Trump chooses regional banker as key regulator of US banks

AP News
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Posted: Jun 06, 2017 7:50 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has chosen a regional banker as his nominee for a key government position in bank regulation.

Trump announced late Monday he is naming Joseph Otting as comptroller of the currency, heading a Treasury Department agency that is the chief overseer for federally chartered banks. If confirmed by the Senate, Otting will play a role in the Trump administration's efforts to ease rules written under the Dodd-Frank law that stiffened financial regulation after the 2008-09 crisis.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency charters and supervises national banks and savings and loans. The agency has hundreds of bank examiners, many of them working inside the nation's largest financial institutions, who focus closely on lending practices.

Otting was CEO from 2010 to 2015 of OneWest Bank, where he worked with then-chairman Steven Mnuchin, who is now Treasury secretary. Democrats who objected to Mnuchin's appointment as Treasury chief accused him of running a "foreclosure machine" when he headed the big California-based bank. The bank foreclosed on thousands of homeowners in the aftermath of the housing crisis caused by high-risk mortgages.

Mnuchin, who led an investor group that bought the failed IndyMac bank in 2009 and turned it into a profitable OneWest, has defended his actions as the bank's chairman. He has said he worked hard during the financial crisis to help homeowners with refinancing mortgages so they could remain in their homes.

OneWest was among a number of big banks that signed consent orders with the OCC over alleged mortgage servicing abuses. The bank didn't admit or deny wrongdoing under the 2011 order but agreed to undertake a plan to correct problems.

"If Mr. Otting didn't deal fairly with the customers at his own bank, it's difficult to see why he's the best choice to look out for the interests of customers at more than 1,400 banks and thrifts across the country," Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, senior Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said in a statement.

Before he worked at OneWest, Otting was vice chairman of U.S. Bancorp, parent of Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank, one of the largest banks in the country.

With Otting's appointment, Trump continues to fill out his key team of financial regulators, as his administration looks to easing rules and meet his campaign promises. Republicans have long complained that regulations were made too restrictive following the financial meltdown and have hampered economic growth by making it harder for banks to lend.

Jay Clayton, a Wall Street lawyer with ties to Goldman Sachs, is now chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Trump has three vacancies to fill on the Federal Reserve's board of governors, including the key slot that holds the portfolio of bank supervision.

Otting would replace Keith Noreika, a financial services lawyer who was installed last month as acting comptroller in an unusual move apparently aimed at avoiding Senate confirmation and normal ethics requirements.

Noreika succeeded Thomas Curry, an Obama appointee, who had been comptroller since 2012 and leaned toward strict bank oversight.