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WASHINGTON, May 4 (Reuters) - Start-up lenders that reach customers online should be able to choose between a federal or state banking license as they grow, a leading U.S. banking regulator said on Thursday as he prepares to step aside.
Consumers increasingly go online to manage their money and some financial services start-ups, so-called "fintech" companies, would like a national license for that business.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the leading regulator for national banks, has promised to offer a fintech charter. But state authorities have argued that is their job and are suing the OCC.
The question of who will regulate the fintech business should not hinder the industry, said Thomas Curry, the outgoing head of the OCC.
"I don't think this is about turf," said Curry, who steps down on Friday. "I think this is really about the strategic direction of the banking industry."
Fintech companies do not lend from customer savings and their money-managing tools are sometimes ahead of traditional banks'.
Regulators have scrambled to keep pace with the development of online lenders and payment companies, which act like banks but do not take in deposits.
Last week, an alliance of state banking regulators took its case to federal court and asked that a judge block the OCC from developing a federal charter.
The Conference of State Bank Supervisors said in a statement that the OCC plan "is an unprecedented, unlawful expansion of the chartering authority given to it by Congress."
Curry was appointed by former President Barack Obama and completed his five-year term in early April.
Keith Noreika, a partner at law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, will run the OCC on an interim basis starting Friday.
The OCC drew fire in September when Wells Fargo & Co announced that rogue bank employees opened as many as 2 million bank accounts without customer agreement.
Curry has said his agency should have detected that fraud earlier. He has also said the agency's money-laundering controls must be carefully calibrated.
In recent months, the OCC has told bank examiners to clamp down on illegal transfers but not halt legal money transfers - particularly to and from immigrant communities.
"I don't think we're struggling with this," Curry said of recent memos, phone calls and speeches on anti-money laundering policy. "Where we explain what our policies are and what our approach is, the better off we are." (Reporting by Patrick Rucker; Editing by Dan Grebler)