WASHINGTON — After nearly a yearlong vacancy, the White House has finally tapped a new comptroller.
President Obama announced Friday he intends to nominate Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. director Tom Curry, a former state regulator, for the top job at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. He also said he plans to nominate Mary J. Miller, the Treasury assistant secretary for financial markets, as undersecretary for domestic affairs. She would succeed Jeffrey Goldstein, who announced this week he plans to leave.
“I am proud to nominate such impressive men and women to these important roles, and I am grateful they have agreed to lend their considerable talents to this administration,” President Obama said in a press release. “I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.”
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson praised the choice in a press release issued after the announcement.
“Tom has been a strong, effective Director at the FDIC for the past seven years, and his experience should serve him well as the next Comptroller of the Currency,” Johnson said. “In the aftermath of the financial crisis, it is important to have a Senate confirmed Comptroller in place, and I plan to move his nomination forward in the Banking Committee as quickly as possible.”
Curry has recently been seen as a top candidate to succeed Acting Comptroller John Walsh, and industry observers said his nomination picked up steam as pressure built on Walsh in recent weeks due to a controversial decision on preemption and recent comments made in London. Most agreed the Curry nomination is likely to be well-received by lawmakers.
"He knows what he's doing and is very smart," said Jo Ann Barefoot, a co-director of Treliant Risk Advisors and former OCC official. "I think it's a good pick."
Barefoot said the nomination and eventual confirmation would also benefit the agency, which has been under pressure in recent weeks.
Two top Democratic senators have called for Walsh’s job after a speech on capital in London last month. On Tuesday, the Treasury Department sharply criticized the OCC’s proposed preemption rule, saying it violated the intent of Dodd-Frank.
“There’s been so much politics swirling around it, and it’s so hard for an acting head to navigate,” she said.
Curry, who served as former commissioner of banks in Massachusetts, has a solid reputation in Massachusetts and Washington, and is highly regarded by bankers and consumer advocates.
"He's a very careful and thoughtful regulator," said Richard Schaberg, a partner with Hogan Lovells LLP. "We didn't always agree but I found him to be very fair. What you want in a regulator is predictability, and he is very predictable."
Schaberg, who represents dozens of banks in Massachusetts, first started working with Curry when he was a general counsel in the banking division there. Schaberg said Curry didn't push certain positions or pursue his own agenda. He was also a capable administrator.
"He's had longstanding experience in very ably managing a large administration from a bank regulatory standpoint, which I think will help him fit right into this role," he said.
Cornelius Hurley, a banking law professor at Boston University and a former Fed lawyer, said he “thinks the world” of Curry.
“He did an outstanding job here as commissioner of banks in Massachusetts, and acquitted himself extremely well as an independent director for the FDIC,” said Hurley. “I have every confidence that he’ll be an outstanding comptroller of the currency.”
Brian Lanigan, the chief operating officer for Middlesex Savings Bank in Natick, Mass., noted that Curry has been around for several banking cycles, including the savings and loan crisis in the early 90s, which hit Massachusetts particularly hard. Lanigan also said Curry has a unique understanding of community banks, and a strong sense of fairness.
“I think it will make several of the community banks more comfortable that he’s been so close to community banks for so much of his career,” Lanigan said. “He’s well-regarded, well-liked and I think he’ll enter the position with people sort of pulling for him.”
Curry also has the advantage of having already been through the nomination process, making the process much easier a second time.
One key unknown, however, is Curry's current view on preemption. It's likely to be major issue in a confirmation hearing, especially given the administration's very public disagreement with the OCC over its interpretation of preemption provisions under the Dodd-Frank Act.
As a former state regulator Curry was a fierce defender of states' rights, but people who are familiar with his work in Massachusetts and on the FDIC board said they expect him to take a measured and thoughtful approach to OCC policy.
While he has a good reputation, Curry's path to comptroller is relatively unusual.
Most of the previous occupants of the job were either Treasury officials, examiners, bankers or lawyers. Curry has never regulated, worked for or represented a large, national bank. The last former state regulator to move into the comptroller's job was John G. Heimann, an investment banker and former New York state banking commissioner who served from 1977 to 1981.
Curry has served as a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s board of directors since January 2004. Prior to joining the FDIC board, he served as the Massachusetts commissioner of banks from 1990 to 1991 and from 1995 to 2003.
Curry entered state government in 1982 as an attorney with the Massachusetts' Secretary of State's Office, and later moved to the Division of Banks, where he rose through the ranks as assistant general counsel and later, first deputy commissioner.
During his time as a commissioner, Curry served as the chairman of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors from 2000 to 2001. He served two terms on the State Liaison Committee of the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, including a term as chairman.
He graduated summa cum laude from Manhattan College, and received his law degree from the New England School of Law.
Curry also serves as the chairman of the NeighborWorks America board of directors, a national non-profit that supports community-based neighborhood revitalization efforts.