WASHINGTON — Benjamin Lawsky, New York's top financial regulator, sharply criticized banks for their failure to speed up the payment system, warning that the government may step in if they continue to lag behind.

"If banks do not make significant progress soon, regulators should consider actively pushing for, or even perhaps mandating, improvements," Lawsky, the superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, said Thursday at a Bipartisan Policy Center event in Washington.

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