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On October 27, Fed Vice Chair for Supervision, Michael Barr, delivered a speech at the Economics of Payments XII Conference discussing the Fed’s place in the payments system and highlighting its role as a bank supervisor and operator of key payment infrastructure. Emphasizing the Fed’s introduction of its FedNow instant payment service (covered by InfoBytes here), which was designed to enable secure instant payments in response to the increasing demand for secure and convenient payment options, Barr encouraged banks to build upon the new payment infrastructure. He also noted that ongoing experimentation with new payment technologies, such as stablecoins, creates a need for regulation, particularly where an asset is “pegged to government-issued currencies.”
Regarding central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), the Fed is engaged in research and in discussions with various stakeholders; however, it has not decided on whether to issue a CBDC. The Vice Chair stressed that any move in this direction would require “clear support” from the Executive Branch and authorization from Congress.
Barr emphasized the Fed’s commitment to working with the international community to improve cross-border payment systems as well as the need for research into both traditional and emerging payment methods, noting that innovation should “promote broad access and financial inclusion.” Finally, the remarks touched on the Fed’s proposed revisions to the interchange fee cap for debit card issuers, with a call for public input on the matter (covered by InfoBytes here).
On June 8, acting Comptroller of Currency Michael J. Hsu discussed the significance of consumer trust in banking, and announced the OCC is considering designing and releasing an annual survey to measure the extent of consumer trust in banking. (See OCC’s request for comments on its proposed annual trust survey.) Hsu noted that public trust in banking is imperative to a good relationship with the communities served and to ensure consumers do not rely on risky means for storing funds. Distrust also presents risks for banks, Hsu said, explaining that “banks that have material fairness and compliance deficiencies may face stiff civil money penalties, restrictions on growth, and sustained reputational damage, limiting their capacities to make loans.” Hsu’s focus on trust in the banking system is also inspired by the threatening impact of unfairness and a lack of inclusivity. Therefore, in addition to the survey, the OCC is focusing on methods of consumer protection to underpin public trust in banks. Efforts include strengthening and modernizing the Community Reinvestment Act to create more lending opportunities to those in low- and moderate-income areas, reforming overdrafts by issuing guidance on overdraft protection programs, and addressing bias in the appraisal of homes by issuing a proposed rule to implement quality control standards for automated valuation models.
On May 23, acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu discussed the agency’s commitment to promote a fair and inclusive financial system. During remarks presented at the Bank On National Conference, Hsu observed that while progress has been made to reduce the number of unbanked households in recent years and broadly improve account access, 5.9 million U.S. households remain outside the banking system. Higher unbanked rates are found among consumers with lower incomes and less education, as well as consumers who are young, Black or Hispanic, have disabilities, or are single mothers, Hsu added. He commented that to continue expanding financial access, innovations and adjustments should be made to banks’ screening processes, such as allowing for more forms of identification, streamlining remote account opening, partnering with benefits providers and employers, and training frontline staff to consistently offer Bank On accounts to new customers. “One of the ‘strongly recommended’ features of Bank On certified accounts is the acceptance of alternative forms of identification such as consular identification cards and municipal IDs,” Hsu said. “Bank On also ‘strongly recommends’ that accounts only be denied for customers with past incidences of actual fraud.” Hsu further recommended that banks pay particular attention to how they measure and manage financial crime risks specifically associated with Bank On accounts as account opening processes evolve “so that those who lack traditional forms of identification or fixed addresses and those who cannot physically visit a branch can still open an account.” Hsu warned banks to continue considering risks associated with overdraft protection programs and encouraged banks to explore other measures such as low-cost accounts and lower-cost alternatives for covering overdrafts.
On May 12, acting Comptroller of the Currency Michael J. Hsu spoke before the Asian Real Estate Association of America Diversity and Fair Housing Summit focusing on the agency’s efforts to decrease barriers to homeownership and promote financial inclusion. In his remarks, Hsu described the agency’s commitment to expanding diversity and inclusion by “encouraging banks to expand their financing of affordable housing and other community needs, especially in low- and moderate-income (LMI) areas.” He further discussed the interagency Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) on new regulations updating how CRA activities qualify for consideration, where CRA activities are considered, and how CRA activities are evaluated. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Hsu noted that the provisions of the NPR “are intended to expand access to credit, investment, and basic banking services in LMI areas where they are most needed,” and that it “significantly update[s] regulations intended to encourage banks to meet the credit needs of the entire communities they serve.” Hsu also stated that the agency will “continue to diversify its staff, and train and promote a diverse leadership team.” Hsu explained that through Project REACh (Roundtable for Economic Access and Change), the agency “is harnessing the energy and ideas of concerned civil rights, community, banking, business, and other industry leaders across the nation” and that progress has been made through its various workstreams. As previously covered by InfoBytes, Project REACh brings together leaders from the banking industry, national civil rights organizations, and various businesses and technology organizations to identify and reduce barriers to accessing capital and credit. Finally, Hsu mentioned that he is “concerned by the hype and the risk consumers face” regarding the growing interest in cryptocurrency investments and other digital assets. He believes that “better financial education and information will benefit all consumers and help reduce our nation’s broad racial wealth gap.”