National banks should respond quickly and fairly to consumer complaints passed along by state regulators, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said this week. The new guidance clarifies the previous assertion that the federal regulator has precedence over state banking rules.

“We expect that the paramount concern of national banks and their subsidiaries is to do the right thing for their customers,” said Julie Williams, chief counsel and first senior deputy Comptroller.

“While the OCC has certain exclusive regulatory, supervisory and enforcement authority over national banks, that does not mean that national banks cannot and should not accept information from state agencies, and other sources, and take appropriate actions to address their customers’ concerns,” she added.

The OCC has been under fire from state banking and consumer groups since it imposed a federal preemption rule last month enabling national banks to skirt state banking laws. The groups claimed the lack of state authority over national banks leaves consumers more vulnerable to predatory lending scams.

The OCC has said that national banks already succumb to national banking laws, and that forcing them to comply with state laws inflicts unnecessary financial burdens.

The guidance also explains that if state officials forward a complaint and ask the bank to follow up with information about how the complaint was resolved, the institution should comply, provided that it can do so without compromising the customer’s privacy interests.

The OCC has asked state officials to alert the agency of any allegations that a national bank has engaged in illegal, predatory, unfair or deceptive practice.

“We respect the concerns that have been raised regarding collaboration between the OCC and the states in handling customer complaints,” Williams said.

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