By Aruna Viswanatha
WASHINGTON, Feb 26 (Reuters) - A top U.S. bank regulator on
Tuesday offered a lengthy defense of entering into settlements
with banks, taking a swipe at critics who have questioned
whether regulators are aggressive enough in taking banks to
Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry said his agency's
main goal as a prudential supervisor is to fix problems and make
sure that federal banks operate in a safe and sound manner.
"The purpose of our actions is not to punish banks or make
examples of anyone," Curry said in a speech before state
attorneys general in Washington.
"We are very different from agencies like the Department of
Justice, which is authorized under the law to bring actions for
punitive purposes, including criminal actions, against
institutions and individuals," he said, according to prepared
Earlier this month freshman U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren
took regulators to task at a Senate hearing for what she
perceived as their lenient treatment of financial institutions
engaging in misconduct.
In an exchange that drew applause from protesters in the
audience, Warren demanded to know the last time banking and
financial market regulators had taken Wall Street banks to
trial, as opposed to settling the cases.
Regulators and law enforcement authorities have faced
criticism in the aftermath of the financial crisis for bringing
few cases that appear to target the higher echelons of Wall
Street for their roles in the collapse.
Online video clips of Warren's exchange, in which regulators
stumbled to respond, have received more than 1 million hits.
On Tuesday, Curry directly responded to that criticism.
He said it was more important for his agency to move quickly
to force remedial action at a bank, and only later assess
appropriate penalties if necessary.
Litigated cases, on the other hand, are uncertain and take a
long time to resolve, while victims in consumer cases could be
waiting years for relief, he said.
"There is a tendency among some to automatically dismiss any
enforcement action we take against a large institution as
insufficiently severe, but that criticism misses the mark,"
The agency's actions force banks to change policies, adjust
their controls, and in certain cases, pay hefty fines, he said.
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