Q+A: Banking regulator with local ties describes nomination process, first month in office

Christine Halsey / Office of the Comptroller of the Currency

Las Vegas Valley resident Joseph M. Otting was sworn in as the 31st comptroller of the currency on Nov. 27.

In November, Las Vegan Joseph Otting was sworn in as comptroller of the currency, the head of an independent office of the Treasury Department. The office employs 3,956 people, has a budget of $1.2 billion and regulates 1,347 national banks, federal savings associations and federal branches of foreign banks.

Otting, co-owner of the private Southern Highlands Golf Club in Southern Nevada, has an extensive history in banking, including many years as an executive at U.S. Bancorp and president and CEO of OneWest Bank.

He was nominated for the job in June, after working on the Trump transition team with former OneWest Chairman Steven Mnuchin, who became the treasury secretary. During his confirmation hearings, Otting faced the same criticism Mnuchin faced over his tenure at OneWest (specifically, that it was foreclosure mill) from Senate Democrats.

VEGAS INC sat down with Otting recently to speak about his new position and life in Washington, D.C.

You had a comfortable life in Las Vegas managing your investments. Did you hesitate when asked to take this job?

There wasn’t any hesitation because it was an opportunity to do things for your country, and there are only certain times you get a opportunity to pay back the country for what it has given you.

And I also thought that because I was a lifelong banker, I could bring some of that experience into the comptroller’s office. There hasn’t been a banker in that role for 40 years.

You grew up in the Midwest and spent much of your professional life in California. But you describe yourself as a Nevadan serving in Washington. Why?

It’s been 50 years since anyone from the West was comptroller, and nobody from Nevada has ever had a role like that. And I wanted to say to people that Las Vegas has changed and has become a broader and more dynamic community. I think of this as an opportunity for Nevada, not for Joseph Otting.

What was the nomination process like?

Most people don't realize is how long it is. You have to go through a very complex, very detailed background review from the FBI who interview friends, family, colleagues, neighbors and business associates.

When that process is concluded, you also have to fill out a financial disclosure document that lays out your financial situation for a three-year period. Then comes the Senate questionnaire that prepares you for the Senate committee. It asks not only for financial data but also where you made political donations and what organizations you participated in or supported.

Then you go to the Senate Banking Committee, which I did in late July, and then you go before the full Senate. That occured in August, and finally I was sworn into office on Nov. 27, which was my 60th birthday.

It’s a very long process.

During his confirmation hearing for treasury secretary, your former OneWest colleague Steven Mnuchin was grilled by Democrats over mortgage foreclosures at OneWest. Did you face the same kind of questioning?


How did you respond?

When you are dealing with a false narrative, you have to keep trying to drive your points home. But often they really didn’t have very good facts. The final vote was bipartisan. In the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate, there were Democrats who supported my nomination.

(The final Senate vote was 54-43 for confirmation; two Democrats voted yes.)

What are your goals for the office?

I want the agency to run efficiently. I want to bring real-life business practices to it.

I want to work a lot with the Bank Secrecy Act — how we can help the whole banking industry help the government achieve the goal of catching the bad guys.

The third goal is dealing with the Community Reinvestment Act. How do we encourage and incentivize banks to continue to invest in communities with small-business lending and supporting low-income housing? I want us to be more efficient at that.

The last area is small consumer lending. What has really disappointed me over last five to six years is that regulations have forced a lot of people out of the banking system. And what’s happened is those people have gone to check cashers and payday lenders.

(Earlier in the interview Otting also said he will also be reviewing banking regulations, including Dodd-Frank, with the goal of promoting job creation.)

The big initiative is how do we create jobs, not how do we get rid of regulations. Now that we are seven to eight years past the passing of Dodd-Frank, we need to look and see what things are helpful and what need modifying.

Have you met the president?

Well, this is the holiday season, and I was sworn in on Nov. 27. Have I been to the West Wing? Yes. Have I met Donald Trump? No. But I do expect to be meeting with him at some point to discuss the banking industry and regulations and job creation.

What is life like in Washington?

It’s a very dynamic place. I kind of laugh and tell people politics is to Washington as gaming is to Las Vegas. You can’t go out and have a conversation in this town without talking about gaming. And you can’t have a conversation in Washington without talking about politics.