes are efforts by the OCC “to deregulate megabanks” and “greenlight rent-a-bank schemes that allow lenders to skirt state usury caps.”

In his written testimony, Otting reiterated that the NPR is intended to strengthen and modernize CRA regulations and that the proposal does not permit redlining. “Nothing in this proposal changes the agencies’ authority to enforce fair lending laws to prevent discrimination and redlining. The regulations implementing the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibit discrimination and redlining,” Otting stressed in his oral statement. “These regulations are not changed in any way by this proposal.” (Emphasis in the original.) Otting also defended several of the proposed amendments that would, among other things, (i) remove uncertainty that discourages investments; (ii) focus on a bank’s sustained commitment to meeting a community’s credit needs and rewarding long-term investment; and (iii) accommodate banks of different sizes and business models by allowing small banks with less than $500 million in total assets to choose between the existing and the proposed revised framework for their evaluations. During the hearing, Otting also refuted the perception that the NPR employs the use of a single metric to determine a bank’s CRA rating, stating “there is no one ratio in this proposal. . .the average regional bank will have 502 measurement points so every community would be measured by units and dollars and at the top of the house it would be dollars.”

When Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) asked about the OCC’s recent request for bank-specific data to inform the NPR (previously covered by InfoBytes here) questioning why the agencies “want to adopt a rule on such a quick timetable when [they] still don’t have the information,” Otting responded that the additional information requested from the banks is meant to help validate the OCC’s analysis and conclusions. However, when the discussion turned to whether Congress could access the data and analysis used to create the NPR, Otting stated that he would be happy to discuss the data and analysis in person but that the information should not be publicly distributed. Waters stated Congress would subpoena the information if necessary. Otting also confirmed that the 60-day comment period of the NPR (which closes March 9) would not be extended, and that the goal would be to finalize the rule within 60 to 70 days after the comment period ends. With respect to the Federal Reserve’s decision not to join in the notice of proposed rulemaking, Otting said, “We have thousands of rules, regulations and guidance that differ amongst the agencies. So no…I do not see it as an impediment at all.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, earlier this month Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard discussed the Fed’s approach to the CRA modernization process and explained why the Fed chose not to join in the NPR.