Bank regulator: Review after Wells Fargo scandal failed to find industry-wide fraud

Bank regulator: Review after Wells Fargo scandal failed to find industry-wide fraud
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A top U.S. bank regulator on Wednesday said his agency did not find widespread openings of unauthorized accounts at major U.S. banks in a review spurred by Wells Fargo’s fraudulent sales practices.

Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting told lawmakers Wednesday he found no “pervasive or systemic issues” at the largest U.S. banks after reviewing roughly 500 million savings, checking, credit and insurance accounts and policies.

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Otting, a former bank executive, said the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) found roughly 20,000 accounts with compliance issues out of the hundreds of millions analyzed. Of those problematic accounts, Otting said that less than half were unauthorized.

Otting said that OCC has issued about 250 orders to banks highlighting account opening compliance issues they need to address, but did not identify which banks were reprimanded.

“We’re asking banks to improve their policies, procedures and control around their account openings,” Otting said in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee.

The OCC review of banks’ account-opening practices began in 2016, shortly after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) cracked down on Wells Fargo for opening millions of accounts for customers without their consent.

Wells Fargo was fined $100 million by the CFPB and has been subject to several federal and state investigations since. The bank also paid a $1 billion settlement to the CFPB and OCC in April to settle claims it had charged auto loan customers and mortgage holders inappropriate fees.

The Federal Reserve has also placed a growth restriction on Wells Fargo and is seeking the ouster of several Wells board members.

Wells Fargo’s sales practices spurred bipartisan outrage, and Democrats pressed Otting on why he hasn’t revealed which banks also had compliance issues with accounts.

“You decided not to take any public enforcement actions against them,” said. Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyWomen poised to take charge in Dem majority A new urgency to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP spars with FBI agent at tense hearing MORE (D-N.Y.). “I have to say, I find that deeply disturbing in light of the Wells Fargo scandal.”

Otting defended his decision to keep private the OCC’s steps to address those issues, saying they were confidential supervisory matters. The OCC found exponentially fewer instances of compliance problems at the major banks it analyzed than had been found at Wells Fargo alone.

Otting's testimony before the Financial Services panel was his first since taking over the OCC in November.

The former bank chief is one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpArizona GOP Senate candidate defends bus tour with far-right activist Alyssa Milano protests Kavanaugh in 'Handmaid's Tale' costume Bomb in deadly Yemen school bus attack was manufactured by US firm: report MORE's most politically polarizing financial regulatory picks. He was opposed almost unanimously by Democrats over concerns about foreclosures he oversaw after the financial crisis.

Republicans have praised Otting for his efforts to loosen controversial Dodd-Frank banking rules and expand a variety of lending options for banks discouraged by his predecessors.

"How wonderful it is to have regulators who are committed to growth in our economy," said Rep. Jeb HensarlingThomas (Jeb) Jeb HensarlingThe data is mightier than the sword, Mr. President It’s possible to protect national security without jeopardizing the economy California wildfires prompt deficit debate in Congress MORE (R-Texas), chairman of the Financial Services Committee.

Otting also faced questions about the OCC’s plans to overhaul the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) that spurred tense exchanges over his views on racial discrimination.

The OCC is working on an overhaul of the CRA, a 1970s law meant to tackle widespread racial discrimination in lending, by adapting its standards to modern banking innovations and trends.

Financial sector advocates and their allies in Congress say the CRA compliance process lacks clear guidelines and doesn’t consider banks’ efforts to broaden their reach through online services. The Treasury Department in April released a set of guidelines for revamping the CRA, which Otting praised and has used to craft the OCC proposal.

Democrats, along with fair lending and civil rights advocates, have expressed concerns that a CRA rewrite could undermine a law meant to ensure access to financial products for minorities and other vulnerable populations.

Otting appeared to upset several Democratic members of the committee when he said he had not observed racial discrimination in banking, but believes those who told him they’ve seen it

Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), who asked Otting if he’d witnessed racism, pushed him to say whether he believes it exists in the financial services industry. Otting would only say that he hadn’t seen evidence of it himself, but doesn’t doubt those who’ve seen discriminatory actions.

Capuano said Otting’s “ridiculous” answer left him unable to respond.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Otting’s answer was “stupefying” and questioned his commitment to fighting racism in banking.

Cleaver appeared stunned when Otting told him that he wasn’t familiar with the details of the rally held by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., last summer. The march led to violent clashes, during which a white supremacist allegedly drove his car through a group of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

“There would be no reason for minority inclusion if there was no exclusion,” Cleaver said.

Otting said he had prioritized minority outreach throughout his banking career and insisted his former colleagues could attest to his constant presence in minority communities.