WASHINGTON - Federally chartered thrifts will be the first financial companies to have their privacy protection efforts reviewed, but the Office of Thrift Supervision said it would use a light hand in the short run.
The agency plans to start formally monitoring the 1,090 federal thrifts' progress toward compliance with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act's privacy regulations next month. The regulations will take effect next July 1.
"Every institution should know how it is going to go about the process of achieving timely compliance and be able to articulate its approach to reaching that goal," the OTS wrote in a notice sent to examiners Monday.
The notice, which can be viewed at www.ots.treas.gov and is being distributed this week to the thrifts, lists questions examiners will ask compliance officers to determine their institutions' preparedness.
The OTS will incorporate the checks into regularly scheduled compliance exams. Institutions that do not have such exams scheduled before July will be monitored with "off-site" checks, most likely by telephone.
However, enforcement actions will not be taken against thrifts that are slow to get ready, the agency said.
"We will not be in enforcement mode," said Richard Riese, the agency's director of compliance policy. "We are in outreach mode. If an institution says it is lagging behind, the likely response from the examiner will be, 'Is there something we can do to assist?' All we want to do is see they are doing what is sensible from the institution's perspective."
These check-ups are different from formal privacy exam procedures, which bank and thrift regulators expect to finish by yearend, he said. Compliance examiners plan to start using the formal procedures in July.
Under Gramm-Leach-Bliley, institutions must send customers annual notices of their privacy policies and give them a chance to block the sharing of personal data outside of the institution's corporate family. Examiners will not check the notices thrifts plan to send to customers nor the computer systems that will track customer responses. Rather, examiners will ask compliance officers a series of questions to determine if the institution has a process in place to meet these requirements, Mr. Riese said.
In May the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said it will begin a similar preparedness tracking effort after its exam procedures are unveiled. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency does not plan to formally check compliance progress. A Federal Reserve spokeswoman said the agency would announce its plans at a later date.