Provocative OCC nominee cites priorities of helping banks invest locally

Guaranteeing a fair and competitive market where small and mid-size banks that invest in their neighbors’ homes and small businesses can thrive, and where every community has access to safe and affordable financial services, are top priorities of the nominee for leading the regulator of national banks, she told a Senate committee Thursday.

Saule T. Omarova, President Joe Biden’s (D) nominee to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), said her effort for communities would be regardless of wealth, geography, or history.

“A critical part of that task is preserving and fostering the relationship banking that drives economic growth and creates local jobs and prosperity,” Omarova told the Senate Banking Committee during her confirmation hearing. “I am thinking here of my own community bank in Ithaca, New York – Tompkins Trust – where they know every one of their customers and care about our community’s needs. That is what I see as the true heart of American banking.”

A Cornell University law professor, Omarova is a former special advisor for regulatory policy in the Treasury Department’s office of domestic finance, having served from 2006-07. She has spent most of her career as an academic and lawyer studying and practicing financial regulatory law, according to a biography published by the White House.

She was tapped by the White House for the position in September.

She told the committee that community banks are forced to compete with big tech companies, like Facebook, that do not play by the same rules they are forced to follow. An immigrant from Kazakhstan, Omarova told the committee that she grew up in an oppressive state-run system, with no free enterprise and no economic opportunity for people like her. “I have a unique appreciation for our dynamic and diverse markets,” she said. “It is what made my life and success possible, and for that I am forever grateful. Every American family should have the same opportunities that my family has had.”

She said if confirmed by the Senate, she would work to ensure that “our financial system gives every family the tools they need to build their own American Dream.”

Omarova has proved to be a controversial nominee for the comptroller’s job. The American Bankers Association, in a statement, has said her approach to bank regulation would “effectively nationalize America’s community banks, end regulatory tailoring based on risk and eliminate the dual banking system.”

Competing press releases from the top Democrat and Republican members of the Banking Committee further illustrate the conflict. The headline of the press release issued by Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) stated “Saule Omarova is Eminently Qualified to Lead the OCC.” The headline of the release issued by Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) stated “I’ve Never Seen a Nominee with More Radical Ideas.”

Witness statement: Dr. Saule T. Omarova (Comptroller of the Currency Designate)