Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions for National Banks and Federal Savings Associations

The OCC is working closely with other regulators and federal agencies to ensure the federal banking system continues to operate in a safe, sound, and fair manner throughout the national emergency related to COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus. The OCC has developed the following set of questions and answers for OCC-regulated institutions. Additional information is available on the OCC's COVID-19 page.

Bank Operations

When should banks look at implementing alternative work schedules such as working from home or staggering work hours?

Banks should function in a manner that continues to meet the essential banking needs of their communities while balancing the safety and needs of their employees. Banks should consider appropriate opportunities for certain employees to work from home to reduce risks. Similarly, staggered shifts, leveraging technologies, and limited branch hours are other considerations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have developed guidance for businesses and employers on how to best protect their employees and customers. Please refer to their guidance:

Many state and local authorities have issued stay-at-home proclamations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak; however, the financial services industry is designated as a critical infrastructure sector by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). How should banks determine essential staff to continue operations?

On March 22, 2020, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin issued a memorandum stating that the financial services sector is a Critical Infrastructure Sector as identified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). With this designation, financial services sector employees have a special responsibility to maintain normal work schedules to ensure continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security. Employees who are deemed Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers include those who

  • process and maintain systems for processing financial transactions and services.
  • provide customers access to banking and lending services.
  • support financial operations.
  • provide core services through key third-party providers.

Please refer to the DHS guidance, which provides additional guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce and strategies for safeguarding employee health.

Can a bank close a branch or temporarily reduce access due to COVID-19?

Yes, in the absence of a Comptroller proclamation or in the case of any emergency or event, bank management has discretion to act prudently and responsibly to ensure the safety of human life and to safeguard banking assets (tangible and intangible). The OCC understands that banks may need to temporarily close branches or otherwise reduce access to a facility because of staffing challenges or to take precautionary measures. The OCC encourages banks to reduce disruptions to their customers, provide alternative service options when practical, reopen affected facilities when safe to do so, and notify customers of such disruptions and alternative services.

In the event a state or local official designates a legal holiday for emergency reasons, banks may choose to close or remain open.

How do you recommend keeping confidential bank information safe while working outside of the bank?

Employees working from home should use secure communications, such as a virtual private network (VPN), when working with sensitive information. Employees should appropriately store and safeguard sensitive information while working at home. Telephone conversations dealing with sensitive customer or employee information should be guarded in a home environment. Bank management should provide consistent and clear guidance on how to handle sensitive customer, bank, and employee information to all employees working at home.

Banks should remind employees that cyber criminals are very active during these times of stress. Remind employees of good cybersecurity practices such as not opening email or documents from unknown sources or clicking on unknown links. Be extra vigilant by using call-backs or verbal confirmation with bank staff and customers.

What is the short-term investment fund (STIF) interim final rule?

The STIF rule applies to national banks acting in a fiduciary capacity. As the financial markets are in a period of significant stress, which negatively affects the ability of banks to operate in compliance with maturity limits identified in the rule, the interim final rule allows the OCC to authorize banks to temporarily extend maturity limits of these funds. The interim final rule is effective as of March 22, 2020. The OCC will accept comments for 45 days following publication in the Federal Register.

The OCC announced an order extending the maturity limits for STIFs affected by the market effects of COVID-19. The OCC determined that the relief provided by this administrative order will terminate on July 20, 2020, unless the OCC revises this order before that date.

What guidance is available for service providers in terms of managing their capacity when most people start to work from home? 

Bank management should be in contact with all critical providers to assess capacity and availability issues.

Bank Secrecy Act (BSA)

Is there any relief on the filing of Currency Transaction Reports or Suspicious Activity Reports during the national emergency related to COVID-19?

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) requests financial institutions affected by the pandemic to contact FinCEN and their primary regulator as soon as practicable if an affected bank has concern about potential delays in its ability to file required BSA reports. Financial institutions seeking to contact FinCEN should call FinCEN's Regulatory Support Section (RSS) at 800-949-2732 and select option 6 or email FRC@fincen.gov. FinCEN's RSS will be available to support financial institutions for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cash Management

Can a bank change its cash withdrawal limits? Are any OCC notices required to change withdrawal limits?

Banks should consider their applicable account agreements; Regulations E, CC, and DD; applicable state laws; and safe and sound banking practices when setting or changing any cash withdrawal limits.

Banks are not required to submit an OCC notice or obtain approval prior to changing cash withdrawal limits. Banks are encouraged to discuss any significant cash supply issues or general liquidity with the appropriate supervisory office.

What if our bank experiences a disruption to our cash supply?

The OCC encourages banks to contact the appropriate Federal Reserve Bank or Branch or work with other depository institutions to manage cash supplies. Banks should be in contact with their third-party courier services to ensure timely delivery of cash and develop contingency plans to limit potential disruptions.

Should banks use the Federal Reserve Bank's "discount window"?

The OCC encourages banks to use the "discount window" to continue supporting households and businesses. The discount window provides short-term loans to banks and plays an important role in supporting the liquidity and stability of the federal banking system.

What is the money market mutual fund liquidity facility (MMLF) interim final rule and when is the rule effective?

The MMLF is a liquidity facility created by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to prevent disruption in the money markets and support the overall economy. The MMLF enhances the liquidity and functioning of money markets and supports the flow of credit to households and businesses.

The interim final rule modifies the federal banking agencies' capital rules and permits banking organizations to receive credit for the low risk of their MMLF activities, ensuring banks can effectively use the liquidity facility. The interim final rule neutralizes the effects of purchasing assets through the program on a bank's risk-based and leverage capital ratios. Specifically, a bank may exclude from its total leverage exposure its average total consolidated assets, advanced approaches total risk-weighted assets, and standardized total risk-weighted assets. The change only applies to activities with the MMLF.

The interim final rule was effective as of March 19, 2020. Comments will be accepted for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Communication

What type of communication is recommended to inform customers of a bank's response to COVID-19?

Banks are encouraged to communicate with their customers and employees and provide services during this extraordinary situation. Using a variety of communication methods such as email, text messages, automated calls, and website postings may ensure key messages are received by the bank's customers and employees. Proactive engagement with customers to notify them of when and where bank services are available can assist customers in dealing with this situation.

What is the recommendation on signage being posted in branches for customers regarding changes in branch hours and safety precautions?

If a bank needs to temporarily close or otherwise reduce access to a facility, the OCC encourages the bank to communicate changes to normal operations to their customers using a variety of communication methods such as physical signage at branches, email, text messages, automated calls, and website postings.

If we need to close a branch because of an infected employee, what is the bank's responsibility in reporting this to customers? 

Banks are encouraged to notify their customers as soon as practical of the need to close a branch, the expected duration of the closing, and locations of the closest alternative branches. Provide customers the ability to contact the bank and seek additional information.

The CDC has developed guidance for businesses and employers related to COVID-19. They have also developed a risk matrix to assess risk and recommend mitigating measures. Please refer to these two pieces of guidance for additional information.

Community Reinvestment Act (CRA)

Can a bank receive CRA consideration for banking services performed in response to customers affected by COVID-19? 

Pursuant to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), the OCC will favorably consider retail banking services and retail lending activities that are responsive to the needs of low- and moderate-income individuals, small businesses, and small farms affected by COVID-19; and that are in a financial institution's assessment areas and consistent with safe and sound banking practices. OCC examiners will give CRA consideration and will not criticize prudent efforts to modify or ease the terms on new or existing loans for affected low- and moderate-income customers, small businesses, and small farms. Such practices may help customers to recover or maintain their financial capacity and enhance their ability to service their debt. For additional information, please refer to OCC Bulletin 2020-19, "Pandemic Planning: Joint Statement on Community Reinvestment Act Consideration for Activities in Response to COVID-19."

Can a bank receive CRA consideration for community development activities in response to COVID-19?

Considering the declaration of a national emergency, banks will receive CRA consideration for community development activities as outlined in the bulletin. The pandemic has had a significant economic impact that may extend beyond banks' assessment areas. Therefore, the agencies are reminding institutions that favorable consideration will be given to community development activities that 1) are located in a broader statewide or regional area that includes a bank's CRA assessment area and 2) help to stabilize communities affected by COVID-19, provided that such institutions are responsive to the community development needs and opportunities that exist in their own assessment area(s). CRA consideration for community development activities will be effective through a six-month period after the national emergency declaration is lifted, unless extended by the agencies. For additional information, please refer to OCC Bulletin 2020-19, "Pandemic Planning: Joint Statement on Community Reinvestment Act Consideration for Activities in Response to COVID-19."

OCC Operations

What is the OCC doing to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak?

The OCC is working with the other banking regulators and federal agencies to ensure the banking system operates in a safe, sound, and fair manner throughout the national emergency related to COVID-19. The OCC is providing banks additional flexibility to support the households, businesses, and markets that depend on them.

The OCC remains open and continues to conduct regular business while managing impacts related to COVID-19. To ensure continuity of operations, the agency has activated its pandemic preparedness plan and encouraged employees to telework to the maximum extent possible. International travel has been suspended and domestic travel has been limited to essential travel. Work is being performed remotely where possible to avoid travel.

Does the OCC have the capabilities for banks to submit information and reports remotely?

The OCC encourages banks to send information electronically when practical. The OCC conducts many of its examination activities remotely. Banks should contact their local Examiner-in-Charge to inquire how to use currently available tools most effectively to submit supervisory information. These tools include the Large File Transfer tool found on BankNet.

The OCC also encourages banks to submit all corporate applications either through the Central Application Tracking System (CATS) or through secure email. For additional information, please see OCC Bulletin 2020-20, "Licensing Filings: Use of Electronic Methods for Submission of Licensing Filings."

Are there any plans to cancel upcoming OCC examinations and reschedule them once the COVID-19 outbreak has subsided? 

The OCC is evaluating alternative options to conduct our supervisory activities. These include working remotely and maximizing the use of electronic records and communication. We understand the impact this situation is having on bank operations and staff. We encourage banks to discuss the examination schedule with their Examiner-in-Charge.

Is there any regulatory relief to support the completion of regulatory-required letters and reporting when a bank is experiencing a staff shortage?

Bank management seeking specific relief should contact their Examiner-in-Charge to discuss regulatory reporting requirements.

Working With Customers

What reasonable accommodations can be made to borrowers? Would regulators permit the banks to make certain reasonable assumptions about values, conditions, and amounts; and later, to backfill and confirm what banks must estimate now?

On March 13, 2020, the OCC encouraged banks to take steps to meet the financial services needs of customers adversely affected by COVID-19-related issues. Efforts to support customers may include

  • waiving certain fees, such as
    • automated teller machine (ATM) fees for customers and non-customers.
    • overdraft fees.
    • late payment fees on credit cards and other loans.
    • early withdrawal penalties on time deposits.
  • increasing ATM daily cash withdrawal limits.
  • easing restrictions on cashing out-of-state and non-customer checks.
  • increasing credit card limits for creditworthy borrowers.
  • offering payment accommodations, such as allowing borrowers to defer or skip some payments or extending the payment due date, which would avoid delinquencies and negative credit bureau reporting caused by COVID-19-related disruptions.

An Interagency Statement issued on March 22, 2020, provided additional guidance on loan modifications and reporting. Loan modification programs can help mitigate adverse financial effects of COVID-19 on borrowers. The OCC will not criticize banks for working with borrowers in a safe and sound manner and will not direct banks to automatically categorize all COVID-19-related loan modifications as troubled debt restructurings (TDR). The joint statement also provides supervisory views on past-due and nonaccrual regulatory reporting of loan modification programs.

Does an increase in TDRs on the books require a bank to add to its reserves? What are the regulatory ramifications from recognizing new TDRs?

On March 22, 2020, the federal financial institution regulatory agencies and the state banking regulators issued an interagency statement encouraging financial institutions to work constructively with borrowers affected by COVID-19 and providing additional information regarding loan modifications. The OCC published its bulletin on March 23, 2020. The agencies encourage financial institutions to work with borrowers, will not criticize institutions for doing so in a safe and sound manner, and will not direct supervised institutions to automatically categorize loan modifications as TDRs. The joint statement also provides supervisory views on past-due and nonaccrual regulatory reporting of loan modification programs.