A Comptroller of the Currency Who Will Fight for Financial Security and Racial Equity

Lisa Mensah

Michael Barr would make an exceptional Comptroller of the Currency.

My standard for excellence is President Clinton’s Comptroller — Eugene Ludwig — who was both a successful bank regulator and influential leader in the broader national dialogue on the unbanked. In 1999, Comptroller Ludwig foresaw that a decision to deliver federal benefits to all Americans via electronic funds transfer would disproportionately harm low-income Americans who, then as now, were much more likely to be unbanked. Ludwig used his voice to elevate the cause of the unbanked and to call for new solutions to integrate millions of Americans into a financial system that would offer a path to financial security — not leave them prey to predatory financial practices. Sadly in 2021, fighting for the unbanked is unfinished work. I am confident Michael Barr would be a Comptroller who will take up this task with focus, intellect, and heart.

I’ve known Michael for more than 25 years. When I first met him, Michael was working in the Clinton Treasury helping to secure the early days of the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, and taking on the ire of mainstream banks by promoting a simple “first account” to reach the poorest Americans. Over these past decades, Michael has been a consistent advocate for the most vulnerable in the financial system. He kept this focus even when charged with helping to restore faith in the mainstream financial sector as a leader in the Obama Treasury.

During the Trump Administration, the previous Comptroller of the Currency promulgated new regulations for the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) — a law that for 40 years has been a critical force for combatting redlining and increasing bank lending in low-income communities. The community development field was unified in calling “foul” on a regulatory change that weakened instead of strengthened a vital tool for steering investment to under-resourced communities. The 2020 OCC regulation takes us away from redressing the structural racism that still haunts our financial system just when we as a country are reckoning with the deep work that must be done.

Michael knows the needs of the community development finance field and how much the country needs the formal financial system to partner with us. Michael knows it is time for banks that benefit from the protections of Federal Deposit Insurance to redouble their commitments to operating financial institutions that are financially sound and fair in their practices to all consumers. Michael Barr has the knowledge of the work and the knowledge of the partners who are all needed now to build back better. We need him as Comptroller of the Currency.

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