Thomas Curry, Comptroller of the Currency, US Department of the Treasury
Please give us a bit of background on yourself, and how your organization plays a leadership role in the financial technology space.
As the 30th Comptroller of the Currency, I head a team of 4,000 people who ensure national banks and federal savings associations in the United States operate in a safe and sound manner, provide fair access and equal treatment to their customers, and comply with applicable laws and regulations. Those banks hold nearly 70 percent of all assets in U.S. commercial banks and include the largest, most internationally active banks in the country as well as more than 1,200 smaller community banks operating throughout the nation. At the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, we recognize that by taking full advantage of responsible innovation, banks and thrifts can better meet evolving customer needs and promote broader financial inclusion. In doing so, banks and thrifts of all sizes will continue to serve as sources of strength for the nation’s economy and be essential providers of financial products and services to consumers, businesses, and their communities for decades to come.
How well are financial companies adapting to the rapid pace of FinTech development? What fields are furthest ahead of the game, and what sectors are being left behind?
Over the past few years, we have seen rapid growth in the number and types of companies seeking to provide retail financial services. Advances in technology have driven that growth by allowing for more modern delivery channels, automated or speedier underwriting, and simple to use tools that help people take charge of their financial lives. Certainly, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in marketplace lending products, payments technology, and personal financial management aids. I’m encouraged by progress in all of these areas. While I would not point to a sector that is particularly behind, I would note the need to ensure these companies pay as much attention to the risk management and compliance aspects of their business models and services as they do to the interface and marketing. As a regulator, it’s my instinct and job to ask whether the necessary safeguards are in place to ensure our system does not face undue risk and customers are not harmed.
What challenges do you see for FinTech development and disruption, both from a user's perspective and from a regulatory standpoint?
At the OCC, we are in the process of standing up a framework to ensure we have the processes and people in place to identify and evaluate innovative trends that affect the federal banking system. To get to this point, we have conducted dozens of conversations with fintechs, banks, consumer and community groups, academics, and other regulators. A couple common themes related to challenges surfaced from those conversations. First, new automated underwriting models using alternative data and narrow business models have not been tested by the effects of a full credit cycle. We’ve seen some weakness in performance and funding, particularly among marketplace lending, but we will have to wait and see how these portfolios really perform under more adverse conditions. Second, we must take care that products and services intended to increase access or convenience do not unintentionally disadvantage certain groups or regions. I think these are fundamental questions that the industry and regulators will be working on for a while.
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