Former OCC head Brooks joins blockchain startup

The United States’ former acting Comptroller of the Currency has joined the board of a blockchain credit startup, as the identity of his successor remains unknown.

Spring Labs announced that Brian Brooks would join its board as the company’s first independent director on 15 March.

Brooks, who launched the financial inclusion initiative Project REACH while at the OCC, said he looks forward to working with the Spring Labs team “to bring the benefits of financial services to more Americans, while reducing cost and increasing security for everyone.”

Adam Jiwan, co-founder of Spring Labs, said that Brooks “has a remarkable perspective on where the industry is headed, and his experience has given him a unique lens on transformative technologies and how they are being adopted”.

“We are thrilled that he shares our vision as we build the secure rails for data exchange," he added.

Spring Labs was launched in 2017, and operates a network designed to allow financial institutions to share information about data, such as credit and identity data, without needing to share the underlying data itself.

Its counts several industry veterans as advisors, including former Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) chair Sheila Bair, former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau deputy director Raj Date, and Gary Cohn, ex-president of Goldman Sachs.

Brooks stepped up as acting comptroller on the departure of incumbent Joseph Otting in May, having only joined the regulator as its chief operating officer (COO) in March.

He headed the OCC until January, when he resigned after eight months in charge. Two months prior, former US president Donald Trump formally nominated Brooks for a full five-year term, which prompted grumbles among Democrats who believed incoming President-elect Joe Biden should oversee the selection.

His eight-month stint as acting comptroller was punctuated by his advocacy of cryptocurrency and blockchain innovation in the banking sector.

Under his watch, the OCC issued guidance permitting national banks to use blockchain technology and stablecoins for payment activities, which was considered a major shift in policy.

Brooks also moved to permit nationally chartered banks in the US to provide custody services for cryptocurrencies and to allow US banks to provide services to stablecoin issuers.

Before joining the OCC in March as its Chief Operating Officer, Brooks was chief legal officer at cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase and executive vice president and general counsel of the US Federal National Mortgage Association. He also had a spell as vice chairman at OneWest Bank and was a managing partner at O'Melveny & Myers.

Three months into Biden’s term, the identity of Brooks’ and Otting’s permanent successor – OCC COO Blake Paulson has been acting comptroller since Brooks stepped down – remains unknown.

While speculation initially favoured Michael Barr, dean of the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy who earlier sat on the board of fintech Ripple Labs, his appointment has received pushback from the Democratic party’s progressive flank, who favour Mehrsa Baradaran, a banking law academic at the University of California, Irvine.

Another name that has been floated for the position is Manuel Alvarez, who has headed California’s principal state-level financial regulator, the Department of Business Oversight, since March 2020.

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