The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) could require large banks to take substantial actions to address persistent weaknesses, including restricting their growth or forcing them to divest from risky ventures.
On Thursday, the OCC released revisions to its bank supervision policies and procedures manual that laid out steps the agency will take should a bank violate laws, regulations, final agency orders, conditions imposed in writing, or written agreements or be found to have unsafe or unsound practices.
The OCC might require large, complex banks to improve their capital or liquidity positions if they fail to address persistent weaknesses highlighted by the agency. It also indicated it is prepared to take more drastic actions, like ordering a bank to “simplify or reduce its operations, including that the bank reduce its assets, divest subsidiaries or business lines, or exit from one or more markets of operation,” according to a press release.
“This revised policy promotes strong management by making clear that a bank’s inability to correct persistent weaknesses will result in proportionate, fair, and appropriate consequences, including growth restrictions and divestitures when warranted,” said Acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael Hsu in the release.
In November, the OCC announced it was increasing the size of potential fines against large banks it regulates up to $400 million, more than double its highest total penalty amount in previous guidance.
The agency’s latest move comes as other federal banking regulators, including the Federal Reserve Board and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, have pointed out in postmortem analysis of the recent failures of several mid-sized banks that persistent weaknesses in the banks’ balance sheets went unaddressed for years.
The OCC’s move indicates banking regulators are rowing in the same direction on the issue of forcing banks to address persistent weaknesses.
Even before the new revisions to its manual, the OCC has not hesitated when judging whether a bank failed to act on its recommendations. The agency has taken a harsh stance on Wells Fargo, for example, for its alleged failure to address persistent weaknesses, including a $250 million fine in September 2021 for failing to meet the terms of a 2018 consent order related to its enterprise wide compliance risk management practices.
The OCC imposed limits on Wells Fargo’s growth while the bank addresses the agency’s concerns.