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Federal judge rules against OCC fintech charter

A federal judge has ruled that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency cannot issue bank charters to companies that do not take deposits.

The ruling is a blow to the agency's long-awaited efforts to offer special-purpose national charters to fintech firms, colloquially dubbed the fintech charter.

In May, Judge Victor Marrero, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, allowed the New York State Department of Financial Services to move forward with its lawsuit against the OCC. In his Oct. 21 ruling, the judge also denied the OCC's proposal that the ruling only apply to applicants that are chartered in New York or that intend to do business in New York.

Another judge had previously tossed out a similar lawsuit from the Conference of State Bank Supervisors because the OCC had not yet issued a charter. In that case, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said she was dismissing the lawsuit because the group "continues to lack standing" and its claims "remain unripe" since no applicant has yet formally applied for the fintech charter.

Many in the industry have said the two lawsuits against the agency have caused companies to delay filing applications. Comptroller Joseph Otting in April called the lawsuits "a nuisance" but said they do not need to be resolved before a company can pursue the charter.

The OCC plans to appeal the latest ruling, according to Bryan Hubbard, an agency spokesperson.

"The agency disagrees with the decision and its interpretation of the authorities that the National Bank Act grant the OCC," Hubbard said in an emailed statement.