Skip to main content Main content
Secondary navigation

OCC Ethics Rules - A Plain English Guide

This booklet will help you answer some general questions about the OCC’s ethics rules. It can help protect you from arrangements that could have serious consequences for you, including suspension, dismissal, or civil and criminal penalties. The brochure describes rules that all OCC employees must follow. It explains additional rules that examiners and other OCC employees who file financial disclosure forms must follow.

Please remember that this booklet won’t answer all of your questions. The section at the back of this booklet will tell you where you can go to get more information. And it has a list of OCC ethics officials you can contact any time you need advice about the ethical implications of a matter.

Ethics Rules for All OCC Employees 

Avoiding Financial Conflicts

U.S. government employees may not use their positions at work to advance their personal financial interests. As an employee of the OCC, you should always keep this in mind because so much of what you do can have a financial impact not only on yourself but on all American citizens. To avoid financial conflicts, you may not participate in matters that could affect your financial interests or those of your spouse or minor child. If you have business interests outside the OCC, you can’t participate in a matter at the OCC that could affect the financial interests of your general partner, or an organization for which you serve as an officer, director, trustee, general partner, or employee.

Also, you may not participate in anything at the OCC that could give even the appearance of a financial conflict of interest. When in doubt you should consult with your ethics official to make sure your impartiality will not be questioned and, if it might be, to decide whether you should be recused from becoming involved in a certain issue. You need to be especially careful if any of the following situations come up at work:

  • You are asked to become involved in a matter concerning a person with whom you have, want to have, or recently had a business relationship.
  • An issue comes up in which you or a member of your household or a close relative is involved.
  • A project at work relates to a company or person for whom you, your spouse, parent, or dependent child serve or want to serve as an employee, consultant, partner, director, trustee, or officer.
  • An assignment arises involving a company or person in which you have served as employee, agent, consultant, partner, or officer within the last year.
  • A matter comes up concerning an organization in which you are an active participant.

Owning and Recommending Securities of Banks or Savings Associations or Their Affiliates

Our role at the OCC is to protect the safety and soundness of the national system of banks and savings associations. We are involved on a daily basis in matters that could relate to the condition of individual banks and savings associations. We can’t use the nonpublic information we know about banks and savings associations, especially information derived from examination reports or internal OCC records, in making our personal investments. We also can’t divulge that information to others or give them recommendations based on it.

The OCC’s ethics rules concerning securities are designed to protect us from such a conflict of interest. These rules say that:

  • You can’t own securities, such as stock, of national or state-chartered banks or savings associations or their affiliates. Your spouse and your minor children can’t own such securities either.
  • You, your spouse, or your minor children can own securities of certain commercial companies that own a credit card bank or other limited-purpose bank, such as Valero Energy Corp. If you do so, however, you must be recused from being involved with any issue at the OCC involving the bank.
  • Additionally, if you, your spouse, or minor children, own over $50,000 in securities of banks or savings associations and certain commercial companies or over $25,000 in securities in any one of these institutions, you are subject to an expanded recusal and can’t work on such matters as policy making and rule making activities.
  • You, your spouse, or your minor children can invest in a mutual fund as long as the fund does not have a stated policy of concentrating in the financial services or banking sector (and does not invest more than 25 percent of its assets in bank or savings association securities).
  • You or your spouse generally can receive pension benefits from a bank or savings association that you worked at before you came to work for the OCC. If either of you do so, however, you must be recused from being involved with any issue at the OCC involving the bank or savings association.
  • You can’t make recommendations about buying or selling securities or about other matters affecting banks or savings associations.

Giving and Receiving Gifts

Most of the OCC’s ethics rules on gifts are based on government-wide regulations. Some of these rules are meant to protect public servants from being tempted--or appearing to be tempted--by a gift from a private citizen wanting special treatment from the government. Other rules are designed to protect the integrity of the employee-supervisor relationship.

Gifts From Non-OCC Employees

In most cases you can’t ask for or accept a gift from someone who does business with the OCC. You also can’t accept gifts offered by anyone based on the fact that you work for the OCC. There are some exceptions to this rule, but they do not apply to gifts offered to examiners by the banks or savings associations they examine. In other words, if you examine a bank or savings association, you cannot accept any gift from them (except very minor items, such as modest items of refreshments that are not not offered as part of a meal).

Here are the chief exceptions that apply (so long as it is not the bank or savings association you examine):

  • You can accept an unsolicited gift as long as it has a market value of $20 or less.
  • You can accept a gift clearly given because of a family relationship or a personal friendship.
  • You can accept gifts for which you pay market value.
  • You may be able to accept a gift of less than "minimal value" ($375 in 2014) from a foreign government, including some central banks of foreign countries. But you must report this gift to your ethics official.

Remember that, even if a gift can be accepted under these rules, it is frequently advisable not to accept it to avoid any appearance of a loss of impartiality.

Gifts From OCC Employees

In most cases you can’t give a gift to your boss. And you generally can’t accept a gift from a lower-paid employee. There are exceptions to these rules. It is generally permissible to give a gift (other than cash) with a market valued at $10 or less to a supervisor. It is also permissible to give a supervisor a gift on certain special and infrequent occasions. For example, it’s okay for you to:

  • Give a gift to a supervisor, as long as it is not cash--
    • if it recognizes a special event such as a marriage, illness, or the birth of a child;
    • if the supervisor is retiring; or
    • if it is a hospitality gift when you are invited to a supervisor's home.

But it is not permissible, for example, to give a holiday gift that exceeds $10 to a supervisor because this is a regularly recurring event, not a special event like a retirement, wedding, etc.

Attending Outside Events Free of Charge

As an OCC employee, you often have knowledge or expertise that others in the industry want to know about. If you’re invited to attend a seminar or similar professional meeting, free of charge, you can accept the invitation as long as your supervisor or your ethics official thinks it’s in the interest of the OCC and has determined it qualifies for the “widely attended gathering” exception to the gift prohibition.

When you are attending such a meeting, you can accept instructional materials and refreshments free of charge. But you usually can’t accept free transportation, lodging, or other travel-related expenses from sources outside the federal government.

Teaching, Speaking, and Writing

These rules are meant to keep government employees from using what they have learned on the job to supplement their salaries. In general, you can’t be paid from any other source than the federal government if you teach, speak, or write about any matter that relates to your official duties or the work of the OCC.

Working Outside the OCC

When you first heard that you had to tell your boss that you were thinking about taking a part-time job, you may have thought that it was none of his or her business. But there really is a good reason for this rule. It is meant to ensure that employees don’t use their positions at the OCC to benefit a company or organization outside of the government.

You must tell your supervisor if you take a second job while working for the OCC. Also, you have to tell your supervisor about any outside business activity, even if you don’t get paid for it, if your position causes you to make business decisions about the organization. This includes getting involved in the work of a nonprofit or educational organization.

You generally don’t have to report your participation in purely honorary groups or religious, social, fraternal, or political organizations, unless you make business decision for the organization.

You have to get approval before you can begin any outside work or business activity that could create a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict with the work you do at the OCC. You should check with your ethics official if you have any question about whether you need to get prior approval. Here are a few examples of work outside the OCC that could raise questions about a conflict of interest:

  • Holding a job with a firm that does business with the OCC.
  • Being a member of the board of directors of a nonprofit organization that would require you to make decisions about borrowing from a national bank or a federal savings association or buying securities of a bank or a savings association.
  • Working for a commercial bank, a savings association, another financial institution, or one of their affiliates—most OCC employees are prohibited from working for such entities.

Using Your OCC Position or Title

As an employee of the OCC, you must be careful about what you do at work. And you must protect the integrity of your government position. Your time on the job should be spent in an honest effort to perform your official duties. For example, you can’t use OCC property for unauthorized purposes. Here are two other examples of issues OCC ethics officials are often asked about what you can or can’t do:

  • Except for the Combined Federal Campaign and certain collections of food, clothing, or toys, you can’t engage in charitable fundraising activities at work. Nor can you allow your title or position at the OCC to be used in charitable fundraising solicitations.
  • You can’t use your position or title at the OCC to endorse any product, service, or enterprise.

Buying Government or National Bank or Federal Thrift Property

In almost all cases you aren’t allowed to buy property owned by the government that is under the control of the Treasury Department or the OCC. In addition, you, your spouse, or your minor children can’t buy property (real estate, automobiles, furniture, etc.) from a national bank or a federal savings association or an affiliate unless it’s sold at a public auction or by other means that assure that the selling price is the asset’s fair market value. To help ensure that any purchases of real property owned by a national bank or a federal savings association or an affiliate are at fair market value, and to help prevent any conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict of interest, OCC employees may purchase such properties at auction or only with their supervisor’s prior approval when specific conditions are met. Please see and use forms on the OCC Ethics Page with the relevant conditions for either foreclosed real estate (OREO) or for short sale purchases from national banks or federal savings associations.

Having Checking Accounts at Banks

You or your spouse can have a checking or a deposit account at a national bank or federal savings association or other FDIC-insured institution. But your accounts at any one national bank or federal savings association can’t exceed the FDIC’s insurance limit.

Protecting Nonpublic Information

At the OCC, you have access to a variety of information not available to the general public. You are not allowed to use this nonpublic information to enhance your financial position or otherwise further your private interests. And you must observe all the laws and regulations that prohibit the unauthorized release of nonpublic information, including information derived from examination reports.

Engaging in Political Activities

You can participate in political activities when you aren’t at work, such as volunteering to help in the election campaign of your chosen candidate. You can also make a personal donation to political causes as long as you comply with campaign or similar laws. But you can’t engage in any political activity while on duty - including wearing political buttons - and you generally can’t solicit or accept partisan political contributions at any time, on-duty or off-duty.

Traveling for the OCC

If you are one of the many OCC employees whose job requires you to travel from place to place on official business, you probably have questions about what is allowed and what isn’t. You should consult the OCC Federal Travel Regulation Supplement for details about OCC travel policies. But here is a short primer of travel-related issues as they apply to ethics rules:

  • When you are on official travel, you can take advantage of promotional benefits--like frequent flyer miles, bonus flights or reduced-fare coupons offered by airlines--for your personal use, so long as these benefits are obtained on the same conditions as those offered to the general public and at no additional cost to the Government. You can also accept free membership in airline clubs, check cashing privileges, or other items of nominal value such as pens, calendars, and similar complimentary products.
  • You can use the frequent flyer miles you have accumulated on official travel for upgrades to business class or first class. As stated above, you can also use them for personal travel.
  • If you are involuntarily bumped from an overbooked airline flight, you have to return any cash, free ticket, or other compensation you received from the airline to the OCC. If you voluntarily give up your seat (which of course you shouldn’t do if it causes you to lose working hours), you can keep the offer. But the OCC won’t reimburse you for other travel expenses, such as per diem or lodging, incurred as a result of taking advantage of this benefit.

Leaving the OCC

The OCC realizes that you may not spend your entire working career at the OCC. But the OCC also has to be sure that no conflict of interest or even the appearance of a conflict of interest takes place when its employees look for employment outside of the government. While examiners must follow additional rules if they leave the OCC to work for a bank or savings association they examined, all OCC employees have to be especially careful to follow these rules when looking for a new job:

  • You must refrain from participating in any matter, including policy making and rule making activities, related to a prospective employer when you are trying to get a job with that company.
  • If you are assigned to work on a matter or examination involving a prospective employer, you must tell your supervisor and your ethics official immediately that you can’t work on that matter or that examination.

These rules are fairly simple to follow if someone contacts you about accepting a job outside of the government. But you should also know that you are responsible for following them even when you are in the earliest stages of looking for another job. You must refrain from participating in any matter relating to a bank or a savings association or other company if you:

  • Contact or send a resume to various banks or firms to find out about a possible job.
  • Negotiate a position with a company, bank, savings association, or person.
  • Are contacted about a possible job opportunity and, instead of rejecting it, you express interest in finding out more.

Ethics rules say you are no longer seeking employment when:

  • Either you or your prospective employer rejects the possibility of future employment and no more discussions take place.
  • Two months have passed since you sent out your resume and you haven’t received any expression of interest from the prospective employer.

In many cases you will have to be recused for some time after your employment search stops. Please contact an ethics official if you looked for a job at a bank or savings association that you will be asked to examine or work on.

If you do accept a job outside the OCC, you must have a pre-exit interview with your ethics official before you leave the OCC.

Political Communications Prohibited

The integrity and effectiveness of the examination process depends upon its being kept completely free from any appearance of being influenced by political considerations. Contacts that occur with national banks or federal savings associations through the examination process concerning legislative or political issues run the risk of being misperceived as implying that a bank or a savings association should take a particular position on such issues.

Thus, OCC employees should have no communications with national banks or federal savings associations that could be perceived as suggesting that the examination process is in any way influenced by political issues or considerations, or that the bank or savings association should take a particular position on political or legislative issues.

OCC employees should bring to the attention of their managers, or to the attention of their ethics counselor, any situation in which they feel the above policy might be compromised.

Additional Rules for Examiners and Other Financial Disclosure Filers 

If you are an examiner in the field, you have access to information about individual banks. If you are a lawyer, economist, or other professional working on bank supervisory issues, you can be privy to confidential information the release of which could have serious consequences. Or your position at the OCC may give you access to information other OCC employees don’t, or you are expected to make decisions that others aren’t allowed to make. That’s why you are subject to additional ethics rules.

Borrowing from National Banks and Federal Savings Associations

Generally, you can’t obtain a loan from a national bank or a federal savings association or a subsidiary of a national bank or a federal savings association, but there are a number of exceptions to this rule.

  • Your spouse or your minor child can get a loan from a national bank or a federal savings association as long as it is obtained on their own credit and you are not involved as cosigner or guarantor.
  • You can have a credit card from a national bank or a federal savings association, except that your credit card must be obtained on terms and conditions available to the general public. Also, you must observe any related recusal required by OCC ethics policy.
  • You can keep a loan you obtained from a national bank or a federal savings association before you came to work for the OCC, with a recusal. But, except for the primary residence mortgage loan exception and the vacation home refinance exception discussed below, you can’t renew or renegotiate that loan after coming to work for the OCC.
  • You can keep a loan that was not initially made by a national bank or a federal savings association but was subsequently transferred to a national bank or a federal savings association (like a mortgage or car loan), with a recusal. But, except for the primary residence mortgage loan exception and the vacation home refinance exception discussed below, you can’t renew or renegotiate it.
  • Examiners and other covered employees are permitted to obtain loans secured by their primary residence from national banks and federal savings associations and their subsidiaries, including mortgage loans, home equity lines of credit, and refinanced loans, provided they maintain a recusal from the lending bank and observe certain additional restrictions. See the Ethics Page on the OCCnet for further details and examples.
  • If you have a mortgage loan on your vacation home that is held by a national bank or a federal savings association or a subsidiary of one of these institutions, and the loan was not in violation of the ethics rules when you took it out (e.g., you took out the loan with a non-national bank and later it was sold to a national bank or you took out the loan before you started working for the OCC), you can refinance the loan with the national bank or federal savings association or subsidiary so long as you have the approval of your supervisor and ethics official.
  • Some administrative employees who file disclosure reports, but don’t deal with bank supervisory matters aren’t subject to the rule on borrowing from national banks and federal savings associations. If in doubt, check with your ethics official.

Working in a Bank or a Savings Association as an Examiner

When you are in a bank or a savings association, you have to be especially careful to avoid any situation that could appear to conflict with your official duties. And you must avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. For example, you generally can’t participate in a credit review of companies in which you or your spouse or minor child own stock or have another financial interest.

If you have a close family member who works at a national bank or a federal savings association or one of its affiliates, you can’t participate in an examination or any other matter involving that bank or affiliate. And, if you are a new OCC examiner who previously worked for a bank or a savings association, you generally are recused from working on matters related to that bank or savings association for two years and sometimes longer.

You can’t accept a gift from any bank or savings association you examine or supervise. You also must follow the other ethics rules concerning gifts that all OCC employees must follow. However , you are allowed to accept the following small items while you are at a bank or a savings association:

  • Items with little intrinsic value, such as calendars and inexpensive pens, that are offered to the general public;
  • Modest items of food and refreshments, such as coffee and donuts, offered other than as part of a meal and shared in a business setting at the bank or savings association; and
  • Meals in a subsidized bank cafeteria for which you pay the same rate as others.

Working Outside the OCC

Like all OCC employees, you must follow all the rules described earlier for working outside the OCC. As a financial disclosure filer, you have one more rule to follow: you can’t work for any bank, savings association, banking or loan association, or national bank or federal savings association affiliate. For example, you may not take a part-time job analyzing financial models for a firm affiliated with a national bank.

If you are an attorney, you must get prior written approval from your supervisor, as well as the concurrence of your ethics official, for any activity involving the practice of law, even if uncompensated.

Having Checking Accounts at Banks and Federal Savings Associations

Like all OCC employees, you are allowed to have checking or deposit accounts at banks and savings associations. But if you have an account at a national bank or a federal savings association, the terms and conditions of the account must be consistent with terms generally available to the public, and you may not have an overdraft line of credit (unless any draw on the line of credit is charged to a savings account, credit card or a home equity line of credit).

Leaving the OCC

Like all OCC employees, you must follow all the rules that apply to employees who leave the government to work in the private sector. But here are two more rules to follow if you, as an examiner, look for or get a job with a bank or a savings association you examined:

  • If you are an examiner and you are trying to get a job at a bank or a savings association you examined within the past year, you must tell your assistant deputy comptroller or other supervisor about it. They will then decide if a work paper review or a new examination is needed. (The OCC always conducts a work paper review when examiners are hired by the bank or savings association in which they participated in the last examination.)
  • If you are offered a job by a bank or a savings association that you are currently examining, you should tell your assistant deputy comptroller or supervisor and your ethics official about it--even if you turn the offer down.

If you are a Large Bank or Midsize Bank EIC (examiner-in-charge), you are also prohibited for a period of one year after leaving federal employment from accepting compensation as an employee, officer, director, or consultant from the national bank or federal savings association for which you had continuing, broad responsibility for two of the preceding twelve months, from any parent company that controls this bank or savings association, and from any affiliated national banks or federal savings associations for which you had supervisory responsibility.

Before you leave the OCC, you must have a pre-exit interview with your ethics official and, if you are going to work for a bank or a savings association or an affiliate, you must also complete a special employee resignation form.

For More Information 

This booklet is for your general information. If it hasn’t answered a specific question you have about the OCC’s ethics rules, you can review the OCC Ethics Bulletins on the Ethics Page on the OCCnet. This will give you more complete information about ethics rules and updates of changes.

Feel free to contact your ethics official anytime you have questions or concerns about the OCC’s ethics rules. Here is a list of who you can turn to for advice and phone numbers:

For Washington headquarters employees, contact the ethics official at (202) 649-7881.

For district, field, and large bank employees, contact the district counsels or members of their staff at the following numbers:

Northeastern District
(212) 790-4037

Central District
(312) 360-8805

Southern District
(214) 720-7022

Western District
(720) 475-7630