The novel coronavirus pandemic could have a new side effect: more bank robberies.
That's the argument from the new acting Comptroller of the Currency, Brian Brooks, in a letter he sent to multiple local and state government associations Monday. In the letter, Brooks argued that extended economic lockdowns could pose risks to the banking system.
"Lengthy and potentially permanent requirements that individuals wear face masks in many or even all public spaces create the very real risk of increases in bank robberies," Brooks, a former Fannie Mae and Coinbase executive, wrote.
"Recent reports of face-covering-related robberies at bank branches and other establishments make clear that broadly applicable face mask requirements are not safe or sustainable on a permanent basis," he said.
Bank robberies have declined rapidly in recent decades, as banks beefed up their security measures and the robbers got away with their crimes less often.
There were 2,735 bank robberies in 2018, down from 7,043 in 2004, according to FBI statistics. In 2013, the total amount stolen from financial institutions in robberies was $33.1 million. Losses from bank robberies are not considered to be a major financial impact on most banks in the U.S.
Backlash from regulation advocates
With how little is actually stolen from banks presently, banking regulation advocates were critical of the remarks.
Graham Steele, a former Democratic U.S. Senate aide, called the letter "deeply unhelpful," on Twitter and "an attempt to pressure mayors and governors to re-open their states and cities."
"It's hard to see how the cost of increased bank robbery comes anywhere close to the expected public health benefit of mask wearing," wrote Ryan Radia, an adjunct fellow at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, on Twitter.
Masks and face coverings have been recommended for use in helping stop the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
As the acting Comptroller of the Currency, Brooks oversees many of the country's largest banks, including Wells Fargo and Charlotte's Bank of America.
He took over the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a bureau of the Treasury Department, in May after former Comptroller Joseph Otting left. He worked with Otting when the pair were executives at the bank OneWest, alongside current Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
In the Monday letter, Brooks outlined what he saw as the risks of certain lockdown orders to stability and function of the U.S. financial system.
Vacant commercial real estate, reduced revenue and an unclear line between which businesses are essential are all factors that may have an impact on the financial system, he wrote.
"I ask that your members carefully consider the impact of their lockdown orders on the health and functioning of our shared national financial infrastructure as they implement the President's guidance to determine when and how to unwind those orders," Brooks said.
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