Brian P. Brooks, acting head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), has warned that mandating face masks for bank customers is an open invitation to hold-up artists.

The new head of the federal agency that oversees the execution of laws relating to national banks said local government restrictions aimed at combating covid-19 could unintentionally endanger the financial system.

Brooks, first deputy comptroller at the OCC, took over as acting comptroller late last month, upon the departure of former Comptroller Joseph P. Otting.

The comptroller is one of two external members of the FDIC Board; the other is the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Kathleen Kraninger.

“The very real risk of increases in bank robberies”

Brook issued his warning earlier this week in a letter addressed to groups representing governors and mayors.

“Your members should consider these risks carefully and weigh them against the scope and duration of continued lockdown orders in making your decisions,” Brooks wrote. “Certain aspects of these orders potentially threaten the stability and orderly functioning of the financial system the OCC is charged by law to protect,” the letter said.

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By GlobalData

While requiring bank customers to wear masks is intended to limit the spread of coronavirus, Brook noted, it could also “create the very real risk of increases in bank robberies.”

Plain talk

The tone and the scope of Brook’s letter are different from the fairly abstract communication that is customary with banking regulators.

Acting agency heads are also typically hesitant to rock the boat. But Brooks, who was handpicked for the position by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, has moved quickly since taking the helm of the OCC.

He has already approved a final rule governing the portability of loan rates during his first day on the job Friday and also declared that lenders shouldn’t shut out industries that are deemed unpopular.

Brooks also warned that forcing small businesses to stay closed could harm them financially. It could even prevent them from being able to pay back their loans. That, too, could harm the banks, he said.