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U.S. bank regulator to step down, academics in lead to replace him

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Brian Brooks, the acting head of the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency, will leave the agency on Thursday, with two academics among the front-runners to replace him after President-elect Joe Biden takes office, said two people familiar with the matter.

Brooks, who has led the agency in an acting role since May, announced on Wednesday that he would step down.

Progressives believe that the OCC, which oversees national banks, and other financial regulators can help tackle wealth inequality and racial justice problems and Biden is expected to quickly appoint a new Comptroller.

Michael Barr, professor at the University of Michigan Law School and a former administration Treasury official under the Barack Obama administration is in the running for the role, according to two people familiar with the matter.

One of those people said that Mehrsa Baradaran, law professor at the University of California’s Irvine School of Law and an expert on access to financial services and wealth inequality, is also a leading contender.

Barr, Baradaran and the Biden transition team did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

During his short tenure, Brooks pushed a number of contentious rules, including a proposal that means banks would be unable to refuse business with clients based on the sector they operated in.

During his short tenure, Brooks pushed a number of contentious rules, including a proposal that would mean banks would be unable to refuse business with clients based on the sector they operated in.

The banking industry has called the proposed rule unworkable and political, as Republicans have long griped about banks steering clear of some controversial industries like oil and gas and gun manufacturers.

Brooks also pushed the regulator and banks to be more accepting of new financial technologies like cryptocurrency, and encouraged fintech firms to seek out national bank licenses. He worked as the chief legal officer for Coinbase, a crypto exchange, before joining the OCC.

Blake Paulson, the agency’s chief operating officer, will lead the OCC in the interim before Biden’s pick takes over, the OCC said.

Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Leslie Adler and Sam Holmes

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