WASHINGTON — Comptroller Thomas Curry didn't mince words last week when asked about Sheila Bair's new book.
In her insider account of the financial crisis, the former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman said the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency should be eliminated.
Asked for his own view during a conference call with employees last Thursday, Curry said to some laughs that Bair was "dead wrong" on the issue.
But just in case it wasn't clear, Curry sent a follow-up response to the entire agency on Tuesday, in which he struck a more serious tone.
"As a member of the FDIC board and now as the Comptroller of the Currency, I absolutely disagree" with Bair's suggestion, Curry wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by American Banker.
Curry said Congress and the president "reconfirmed" the mission of the OCC and its role in bank regulation through the financial reform law, and even expanded that mission to include thrift supervision.
"The Dodd-Frank Act recodified the wisdom of having a strong, independent prudential bank regulator that is separate from fiscal policy and separate from the deposit insurance function," Curry said. "That independence is critical to the safety and soundness of our federal banking system. For 150 years, the OCC has served this role well."
In Bull By the Horns, released Sept. 25, Bair portrayed the agency as far too close to the banks it regulates.
Although then Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd proposed consolidating the regulators to eliminate so-called charter-shopping and abolish the OCC, Bair said that would have empowered the agency.
She said the solution is to do away with the OCC altogether, putting all bank supervision with the FDIC — and leaving holding company supervision with the Fed.
"Let's face it, the OCC has failed miserably in its mandate of ensuring the safety and soundness of the national banks it regulates," Bair wrote.
In his email, Curry defended the "dedicated and professional" employees he has come to know in his first six months as comptroller.
"You provide a valuable service to this country that is often underappreciated," he said. "By building on those capabilities and being attuned to the lessons of our experiences, the agency can contribute to the safety and soundness of America's banking system for another 150 years."