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As Valley National Bank Redlines, OCC Gets Vague Bronx Commitment, Rubber Stamps

By Matthew R. Lee

SOUTH BRONX, NY -- While the US Federal Reserve is subject to high profile accusations of being "captured" by those it regulates in the wake of staffer Carmen Segarra's leaking of Goldman Sachs related audio, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, by one measure, is even more captured.

   Since May Inner City Press and others have commented to the OCC about Valley National Bank's proposed acquisition of 1st United Bank in Florida. Valley National in New York City has no branches above 88th Street in Manhattan and none in the Bronx. It is old-school redlining, in its mortgage lending as well.

  After denying Inner City Press access to information responsive to its Freedom of Information Act requests, now the OCC has approved Valley National's application, saying as part of a condition that Valley National will do better in the Bronx, then admitting in a footnote that the bank provided no detail.

  The OCC's Conditional Approval says Valley National "committed to hiring a dedicated lending team to develop
commercial loans in the Bronx, New York (Bronx). Pursuant to this commitment, Valley National represented that it has hired two additional lending officers."

  But then in a footnote, the OCC says, "Valley National did not provide additional detail related to the work of the new dedicated lending team in the Bronx."

  Unlike the Federal Reserve, the OCC says it does not consider if there is any public benefit to mergers. The OCC says:

"the commenters refer to the need for the merger to create a "public benefit." Under 12 CFR 225.24(a)(2)(iii), which applies to proposals submitted to the Board of Governors ofthe Federal Reserve System by bank holding companies seeking to engage in nonbanking activities, the holding company is required to provide a "statement of the public benefits that can reasonably be expected to result from the proposal." In reviewing a financial institution's application to merge with another financial institution, in this instance the application to merge 1st United with and into Valley National, the OCC considers the "convenience and needs of the community to be served" as required under 12 U.S.C. 1828(c)(5)."

  The OCC gives weight to it own Community Reinvestment Act exams, but consider its record, in data compiled by NCRC:

In the first eight months of 2014, the OCC conducted 266 CRA exams and did not award a single national bank a rate of substantial non-compliance or even "Needs to Improve." The FDIC and the Federal Reserve both awarded grades in each of these categories, albeit the Fed only one of each.

  Perhaps understandably, the OCC's Valley National Conditional Approval says, at footnote 4, "Some of the commenters' concerns were directed at the OCC's CRA performance evaluation process and, as such, are not addressed in this letter."

  So when will these concerns be addressed?

  The OCC, part of the Department of Treasury, and its recent denial of access to bank information under the Freedom of Information Act, and on appeal.

  Beginning in May, Inner City Press began requesting information from the OCC about Valley National Bank and its proposed acquisition of Florida-based 1st United Bank.

  Fair Finance Watch and other NCRC members showed that Valley National's lending was disparate:  In 2012 in the New York City MSA for refinance loans, Valley National made 2152 such loans to whites and only 38 to African Americans -- entirely of keeping with the demographics and demographics of home ownership in the New York City MSA. Valley National denied 67% of such applications from African Americans, versus only 34.5% of such application from white.

  A first Inner City Press FOIA request about Valley National, the OCC's Rosalye Settles said she mis-understand, putting the entire request on hold then threatening to dismiss it.

  On June 8, Fair Finance Watch filed a second comment, including that:

Valley National has branches only below 88th Street in Manhattan (in which, intriguingly, a "Yellowbrick Real Estate Capital" breaks into the top five in pre-foreclosures).

  Valley National has no branches in Harlem, Washington Heights or The Bronx, predominantly African American and Latinos, low and moderate income areas.

  In Queens, it's Middle Village and Kew Gardens. In Brooklyn, Valley National's branches are along Ocean Parkway and in Bay Ridge. What about East New York, Brownsville, Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant?

  On July 16, Valley National submitted a response to the OCC, giving the OCC a full copy and a "redacted" or partially blacked out copy, as provided to Inner City Press, here.
  Inner City Press submitted a FOIA request to the OCC challenging the redactions. But the OCC's Marilyn Burton denied the FOIA request, saying it did not request any documents.
Click here for the OCC's FOIA denial.

 So Inner City Press submitted an appeal, linking to exactly the redacted documents as Valley National provided to the OCC. But the OCC Frank Vance ruled that this was not an appeal, copy here. After all of this, the OCC this month hauled off and rubber stamped Valley National's merger application.

  This is how banks get over. And Fair Finance Watch, and Inner City Press, aim to expose and end these practices. Watch this site.


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