Banks Aim to Slow Effort to Ban Bias Against Oil, Gun Firms

Wall Street lobbyists are demanding that a key bank regulator give them more time to react to a controversial rule proposal that could be fast-tracked before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

The measure floated last week by Brian Brooks, acting head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, would bar banks from refusing to deal with firms in businesses such as those in the oil, firearms and prison industries. The proposal was opened to a 45-day comment period that would end Jan. 4, two weeks before the inauguration of Biden, who could remove Brooks from the OCC post.

The move by Brooks has achieved the rare feat of uniting progressive groups and Wall Street lobbyists against the proposal, which addresses a long-time Republican talking point and has support among business groups in the affected industries.

“We’re still digesting the oddity and enormity of this proposal,” John Court, the top lawyer at the Bank Policy Institute, said in a statement. Washington-based BPI and other banking industry groups wrote in a letter to the OCC dated Wednesday that the comment deadline comes too soon for them to sufficiently analyze the proposal, and that an additional 30 days would be warranted.

Court called the proposal “a completely unworkable government mandate designed to address a particular political problem” that would “require every covered bank to offer every financial product to every business and consumer in the country.”

“Given that this rule formalizes guidance that has been issued and reinforced by the OCC since at least 2014, we are surprised that the banks are surprised,” said Bryan Hubbard, an OCC spokesman. “The failure to operationalize such long-standing guidance only underscores why the rule is needed.”

The 45-day comment period isn’t unprecedented, but it is unusually short for a rule -- even a relatively brief document like this -- that could mean significant business changes for banks such as Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., which have chosen to avoid certain industries. Important rules generally get comment windows of 60 or 90 days, and sometimes more.

Brooks, who called the 45-day period “fairly standard,” would have to sprint to finish the rule, even with the narrower window. The process of reviewing comments and finalizing an important rule usually takes several months, and sometimes years.

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