WASHINGTON — The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency unexpectedly announced Wednesday that Michael Brosnan, the senior deputy comptroller of large banks, was leaving his post to become examiner-in-charge of Zions Bank.

The move is both unusual and effectively a demotion, though Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry suggested it was a change sought by Brosnan himself.

"Now that we are moving beyond the crisis, I can understand why Mike was interested in moving into a new position," Curry said in the press release, adding he was "surprised" by the request.

In an e-mail obtained by American Banker, Brosnan wrote his staff that he was simply worn out.

"As is the case with many of you, I've been here for most of my life because the roles and family of the agency have made it easy to look forward to each and every day,"Brosnan wrote. "I am now in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable realm where it isn't fun any longer. I find myself exhausted as it has been extraordinarily difficult to recover a sense of proper balance in our lives."

Yet several OCC insiders were shocked by the news, and openly doubted whether Brosnan was leaving of his own accord. They pointed to the sudden departure last year of Julie Williams, the agency's longtime No. 2, who was forced out by Curry.

"My own read is he just got the Julie Williams, which is unthinkable," said one former OCC official. "He can rankle people but the bottom line is he knows those banking companies. They respect him. He's a good supervisor and if he's gone, two thirds of that large-bank team can retire."

The official said others at the OCC are "all just dumbfounded."

Another OCC official who had been in contact with Brosnan very recently said he had mentioned nothing about an impending position change.

"I thought it was a hoax," this official said when they received the e-mail Brosnan sent to staff. "Something dramatic must have happened over there in the last day or two for this to happen this way."

But a third former OCC official disagreed with the others, saying "this was Mike's decision."

"This was not a Julie Williams deal," the third official said.

Instead, the third official attributed the change to overall morale problems at the OCC since Curry took office in April.

"It's a sad situation when someone who is as talented as Mike is so frustrated that he decides he has to do this," the third former official said. "The OCC has lost a great leader, and somebody who would speak up and take a stand."

Although Brosnan will stay with the OCC, the difference in his current and future roles is dramatic. As head of the large bank supervision department, a job he's had since 2010, Brosnan oversees all large banks as well as the international banking supervision group and the OCC's London office.

His next role, however, will be examiner-in-charge of Zions Bank, a $17.2 billion-asset bank. Brosnan is a 21-year veteran of the OCC, having served as examiner-in-chief of Bank of America before leaving in 2004 to oversee operational risk management at MBNA America (which was later acquired by B of A). He returned to the OCC in 2008 as the deputy comptroller for large banks.

In the press release, Curry praised Brosnan's work during the financial crisis.

"Mike rejoined the OCC in 2008, in the darkest days of the financial crisis, and served with distinction, first as Deputy Comptroller and then as Senior Deputy Comptroller for Large Bank Supervision," Curry said. "He worked long days, grappled with the toughest decisions that confronted bank supervisors anywhere in the world, and contributed greatly to the healing of the industry."

The agency named Martin Pfinsgraff as the acting successor to Brosnan. Pfinsgraff was a deputy comptroller for credit and market risk at the OCC. Prior to that, he was chief operating officer at the risk management firm, iJet International.

"Marty has deep experience in the kinds of complex risk management issues that are so important to large bank supervision these days," Curry said.

Rachel Witkowski contributed to this article.

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