U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Finalizes Fair Access Requirements

On January 14, 2021, the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued its controversial final rule (Rule)1 to establish a new requirement for covered banks to provide “fair access” to financial services to both natural persons and legal entities.2 The preamble to the Rule explains that it is intended to address situations in which large banks have denied access to financial services on the basis of a prospective customer’s industry affiliation or connection with a politically unpopular, but lawful, activity. The Rule instead requires, among other things, that access to all financial services at covered banks be provided on the basis of a person’s individual characteristics evaluated under quantitative, impartial risk-based criteria. The OCC claims that these fair access standards do not, however, require that a covered institution provide any specific type of financial service, do business with a particular person or industry, or operate in a particular market. Nonetheless, in part because of the perception that the Rule will impair the ability of banks to take into account issues like climate change in making underwriting decisions, the fate of the Rule under the Biden administration remains uncertain.