The U.S. Treasury's Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is expanding an outreach program designed to provide access to minority depository institutions, or MDIs.
Per a Thursday announcement shared with Cointelegraph, the OCC's Project REACh is expanding to include a pledge of large and mid-sized banks partnering with MDIs. The pledge requires the partner bank to expand investment and support for executive development at the MDI that it works with.
MDIs are simply banks or credit unions that are majority-owned by ethnic or racial minorities. They are seen as critical to expanding financial inclusion to minority groups left out of many parts of the broader financial system. Acting Comptroller Brooks said of MDIs:
“Their unique status makes them well-suited to help improve financial services for minority and underserved communities and create meaningful economic opportunities."
The OCC named Citibank, Flagstar, Huntington, Texas Capital and Wells Fargo as the first cohort to commit to the new pledge.
Initially announced in October, Project REACh began under Brooks' leadership and has been a centerpiece of his work on financial inclusion — especially before Democratic members of the House Financial Services Committee, unhappy with his focus on cryptocurrencies.
Brooks joined the OCC from Coinbase's legal team at the beginning of the year upon the resignation of Joseph Otting. Within the Treasury, the OCC is charged with managing the federal government's relationship to national banks. Given Brooks' background, it's no surprise that crypto was on his mind as a means of advancing the U.S. banking system when he joined.
There is a catch. Donald Trump appointee Steven Mnuchin leads the Treasury, and it was Trump appointee Otting who named Brooks as his acting successor. Just weeks ago, Trump nominated Brooks to the position, but that nomination is waiting on Senate confirmation, and the clock is ticking. Given ties to President Trump, it is no surprise that the relationship with Democrats on Congressional committees responsible for overseeing these offices can get testy.
At the beginning of November, Brooks appeared before the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee to report on the OCC's activities. As mentioned before, it was Democrats from the former committee who criticized Brooks' focus on crypto as a distraction from the duties of expanding financial access. And indeed, Chairwoman Waters (D-CA) wrote a series of criticisms of Otting and Brooks over their handling of the Community Reinvestment Act.
However, Democratic representatives like Houston's Al Green, who has spent many years backing minority financial access on the Financial Services Committee, seemed impressed with Project REACh at last month's hearing.
For its part, Project REACh's name seems to be not only a reference to extending a hand to those left out of the financial system; it also seems to be an effort to stretch across the aisle in the face of partisan gridlock.