Jacqueline Martin/AP

Acting Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika, accused of being a tool of the financial industry, is surprising critics by adopting a relatively nuanced approach to regulation of "fintech" firms, in the emerging technology-based financial services sector.

In a speech Wednesday, Noreika defended a plan put forth by his predecessor, Obama-appointee Thomas Curry, that would enforce federal rather than state regulatory predominance over fintechs. Specifically, Noreika sided with Curry's assertion of the right to issue special federal banking charters to fintech firms like peer-to-peer lenders.

Why it's surprising: Noreika represented the financial services industry before being chosen to head the OCC in a fashion that allowed him to avoid Senate confirmation. Democrats have portrayed Noreika as too close to Wall Street and pointed to how he was appointed as illustrative of the Trump Administration's desire to gut banking regulations. Now, Noreika is continuing his predecessor's desire to defend the OCC's regulatory reach.

Why it's not surprising: Noreika's support for the right to issue such charters doesn't mean he will issue them, or that he will ultimately adopt a tough regulatory stance toward financial services startups. State regulators have filed suit against the OCC, arguing that the special charters are a usurpation of their right to set banking regulations, and could serve as a means for fintech companies to avoid more onerous state rules. Noreika made clear that he will defend the federal government's authority, but did not explicitly challenge the states' concerns for how the fintechs could harm consumers.

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