Bulletin: OCC alone has ‘visitorial’ authority over national banks involved in federal COVID-19 programs

The regulator of national banks on Friday issued a bulletin to supervised institutions underscoring the federal regulator’s “exclusive visitorial authority” over the institutions, including with respect to their involvement in federal COVID-19 (coronavirus) financial support programs.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), in Bulletin 2020-43, said this exclusive authority for the OCC, provided by federal law, “generally precludes state and local officials from conducting examinations, requiring the production of banks’ books or records, or exercising other visitorial authority” over national banks, federal savings associations, and federal branches and agencies of foreign banks.

Any state or local authorities with information to indicate that a bank may be violating federal or applicable state law should contact the OCC, the agency said. Banks that receive a request from a state or local official seeking information that constitutes an attempt to exercise “visitation” over the bank “is not required to provide this information” but “should contact its examiner-in-charge as soon as possible,” it states.

“The federal banking system plays a critical role in implementing the federal government’s COVID-19 response (e.g., by providing loans under the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program). It is imperative that banks are able to fulfill this role efficiently and effectively without unnecessary delay,” states the bulletin, which is signed by Jonathan V. Gould, the OCC’s senior deputy comptroller and chief counsel.

OCC Bulletin 2020-43