Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in downtown Washington, DC.





The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is looking to launch what it calls a bank-run “pilot” that would help support financial technology companies, according to the federal banking regulator’s chief counsel.

In her keynote address at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in New York Thursday, Amy Friend, senior deputy comptroller and chief counsel at the OCC, said the agency is exploring opportunities to create a regulatory sandbox, an environment in which companies can test new products and business models without worrying about the regulatory consequences.

Friend shared how the OCC’s Office of Innovation has been researching how other agencies in the U.S. and abroad are embracing the financial technology sector. She pointed to the Financial Conduct Authority in the U.K., which has been held up as a global leader in the space, known for encouraging innovation.

U.S. regulators are increasingly expressing interest in engaging fintech companies as well. In May, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced the launch of LabCFTC, an initiative designed to give fintechs greater access to the commission and to encourage them to ask regulatory questions and offer feedback as to which regulations they find the most prohibitive. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had previously launched a similar initiative called Project Catalyst, where it invited fintech companies to participate in initiatives that inform the bureau’s policy work.

The OCC has chosen to model some of its work after the FCA, including consideration of “bank-run pilots, sandboxes, whatever you want to call them,” Friend said.

Friend shared how the former OCC Comptroller Thomas Curry, who stepped down in May, expressed concerns about using the term “sandboxes” because he thought “that might provide a safe harbor [for fintech participants], with respect to consumer harm.”

“I don’t think that’s the way sandboxes really work but we’ve been calling them ‘pilots’ and we’re working on what we would be comfortable with,” she explained. “We view bank-run pilots as a way to gather information useful to us as a way to share our perspective with banks that may be engaging in some type of innovation before they get too far down the road. So we’re looking at … bank-fintech partnerships in the piloting program.”

Friend said the agency does not have a set time frame in mind of when the pilot could be introduced, only that “it’s something the Office of Innovation has been looking at.” Some of their considerations with the pilot are: “What kind of piloting program would we be comfortable with? What would sort of serve our need for information and would also provide value to the companies that are engaged in the pilot?”