OCC first regulator to recommit to on-site exams

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WASHINGTON — Examiners will soon resume visiting national banks and working in regional offices around the country, says acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks.

“Our work supervising banks is a critical cog in our national economic engine. It ensures banks operate in a safe and sound manner, provide fair access and treat customers fairly,” Brooks wrote in a BankThink column for American Banker.

“I'm an evangelist for the use of technology and innovation to improve access and make work and lives easier,” he continued. “But our work is too important to rely solely on a phone, a webcam and a broadband connection.”

The OCC is the first banking agency to indicate it would soon bring its examiners back into bank offices. Brooks told the ABA Journal in late May that he expected the agency’s offices to reopen on June 21.

The pitch for a return to in-person examination comes roughly three months since examiners from the three main banking agencies transitioned to fully remote supervision, where regulators relied heavily on the digital exchange of documents and videoconferencing to conduct banker supervision.

In the column, Brooks cited the importance of nonverbal communication in establishing credibility between examiners and bankers as a key reason to resume in-person examination. “That communication, and the relationship between examiner and banker, work better in person. And because of that, bank supervision remains a high-touch business,” he wrote.

Still, public health experts continue to warn that America’s fight with the coronavirus pandemic is far from over. “In a period of four months, it has devastated the whole world,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday at a conference held by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. “And it isn’t over yet.”

And many states continue to report new highs in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases or hospitalizations. According to an analysis by The Washington Post, the past week marked new highs for seven-day rolling case averages in Arizona, Florida, Texas, North and South Carolina, Arkansas, Oregon, Nevada and Utah.

But in his column, Brooks argued “there are still irreducible elements of bank examination that require more than data analysis and file review. Examination is a human endeavor that relies on situational awareness and judgment, and that works best face to face.”

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Exams Brian Brooks OCC Coronavirus