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Comptroller of the Currency Kicks Off Symposium Marking 150 Years of National Banking


March 31 - Comptroller of the Currency Thomas J. Curry opened a conference commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency  by pointing to the important role supervision—examiner “boots on the ground”—has played since the agency’s founding.

“It’s our job as supervisors to lean against the wind,” he said in remarks opening the conference, which was jointly sponsored by the OCC and the Boston University Center for Finance, Law & Policy. “It’s our job to identify the soft spots that will turn into losses when the economy changes direction. And it’s our job to direct corrective actions in advance, when it is most easy for banks to adjust.”

Curry opened his remarks by citing the advice to national bankers given by the agency’s first Comptroller, Hugh McCulloch. McCulloch, he said, wrote that national bankers must “pursue a straightforward, upright, legitimate banking business,” and should “never be tempted by the prospect of large returns to do anything but what may be properly done under the National Currency Act.” It is advice, Mr. Curry said, that continues to be of real value today.

Comptroller Curry noted that the OCC spent its 150th year “taking a hard look at ourselves and seeing what insights we could glean from our history that might make us better custodians of Lincoln’s legacy—and, therefore, better bank supervisors.”

Among the initiatives, he said, was an International Supervisory Peer Review that brought together senior bank examiners from other countries to review OCC’s large and midsize bank supervision program. Experts from Australia, Canada, and Singapore made their recommendations in December, and the process of reviewing those recommendations and “making decisions on how to implement them” is underway, the Comptroller said.

Looking forward, “We now find ourselves at another historical inflection point, brought on by the financial crisis that began in 2008.” Citing the progress made in strengthening the country’s financial system, he asked, “even with all that progress, how do we stay on course to avoid another crisis?”

Curry said that while new laws and regulations, along with data analytics and capital, all play a role in guarding against breakdowns, what’s most important is the presence of examiners on the ground: “seasoned professionals who bring the benefit of sound judgment and years of experience to their work. That’s a truth that has been demonstrated countless times over the last 150 years.”

In addition to Curry, the event featured prominent public and private sector leaders discussing the current state of domestic and international banking in the context of recent and historical events, including:

Specific topics addressed by other distinguished speakers included the state of the dual banking system, preemption in the wake of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, a European perspective on banking, the Volcker Rule, banking reform, the future of universal banking, “Too Big to Fail,” globalizations effect on banking, and emerging alternatives to traditional banks.