Thursday, August 13, 2020
Those of us who study banking law and regulation know it’s an absolutely exciting area! That’s particularly true at the moment. Not only are we watching the path of Lacewell v. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), a case about the OCC’s power to grant federal fintech charters to nondepository institutions, currently in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, but we’ve also been treated to dueling banking law prof amicus curiae briefs (additional amicus briefs were also filed). In this week’s post, I’ll highlight the brief led by Lev Menand, Saule Omarova, Morgan Ricks, Joe Sommer, and Art Wilmarth, and signed by thirty-three banking law scholars (here).
The professors begin by stating their interest: “ensuring that banking agencies stay within their statutory mandates and work in the public interest.” They term the OCC’s proposal to charter nondepository fintech firms “a dangerous power grab premised on the novel claim that banking is just another word for lending.” In a nutshell, the scholars argue that “the OCC does not have the power to charter entities that are not in the deposit – that is, money creation – business.” It’s actually illegal – as the brief notes – for “unregulated entities to receive deposits.” “Bank deposits constitute the bulk of our nation’s money supply, and it is for this reason that banks are subject to strict federal oversight…Creating deposit dollars is a delegated sovereign privilege – an extremely sensitive activity that justifies federal chartering, regulation, and supervision.” The OCC’s very name is linked to the nation’s currency system!
As the brief explains, if the OCC were to be able to grant federal fintech charters to nondepository institutions, this would result in a significant expansion of its regulatory authority. It would also impact the governance of the Federal Reserve, and expand access to Fed master accounts and discount window lending. Additionally, as banks are exempt from the coverage of the federal securities laws and investment company laws, it would impact the coverage of these laws, and it would even create “an alternative, OCC-controlled system of business organization available to a huge range of companies.”
Indeed, the answer to what might seem to be a technical banking law question of interest to few (and perhaps boring to most) will have tremendous ramifications. The professors do an excellent job of explaining the implications of the OCC having the authority to grant federal fintech charters, and I encourage BLPB readers to review their brief.
Stay tuned for Part II, next Wednesday!! I’ll be highlighting Professor David Zaring’s Amicus Curiae Brief supporting the OCC’s position.