OCC puts pause on ‘fair-access rule’ to give next comptroller time to review it (and comments)

The so-called “fair-access rule” – finalized and issued just two weeks ago – is on hold, at least for now, by the regulator of national banks in order to give the next leader of the agency time to review it and the public comments received by the agency on the proposal, the agency said Thursday.

“Pausing publication of the rule in the Federal Register will allow the next confirmed Comptroller of the Currency to review the final rule and the public comments the OCC received, as part of an orderly transition,” the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said in a release.

The agency also said its longstanding supervisory guidance stating that banks should avoid termination of broad categories of customers without assessing individual customer risk remains in effect.

The rule is now slated to go into effect April 1. It is generally aimed at blocking national banks from refusing to extend credit to oil and other energy companies out of a concern for the impact of their operations on the environment or climate change.

The rule was approved by former Acting Comptroller Brian P. Brooks on Jan. 14 – his last day on the job following his resignation, and just 10 days after the comment period closed.

In issuing the final rule, Brooks asserted that it would compel a national bank to “show their work and the legitimate business reasons for doing so” when denying credit to a business or other entity. Brooks said the agency considered more than 35,000 stakeholder comments and suggestions before finalizing the rule; the comment period ended Jan. 4. The proposed rule was issued for comment Nov. 23.

Under the rule – which applies to banks with more than $100 billion in assets – covered banks must make the products and services they choose to offer available to all customers in the communities they serve, based on consideration of quantitative, impartial, risk-based standards established by the bank, according to the OCC.

A covered bank’s decision to deny services, the agency said earlier this month, based on such an objective assessment, would not violate the bank’s obligation to provide fair access. However, a covered bank’s decision not to offer a specific kind of financial product or service or not to compete in a geographic market is unaffected.

OCC Puts Hold on Fair Access Rule