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Jo Ann Barefoot explores how to create fair and inclusive consumer financial services through innovative ideas for industry and regulators

Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Getting People on to the Credit Ladder: LendUp CEO Sasha Orloff

Jo Ann Barefoot

Today’s episode is about new ideas about a very old problem in consumer finance -- high-cost lending to high-risk borrowers. My guest is LendUp CEO Sasha Orloff, who is one of a new generation of fintech founders building alternatives to traditional payday lending.

In public policy, there has been a long-standing assumption, sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit, that widespread access to credit -- especially mortgages -- is a good thing. A host of government regulations, programs, and bank supervisory activities aim to promote more credit, because we’ve assumed that wider credit access is, broadly speaking, good.

Is it, though? Most people would agree that up to a point, it’s good, and beyond some point, it becomes bad. It definitely becomes bad at the point where the borrower can’t realistically repay the loan. It can also become bad if the pricing is so high that the person ends up worse off for borrowing, instead of better, especially if the borrower doesn’t understand the terms

We could do many episodes on the tough issues embedded in this question. One is whether it’s better to have high-cost loan options that are legal and subject to regulation, or to outlaw them, knowing that shutting down legal options will drive some desperate people to use illegal ones, which hurt them even more. Another is the philosophical question of how much the government should protect people from themselves. If the price of a high-cost loan is clear, and borrowers understand it, should the government respect their decision on whether to take it, or substitute its judgment for theirs and remove the option?

Again, public policy has been debating these issues for decades --  maybe centuries -- and still is, including through many of the initiatives taken to date by the CFPB.

In this podcast, we won’t tackle those questions, but will instead ask a very different one: What if we didn’t need to resolve them? What if, thanks to technology, we could solve the problems surrounding high-cost credit -- or a big chunk of them -- not through regulation, but in the marketplace.

LendUp.  Sasha Orloff founded LendUp to provide more affordable credit to the 50% of Americans with credit scores below 680. He had worked at a big bank, and at an NGO in the developing world, and had a brother in the technology world who kept telling him that better software could create better products. He finally founded LendUp, to build them.

LendUp offers credit products online -- which means it has, automatically, a lower cost structure than the traditional bank model of branches. As Sasha explains in our discussion, it has also designed its products to offer borrowers a gateway to better credit scores, credit options, and financial health.

LendUp is backed by major investors including Y-Combinator, Google Ventures, QED Investors, Startfund, Kleiner Perkins, A16Z seed fund, Thomvest Ventures, Kapor Capital, Bronze Investments, Founders Co-Op, Data Collective, Susa Ventures, and Radicle Impact.

Sasha and the firm have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, NYTimes, Financial Times, CNN, NBC, TechCrunch, Venturebeat, Inc, Wired, Bloomberg, Fortune, Dow Jones, American Banker, Marketplace and many others. He has presented at TEDx, and LendUp, and they won Finovate Best In Show. FastCompany named the firm as one of the World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Personal Finance, and it won runner up in Webbys for best website design. They have presented at LendIt, Emerge, Money20/20, The HubSF, NBC News, and Huffington Post Live, and participate in The Clinton Global Initiative on Financial Inclusion. Sasha also serves on the Consumer Lending Advisory Board for TransUnion (one of the three major credit bureaus)

A regulatory note.  After Sasha and I recorded this episode, the CFPB announced an enforcement action against LendUp. The order is, among other things, a warning flag for startups about the importance, and the great challenges, of maintaining complete regulatory compliance in the midst of rapid growth. The company has responded with a massive expansion of compliance staff. Following the announcement of consent order last fall, it issued this statement:

We started LendUp because the traditional banking system wasn’t working for more than half of Americans. From day one, we’ve committed ourselves to offering better, safer and more transparent credit products and to aligning the success of our business with the success of our customers.

We genuinely believed the product features that were identified by the CFPB and the California DBO– like optional expedited funding and a 30 cent per day discount for early repayment—were in the best interests of our customers. But we fell short in the execution and in meeting the expectations of our regulators.  We have since taken action to resolve every issue they’ve raised, including beginning to refund customers prior to entry of the Consent Order and Settlement Agreement.

We’ve also made significant investments to build out our legal and compliance operations. In this respect, we are a different company today, with a completely new legal and compliance team that is larger now than our entire company when we started these exams. Importantly, those teams are brought in at the beginning of the development lifecycle for every new product and feature.

We are proud of the progress we’ve made to expand access to credit, lower borrowing costs and provide credit-building opportunities to our customers. LendUp has:

  • Graduated more than 20,000 borrowers to the highest rungs of the LendUp Ladder in more than 11 states

  • Saved Californians alone more than $18M in 2016 (and an estimated $40M to date nationwide)

  • Delivered over 800,000 free credit education classes; and

  • Helped LendUp customers improve their credit scores: according to TransUnion data, 66% of LendUp customers showed a credit score increase – more than those in the control group using similar types of products from other lenders.

We are eager to keep building on this track record, and look forward to continuing our work to put our customers on paths to better financial health.

I have found Sasha to be one of the most thoughtful people in fintech. I think you’ll be fascinated by his overview of the shrinking of the American middle class, the impact of the smartphone revolution; innovation models fort startups versus banks; how making financial education interesting; and how to redesign regulation for the 21st century,

The loans at Lendup cost less than traditional payday options, but more than loans to prime customers, because the borrowers are simply higher risk. If lenders can’t charge enough to cover that risk, they won’t serve these customers. If they can, though, and if they can leverage technology to gain efficiency and underwriting accuracy, and if they can enable high-risk borrowers to build and repair credit records, and if they can educate people about managing their finances, and can also make a great return on capital and then truly scale up…. then seemingly unsolvable problems can, maybe, begin to.get solved.

More links:

More for our listeners:

I'll hope to see you at "LendIt in New York in February, SXSW in March, FinXTech Summit in April and of course CFSI’s Emerge in June.

Remember to review Barefoot Innovation on iTunes, and please sign up to get emails on new podcasts and my newsletter and blog posts at jsbarefoot.com.  My latest post argues for some healthy regulatory disruption as a new administration takes office. Go there too to send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going. Please also join my Facebook fan page, and follow me on twitter.

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And watch for the next podcast, because we’re going to turn to innovation in small business lending. My guest will be Karen Mills, the former Administrator of the SBA and at Harvard Business School, where she has just issued an updated study on small business lending This one is focused mainly on fintech. We had a fascinating conversation. See you then!



The One Dollar Smart Phone -- Theo Cosmora, CEO of SocialEco

Jo Ann Barefoot

Greetings for the holiday season, and apologies for my recent backlog in posting podcasts. The main reason for the latter is that I have been traveling almost constantly. In November and December I was in Singapore, Geneva, San Francisco, London (twice) and Washington multiple times, and of course, back in Boston in between.

And not long before that, I was in Fiji, where I recorded this podcast, with Theo Cosmora, CEO of Social Eco and the OneDollarSmartPhone.

Developing countries are the world’s learning laboratory on financial inclusion.

What I learned from these recent travels is that the world is alive with new ideas about both financial products and financial regulation. Fintech and regtech, are everywhere. And both are, surprisingly to some, more advanced in other parts of the world than in the U.S. The reason for that is simple:  Other countries, and especially the developing world, have leaped straight to new technologies, and especially mobile financial services, because they never built the complex financial and regulatory infrastructure that predominates in the developed world, such as widespread telephone land lines and personal computers. Those financial systems have flaws, but broadly speaking, they work pretty well for middle and upper income people, getting financial tasks done through banks, bank branches, checks, plastic credit cards, plastic debit cards, cash machines, funds transfers and all the rest.

That means that the impetus to change entrenched infrastructure, not to mention entrenched consumer habits, is weaker in highly developed markets.  It also means that investing in such change takes more time to pay off there, and is extra expensive because providers have to maintain all their traditional systems while simultaneously building new ones.

The developing world lacks that problem. For people who have never had access to financial services, for whom no one ever would have built a branch, there’s nothing to replace except cash and barter. Planting new systems in new ground is, generally, easier than growing things amidst a mature forest.

This fact has made developing countries into the world’s learning laboratory on how to build really an innovative financial system -- especially for low-income people. People throughout the world have mobile phones -- as of 2013, more people had access to cellphones than to toilets. Everyone knows how to use them. Increasingly, these are smartphones that can access wifi, which is spreading fast too. While the United States is still focused on the Community Reinvestment Act obligation of banks to maintain branches in lower-income neighborhoods, other countries are bringing whole new affordable financial services to low income people, by the hundreds of millions, through converging new technologies. That’s not just the cell phone, but all the other changes underway in digital identity, voice technology, block chains, big data, and much more.

And regulators, especially in developing countries, are working hard to harness the same technology trends into new “regtech” strategies, to foster this progress and, simultaneously, to prevent new dangers that will grow along with it.

We’ll talk more about this revolution in other episodes -- I recorded several more in Fiji and my other travels -- but for now, let’s focus on this incredible breakthrough -- the affordable phone.

Theo Cosmora

My guest for this episode is Theo Cosmora, co-founder and CEO of Social Eco and the man behind the OneDollarSmartPhone. Theo notes that four billion people can’t afford smartphones; that this is potentially the world’s most valuable market in the world, worth $5 trillion; and that people spend an average of three hours a day using phones if they have them. That means that connecting everyone to smart phones will connect them, both horizontally and vertically, into every dimension of the larger economy and culture.

How to solve the phone affordability gap? Theo has devised a business model in which companies or governments will sponsor pre-set apps on a phone, to subsidize the price enough to reach people who can’t afford the phone, but do have and spend money -- farmers, workers, migrants, others. This is somewhat like the model developed by the internet itself, or by players like Google -- or for that matter, broadcast television -- where a core service is free or nearly free, because it’s creating access to markets for third parties. (As an aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about fintech business models, and the need for transparency and true consumer understanding around them. I’ll be talking more about that in 2017.)  I think you’ll be fascinated by Theo’s insights on this market and how serving it can unlock value throughout the global economy, as well as lifting people out of poverty and isolation. If you’re a business, regulator, or central bank, anywhere, with interest in this market, Theo would like to talk with you about sponsoring phones.

You’ll also enjoy his insights about regulators, who he thinks are suddenly seeing the potential and becoming helpful. We recorded our conversation at the annual global forum of AFI, the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, which consists of the financial regulators and central banks of the developing world. The meeting dramatically bore out Theo’s optimism on regulators embracing fintech and regtech, as we’ll discuss in future episodes.

For listeners in the United States, some of this may not seem directly relevant, but I want to encourage you to think about it. Initiatives like this are pointing the way to affordable, inclusive, profitable financial services -- for everyone. U.S. public policy has been striving toward that goal for decades, with results that are limited at best. Suddenly, technology is opening up a whole new way to go at them.

Some say you can’t make money serving people with no money -- at least not without cheating them. I’d love to know if our audience thinks that was ever true, and even if so, will it still be, as technology makes more markets profitable by making it inexpensive to reach and serve them. If you have thoughts, please share them at www.jsbarefoot.com.



Remaking the Financial Rails: Ripple CEO Chris Larsen

Jo Ann Barefoot

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Welcome to today’s show.

One night last summer I attended a small dinner in New York hosted by the editors of a global financial publication, on financial innovation. We had some of fintech’s brightest stars seated around the table, but I remember offering the view that the person there who was most likely to actually revolutionize the the financial system was Chris Larsen, the CEO of Ripple. Most fintech innovators are building new things on the system’s old footings.  Ripple is trying to reshape the foundation itself.

As you’ll hear in our discussion, Chris and I first met about five years ago when the wider world had barely heard of Bitcoin, and blockchains and digital currency were still causing mostly head-scratching (at best). He had an impressive past that included co-founding eLoan and Prosper before Open Coin, which is now Ripple. The company’s mission is to create  interoperable global finance -- easy movement of money, and other forms of value, throughout the world. An analogy (which we also discussed in my earlier podcast with Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire) is to do for money what the internet did for information, enabling it to move instantly, cheaply, and accurately to everyone, everywhere.

I notice that people whose work is hard to explain use lovely, lively language and imagery. It’s certainly true of Chris. He talks about paper mail and rails and siloes and blocked pipes and, my favorite -- shipping containers, which he says boosted global trade by 700%, with the simple step of standardizing containers so they can fit efficiently on any ship, truck or train, anywhere in the world. He discusses a book on how this changed the world -- The Box by Marc Levinson. That inspired me to include the picture below, of a fully-loaded container ship as it passed along beside my apartment, which overlooks Boston Harbor.

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In this episode, Chris says interoperability in finance is the last missing link that’s needed for truly efficient global commerce. He discusses the possible “science fiction” of connecting 50 billion devices through the internet of things. He describes how micropayments can transform functions ranging from ocean monitoring to financial access. He talks about people in huge swaths of Africa who have phones and Google but no connected way to pay for things -- and imagines the global growth that would be sparked by adding two billion people into mainstream payments and commerce. He imagines these solutions even helping to solve the problems caused by globalization.

Chris also talks about the crucial roles of banks, which are key partners for Ripple, and of regulators, including the risk that America’s splintered regulatory system could undermine our leading global role in finance which he says will be “up for grabs” as many countries compete.

And he explains, tellingly, how his views on “disruption” have evolved over time.

We recorded this discussion last summer -- before the presidential election, which he mentions -- and also before Chris’ announcement this month that he plans to step down as Ripple CEO at the end of 2016 in order to rebalance his life. He’ll remain active with Ripple and will work closely with its incoming CEO, Brad Garlinghouse.

More links:

I loved this conversation with Chris Larsen, and I think you will too. Enjoy!

Barefoot Innovation news….

We’re posting this episode during a flurry of activity. Ten days ago I had the fun of doing a fireside chat at Money 2020 with CFPB Director Richard Cordray -- who used the venue to make some big new on big data and data aggregation.  I raced back from that to speak last week at the FTC’s fintech conference, and I’ll be missing the SEC’s first fintech event next week because I’m off to the Singapore fintech/RegTech festival that’s being co-sponsored by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, MAS. Money 2020 drew 11,000 people this year -- the largest financial conference in the world -- and the Singapore conference expects over 10,000, including for the first-ever RegTech conference in Asia.

Meanwhile, our direct subscribers to Barefoot Innovation more than doubled last month. Every week I’m encountering people who tell me they’re fans of the show. Please do send in your “buck a show” to help us keep it going -- I’m having to bring in more helpers for it. And please remember to review us on Itunes. Also come to the new Facebook fan page. And please come to www.jsbarefoot.com  to get onto our mailing list.

Most of all, come back next time, when my very special guest will be Alfred Hannig, the executive director of AFI -- the Alliance for Financial Inclusion. We recorded this one on an idyllic day in beautiful Fiji!  AFI is driving tremendous change in global financial inclusion and I know you’ll find the episode fascinating.


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Colin Walsh of Varo

Jo Ann Barefoot

I’ve been looking for a chance to do a podcast with today’s guest for months. Colin Walsh is the founder and CEO of Varo, an online tool that aims to make it easy and affordable for consumers to manage their financial lives. Colin and I first met at last year’s fintech conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and I’ve enjoyed, ever since, watching the rapid growth of his startup.

Varo was still in development when we talked and is now in private beta, with plans to launch next year. I find them especially interesting in many ways, including that they raised $27 million this year; that the founders are very experienced banking executives; and that they are creating an ambitious product to meet multiple consumer needs at once. Maybe my favorite thing is that they are creating the Varo Bot, a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to actually take the initiative to help customers manage daily money tasks easily and well. The move toward fintech solutions that are proactive instead of reactive is a real breakthrough, because it attacks one of the biggest obstacles to consumer financial health -- people not really understanding how best to manage their money, or just not thinking about that question before, rather than after, they spend or borrow. Varo is solving for that.

Colin has two and a half decades of leadership experience with global brands in Europe and the US, including as an EVP at American Express, Managing Director at Lloyds Banking Group, and an EVP at Wells Fargo.

In this episode Colin explains his motivation in undertaking a fintech startup after years at big companies. He talks about why Varo’s initial focus is simple, transparent mobile tools for millennials. He talks about the power of starting from a clean slate, with no legacy of what he calls “bad revenues,” and no challenges caused by having data “trapped in silos,” which is a major problem for banks. He also has thought-provoking advice for both banks and regulators.

Here are some links:

I know you’ll enjoy hearing his insights.

And more for our listeners:

To help you keep up with innovators like Varo, I’ve been launching a series of social media channels that feature all my podcast guests as well as my blog posts and speeches. Sign up for my new monthly newsletter at jsbarefoot.com, head to my new facebook fan page, and please follow me on twitter.  I have some big news coming up – I’m co-founding a RegTech venture, so don’t miss hearing about it!

Also, please send in your “buck a show” to support Barefoot Innovation. We now have thousands of listeners around the world, and we need support to keep the show coming and keep it timely, with my little band of part-time helpers.

Support our Podcast

Meanwhile, be sure to come back next time, when my guest will be the CEO of Ripple, Chris Larsen.

Harvard's Brigitte Madrian on Saving for Retirement: "We are Not Making it Easy"

Jo Ann Barefoot

Today’s program is really special, because my guest is Brigitte Madrian. Brigitte is the Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management at the Harvard Kennedy School, and also co-director of the Household Finance working group at the National Bureau of Economic Research. She is a leading expert in behavioral economics and consumer decision-making regarding both health and finance, and in finance,especially savings and retirement. Importantly to me, she is also my faculty advisor for the book I’m writing.

Regular listeners know I’m spending two years as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Business and Government in the Kennedy School.  As I started into my fellowship last year, I had the great fortune of linking with Brigitte as my faculty advisor for the book.  She is part of the movement in economics that’s rethinking the classical theory that assumes that everyone behaves rationally. That work goes to the very heart of the condundrum in consumer finance, where both policymakers and industry have to grapple with the fact that consumers don’t always make the choices that are best for them. Understanding the many reasons why that happens, and how to elicit better decisions, is one of the keys to improving consumer financial health.

For this podcast, I met with Brigitte in her office on a lovely summer day. The Kennedy school is a complex of brick buildings clustered on the bank of the Charles River – it’s located about halfway between the Harvard Business School, on the other side of the river, and the old Harvard Yard, which is the traditional heart of the college (Harvard was founded in 1636). The Kennedy School has been undergoing construction ever since I got here – I get a fascinating display of cranes and I-beams and such from my little office space in the Belfer building – but Brigitte and I had a quiet talk during summer semester, with most of the students away.

She came to Harvard about 10 years ago, and in our talk, she quoted someone once saying that professional schools tend to be run very much like the professions they represent. It’s certainly true of the Kennedy School, which is all about gathering together a multiplicity of voices to grapple with public policy challenges. And it’s especially true for my center, which is the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government. All of our fellows are working on finding practical solutions at the nexus of public policy and the private sector.

That’s what Brigitte has done in her research. She started out by looking at data on retirement plans (her first paper was about automatic enrollment), and she found the results so compelling that she didn’t even need to do statistical analysis to see that automatic enrollment led to dramatic increase in savings plan participation, especially among the groups least likely to participate -- employees who were younger, lower-paid employees, newly-hired, black and latino. The automatic enrollment caused an amazing 50-60% increase in plan participation.

That paper got a lot of attention and led her to a 20 year research agenda trying to understand financial decisions. I think you’ll be very interested in her views about the track record for policies like financial literacy education and financial incentives to save. She pinpoints complexity as a critical problem, and she’s not a fan of disclosure as the solution.

Our talk was especially timely because we met shortly after release of an important study she helped produce, by the Retirement Security and Personal Savings Commission of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.   The report is titled Securing Our Financial Future, and makes recommendations for policymakers on how to increase income security for older individuals. She’ll describe some of the highlights.

I’m excited about behavioral economics because when these insights are combined with new technology, it becomes possible to create vastly better financial products. You may remember my discussion with Ethan Bloch of Digit, which incorporates these same principles of letting people save automatically instead of through daily effort, and in trying to bring financial decision-making time to zero. Easy and sound financial management is suddenly becoming possible.

Brigitte’s biography:

Brigitte Madrian is the Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management at the Harvard Kennedy School.  Before coming to Harvard in 2006, she was on the Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School (2003-2006), the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (1995-2003) and the Harvard University Economics Department (1993-1995).  She is also a research associate and co-director of the Household Finance working group at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Dr. Madrian’s current research focuses on behavioral economics and household finance, with a particular focus on household saving and investment behavior.  Her work in this area has impacted the design of employer-sponsored savings plans in the U.S. and has influenced pension reform legislation both in the U.S. and abroad. She is also engaged in research on health, using the lens of behavioral economics to understand health behaviors and improve health outcomes; in the past she has also examined the impact of health insurance on the job choice and retirement decisions of employees and the hiring decisions of firms.

Dr. Madrian received her Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and studied economics as an undergraduate at Brigham Young University.  She is the recipient of the National Academy of Social Insurance Dissertation Prize (first place, 1994) and a two-time recipient of the TIAA-CREF Paul A. Samuelson Award for Scholarly Research on Lifelong Financial Security (2002 and 2011).


Also….

Please sign up for our mailing list, which includes our newly-launched newsletter highlighting events of the month and my thoughts about them. I have some big news coming up – I’m co-founding a Reg-Tech venture, so don’t miss hearing about it!


Also, please send in your “buck a show” to support Barefoot Innovation. Have you ever noticed that we often have long lapses of time between when we record a podcast and when we post it? That’s because the show is free, but takes huge amounts of time to produce. And we produce it on a shoestring – I work with my little cadre of young part-timers. If we can develop more revenue, we want to get onto a more frequent and regular schedule. You won’t belive the amazing episodes I have already recorded, but haven’t yet been able to share. So if you love the show – and I hear constantly that people do, and we have thousands of people listening around the world – it would be great for you to send in a little bit of support.

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Remember, follow me on twitter at @joannbarefoot, and please review us on iTunes.

And come to my new Facebook fan page HERE

Last but not least, come back next time for an exciting conversation with Colin Walsh, right around the time he is launching his new fintech venture….Varo.

See you then!

Innovation in Small Business Lending: Sam Hodges of Funding Circle

Jo Ann Barefoot

Welcome to our first conversation with an innovator in small business lending – my guest is Sam Hodges, Co-founder and U.S. Managing Director of Funding Circle.

Funding Circle was founded in 2012 and is the world’s leading marketplace lender that’s exclusively focused on small businesses. It has made more than $2.5 billion in loans to 20,000 businesses in the U.S., Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK (where it is based). It customers borrow directly from a wide range of investors, including more than 50,000 people, the UK Government, and divers entities like local councils, a university and various financial organizations.

Funding Circle was created because the founders were small business owners themselves and learned how hard it is to access finance, even for a successful business. Even when a loan was approved, they found the process difficult, or the terms unattractive. Sometimes they even felt misled. After opening their 96th loan rejection letter, they decided this was a systemic failure – that the traditional bank loan system was broken – and they set out to build a new solution. The financial crisis created fertile ground for them, as so many business suddenly had trouble accessing capital (the number of small businesses has dropped every year for the past 8-10 years). And their timing fit with the emergence of marketplace lending as a new model.

As Funding Circle’s Co–Founder and U.S. Managing Director, Sam oversees the company’s overall strategic direction and its day–to–day operation in the U.S. He was previously Vice President of Business Development at SecondMarket, the leading marketplace for alternative investments, where he was responsible for corporate and business development and the company’s geographic expansion efforts. Sam was also part of the investment team at Pequot Capital, an $8 billion global fund manager, covering investments in financial technology and information services. He started  his career as a strategy consultant at Katzenbach Partners, advising financial services and technology companies. He currently serves on the boards of two private companies. He received his MBA and MS from Stanford University and graduated magna cum laude from Brown University.

Sam points to three key Funding Circle innovations:

  • One is delivering a superior borrower experience. They can on-board and evaluate customers sometimes in minutes, or a few days, for situations where a bank might need 30 man-hours to reach a decision.
  • Second, they’ve re-architected how they do credit evaluation. Sam says it’s not a silver bullet, but they’ve have created their own rigorous data-driven approach to understanding risk, and they’re using new data, in new ways, to serve more borrowers.
  • And third, he argues that the marketplace model can be more scalable and profitable than the traditional bank approach, enabling them to grow a global business.

In our conversation, Sam expresses his continued confidence in the marketplace model. He discusses Funding Circle’s risk analytics (he says they hire world class risk officers from world-class institutions). He explains the role of alternative data in driving more sound and inclusive lending.

I was especially interested in how Sam contrasts the U.S. regulatory model with the U.K.’s efforts, especially on P2P lending. He thinks the fragmented American structure makes innovation here difficult. He also has suggestions for regulatory innovation, including sandboxes and a graduated scale of coverage that would allow small innovators to get up and running more easily.  He emphasizes the need for interagency coordination and consistency. He says transparency needs to undergird the whole industry, and that requires smart, sound regulation that everyone understands. (To listen to our previous episode about the “Regulatory Sandbox” with Nitish Pandey of BMO, click here.)

Sam welcomes smart customer protection regulation – he discusses his involvement in creating the Small Business Borrower’s Bill of Rights we discussed in an earlier episode with Brian Graham of BancAlliance.  See also this Harvard research paper by former Small Business Administration head Karen Mills on small business lending.

I hear increasing discussion about more regulation of small business lending. It’s partly because the online lenders are transforming the market, and partly because the “1099 economy” is producing more little businesses that arguably are functionally-equivalent to consumer borrowers.  The sector is covered by some of the federal laws on consumer protection, but not by most of them.  My own view is that regulation will probably need to come, but that we should NOT transplant the existing consumer protection rules into it without first updating them for the digital age. Speaking as someone who helped develop some of these rules, I will say they have a mixed record, at best, of protecting consumers. And complying with them costs a fortune. If we’re going to bring new regulation into the small business sector, let’s use the chance to take a fresh look, and apply some RegTech thinking.

Other notes:

Newsletter:

I also want to share an announcement -- this month we’re launching a newsletter. It will be pithy and punchy and useful, highlighting the most interesting things that have happened, the most exciting things coming up. It will be a way to share some of the fascinating things I’ve been getting involved with. One example is that, this summer, I joined the Netherlands’ Queen Maxima (who leads the UN’s work on global financial inclusion) on her trip to Silicon Valley. Another is that I just returned from a week in Fiji at the global policy forum of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, which represents the financial regulators of more than 90 countries in the developing world. I’m also working on ideas for promoting regulatory sandboxes in the United States. And in November, I’ll be speaking in Singapore at Asia’s first RegTech conference. And I’m doing a lot of work on RegTech. In fact, in Fiji I heard a new term – “SuperTech.” It’s a branch of RegTech that means technology-driven solutions for bank supervision.

The newsletter will share some of the intriguing things that are going on, outside our poccasts.


Don’t forget:

Remember to send in your “buck a show” to keep the podcasts coming

Support the Podcast

Remember to rate us on ITunes. 

 


Coming guests:

And look for some amazing guests coming up. We have none other than the leaders of Varo, Ripple, LendUp, and Loot (from London)!

We have two amazing, mold-breaking innovators from the developing world – eCurrency and OneDollarCellPhone, as well as the head of AFI, the Alliance for Financial Inclusion.

And back in the US, we’ll have the community bank perspective on innovation.

But first, next up, we have Harvard professor and behavioral economics expert, Brigitte Madrian.

So, enjoy my conversation with Funding Circle’s Sam Hodges … and come back soon!



Innovation and Consumer Protection - Lauren Saunders, National Consumer Law Center

Jo Ann Barefoot

Today's show explores financial innovation through the eyes of one of America's most respected consumer advocates. My guest is Lauren Saunders, Associate Director of the National Consumer Law Center.

The NCLC has been active in consumer financial protection for over 40 years. Lauren manages its Washington, DC office and directs its federal legislative and regulatory work on issues like prepaid cards, electronic payments, small dollar loans, credit cards, bank accounts, and consumer protection regulation overall. She also contributes to NCLC legal treatises, including Consumer Banking and Payments Law, Consumer Credit Regulation, and Fair Credit Reporting. Previously she directed the Federal Rights Project of the National Senior Citizens Law Center; was Deputy Director of Litigation at Bet Tzedek Legal Services; and was an associate at Hall & Phillips. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and was an Executive Editor of the Harvard Law Review. She holds a Masters' in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a B.A., Phi Beta Kappa, from Stanford University.

In our conversation, Lauren talks thoughtfully about what worries her about consumer finance today and how she thinks we should address emerging problems. We had a wide-ranging discussion, including about what would happen if traditional payday lending was no longer an option (she'd like a "Goldilocks" approach on loan length). She also discusses her concerns about both easy credit and fast credit; partnering between banks and marketplace lenders; using alternative data in underwriting; and the future of overdraft products as we move toward increasingly fast - and even real-time - payments.

For a look into the innovators who were mentioned in the show (and who have been featured as previous guests), check out their websites: Digit, Even, and Simple. Also note Lauren's mention of the American Express-backed movie, Spent.

Also ....

Time is running out to vote for my SXSW panel!  Remember to vote for my panel for SXSW 2017. It's Regulation Innovation - how to modernize regulation to optimize financial innovation. My fantastic panelists are CFSI's CEO Jennifer Tescher, the White House's Adrienne Harris, and Simple CEO Josh Reich. To vote, just go to http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/67829 (there's a quick signup to be sure the votes are real). And please plan to come to SXSW!

Remember to like us!  Also remember to like Barefoot Innovation on ITunes; follow me on Twitter @JoAnnBarefoot; and contribute your "buck a show" to keep our podcasts coming.
 

Going global:  I recorded the introduction to this episode from the airport en route to London (I figure if Tim Ferriss can do this - and he inspired me to try pod-casting - I can give it a try). I'm heading to the UK for meetings on progress so far with the regulatory sandbox that was launched this year by the Financial Conduct Authority, to distill some lessons for the United States with our much more fragmented regulatory structure.

Two days after I return from London, I'm heading to Fiji for the annual global conference of AFI - the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, which is made up of the financial regulators of the Global South. In November, I'll be speaking at the FinTech forum of the Singapore Monetary Authority - in the portion that will be Asia's first-ever RegTech conference in Asia. And I recently had to turn down invitations to speak in Tokyo and in Shanghai, and to participate in a UN gathering in Tanzania.

All of which is to say, financial innovation is global, and so are the global challenges of how to regulate it, and so is Barefoot Innovation. We have listeners throughout the world, and I'll be recording fascinating podcasts on these travels. Watch for widened horizons this fall.

Upcoming: Meanwhile, come back next time for my special guest, Sam Hodges of Funding Circle.


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Insure-Tech : QED Founding Partner Caribou Honig

Jo Ann Barefoot

Today we have our first-ever episode on Insure-tech. Happily, it also turned out to be one of the most fun, funny and thought-provoking shows we've ever done. I'm pretty sure it's the first one where we've talked about the internet of things, and CRISPR gene research, transportation as a service, and drones.


My fascinating guest is Caribou Honig, founding partner of QED Investors.


QED is a venture fund cofounded by Caribou, Frank Rotman, and Nigel Morris, who first came together in the early days of Capital One. They have helped launch some great fintech companies - for instance LendUp and DriveFactor. Caribou's investments span an array of marketing, payments, and insurance technology companies, particularly where B2C customer acquisition drives the business success. He developed a passion for data-driven marketing when he led key marketing initiatives at Capital One, including responsibility for a $50 mm marketing budget, managing a 200-person underwriting operation, and cracking the code on digital credit card originations. Recent investments led by Caribou include, Remitly, TheMuse, and KNIP.  He also serves on the Advisory Council for the CFSI Financial Solutions Lab.

As you'll hear in our conversation, moreover, he's a Renaissance man. He holds a bachelor's degree in Physics and Philosophy from Harvard University, an MBA from the Darden School of Business, and a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law. He and his wife have two children and, what he describes as two occasionally annoying dogs. Over the years He's taken time off to be Mr. Mom and to listen to the universe, as he puts it. And of course, he has an interesting name, which he'll explain in our discussion.

I reached out to Caribou because I knew he was working in Insure-Tech, which has been on a slower track than other kinds of fintech but is starting to gain real traction. Caribou is Chairman of the InsureTech Connect, a new conference that's scheduled for October 5-6 in Las Vegas.

I found our conversation incredibly interesting, especially in how insurance is being transformed by types of technology that have nothing to do with finance -- because its product is usually about managing risks in the physical world ranging from health to roofing materials to self-driving cars.

As it turned out, about half of our talk is on insurance, and half is on his broader thoughts oninnovation, and also on regulation. He really sparked my own thinking on some of the tough regulatory issues, like how to resolve the conflicts between alternative data and fair lending disparate impact, and the pros and cons of state-based regulation, and his advice to regulators.

Plus I'm stilling thinking about "parametric insurance" - skipping the adjudication process and agreeing in advance to let outside parameters - big data - determine the appropriate claim. New ideas, everywhere!

Finally, for all you innovators in the audience, note that Caribou shares an open invitation to bring him interesting ideas.  I know you'll enjoy hearing him.
 



Vote for my SXSW Panel!

Also, remember to vote to help get my Regulation Innovation panel selected for SXSW 2017 - it's at http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/67829. My panelists will be Simple's Josh Reich, Adrienne Harris of the White House, and CFSI's CEO, Jennifer Tescher. We need your vote - voting is only open to  September 2. And please plan to come to SX in Austin.
 


Support Barefoot Innovation!

Don't forget to send in your buck-a-show to support Barefoot Innovation -- and leave a review on ITunes.

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Upcoming Shows

Finally, come back next time. We have fantastic guests coming up, including Lauren Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center, Sam Hodges of Funding Circle, Colin Walsh of Varo, and Harvard professor Brigitte Madrian.

See you soon!
 



Innovating in Compliance, Citi CCO Kathryn Reimann and Wells Fargo CCO Yvette Hollingsworth Clark

Jo Ann Barefoot

Photo2.jpg

My guests today are two of the most thoughtful people in the United States on the topic of regulatory compliance. They are the chief compliance officers of Citigroup and Wells Fargo – Kathryn Reimann and Yvette Hollingsworth Clark.

Our listeners include a lot of people who are not fascinated by the topic of regulatory compliance, to put it mildly. The fact is, though, that compliance has shifted, rather suddenly, from being boring to most people, to being fascinating. And whether it fascinates you or not, it has become absolutely critical to whether financial companies can thrive. Becoming great at compliance – both effective and efficient -- has become mission-critical competencies for every financial company, large and small.

Let’s step back and think about what’s happening.  Technology is disrupting finance, which means that it’s also disrupting financial regulation, which therefore means that it’s also disrupting compliance, inevitably. It will completely change how financial companies implement the massive set of regulatory requirements that pervade every aspect of what they do.

This is going to be – already is – a wrenching process. For better or worse, consumer financial protection regulation has always been hypertechnical. built mainly around highly prescriptive rules. Congress passes laws, the regulatory agencies issue regulations to implement them, and the industry implements the regulations. I’ve spent much of my career in this field and have watched it mature into a major function – major cost center – in every bank, into a profession of experts, and into an industry of technology vendors and consultants and lawyers who help financial companies follow these rules. With a few exceptions, the system is about getting the details right.

That’s still true, of course. We still have voluminous, detailed rules aimed at consumer protection. But the financial crisis shifted the ground under this whole system, by supplementing the traditional “rules-based” system with a new “principles-based” overlay that aggressively requires that financial products be not only “compliant,” but also “fair” – able to meet heightened prohibitions on practices that are unfair, deception or abusive (which we in the compliance world, with our habit of using acornyms, call, “UDAAP.”

And then, as if that weren’t a big enough change, the financial world has now also been hit with a second huge wave of change, in technology innovation. And it’s even more challenging than the shift from rules to principles, because it’s coming faster, and it’s even more unknowable than regulatory change.

All this means we’ve entered into a state of permanent uncertainty. The products and market and technology are changing too fast for the legislative and regulatory process to keep pace. The regulatory process can’t, and won’t, provide clarity on exactly what the industry has to do. Instead, it will review what has been done and will, after the fact, penalize actions that are judged to have been illegal because they’re subjectively determined to have been unfair, deceptive, abusive, or discriminatory in effect.

The result is that financial companies are going to have to build a whole new kind of compliance model. They won’t have the luxury of waiting for clear-cut rules. They’ll have to figure out for themselves how regulators may react to rapid change, and make their own decisions, in the absence of clear guidance, about what is risky.

This requires a full overhaul of the traditional compliance model. For one thing, it means deeply, actively engaging the CEO, the board, and the business-side leadership of every company in proactively managing regulatory risk. They can’t delegate it and assume that their experts and technology will take care of it. They have to make their own decisions, and they have to do it not reactively, but proactively. Again, they’ll have to think for themselves.

And they’ll also have to adopt a new generation of regtech solutions, which are starting to emerge to improve outcomes and cut costs.

There’s a lot to say about what’s ahead on all this, but for today, we’re going to pick the brains of two of the most impressive leaders anywhere in the compliance world.  Yvette Hollingsworth Clark is the chief compliance officer of Wells Fargo, and Kathryn Reimann leads this work for Citigroup. I’ve known them both for years, and I was lucky enough to catch them together while we were all at the same event, and carve out some time to talk.

Listen to their views on how compliance is changing, the impact of technology, and the need to bring a “fairness” lens to absolutely every regulatory question. They talk about how to do that, including how to integrate teams that can bake it into daily decision-making. They talk about the challenges arising because of the accelerating the speed of change. And they discuss the challenges of working with old legacy IT systems that were created long before today’s regulations and technology. They talk about the need for a level regulatory playing field for banks and nonbanks, how to work with regulators, and advice for regulators. They also talk about their own journeys – Kathryn notes that when she started working as a lawyer, the compliance profession didn’t even exist.

We’ve come a long way.

These are people who are pioneering new ways of tackling compliance. They’re doing it in some of the world’s biggest, most complex, and most highly-regulated companies, but their insights apply to every financial company – large and small, and old or brand new.

Also….

Vote for my panel on the SXSW PanelPicker!

I need your help getting my panel selected for inclusion in South By Southwest – SXSW – the huge technology conference that runs in Austin TX each year in conjunction with the famous music and film festival. I attended SXSW (“South by,” as people call it) for the first time last year, and it was absolutely fascinating. It’s unique among the conferences I attend, in that it’s broader than finance. It’s about technology overall. I believe fintech is more tech than fin, in the sense that it’s being driven by enormous and converging technology trends. We in the financial realm tend to underestimate how big these are and how fast they’re moving, because we think of them in terms of the financial products they’re reshaping – but they’re much bigger than those. SX is a great place to go to learn and think about these wider trends, while also seeing the most interesting new things emerging in fintech, as well.

So I have proposed a panel discussion there on RegTech – the shift toward using new generation technology to get to win/wins on regulation, by reducing regulatory costs and burdens while improving outcomes for customers at the same time. I’m calling the panel REGULATION INNOVATION and my amazing guests will be Josh Reich, the CEO of Simple; Jennifer Tescher, CEO of CFSI; and Adrienne Harris of the White House.

Last year, SX received 4,600 proposals, so, I need you to vote for the session on the SX Panel Picker. Voting opens up on Monday, August 8 and closes September 2. Please Google the SXSW PanelPicker during that time period, and vote for session called Regulation Innovation. And then plan to come to SX, which is 3/6-10 in Austin. I’ve been thinking maybe we should take a group of financial folks. What do you think?

You can vote for it HERE
 


Support the podcast


Please support the show!

Last but not least, thanks so very much to those who have sent in your “buck a show," as we call it, to support Barefoot Innovation. Donations are essential to keep the show going, since it’s taken on a life of its own and requires a massive effort to produce.

And also, please be sure to like the show on whatever ITunes or wherever you listen to it.

We’ll see you soon with some incredibly interesting new guests – startups, banks, and even someone from Harvard. Til next time!

As Kathryn rightly states, such an overhaul of the system requires updating perspectives of themselves and of their hires. It also requires a great degree of inter-departmental collaboration and communication. This is something that I have seen to be true all across the map of regulation - open dialogue is essential. In a previous podcast, Thomas Curry, the Comptroller of Currency and head of the taskforce on responsible innovation agrees.

Kathryn and Yvette explain that compliance officers have a very tough job ahead, and I couldn't agree more. They have to balance a fine line between assessing and preventing massive risk from such huge amounts of data sharing while not becoming an obstacle to innovation. As Yvette states, we want to use innovation to regulate innovation.

Important links:



CFPB'S FIFTH ANNIVERSARY: DIRECTOR RICHARD CORDRAY

Jo Ann Barefoot

Welcome to today's episode with my very special guest. He is the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray.

We got together in Washington to mark the fifth anniversary of the CFPB's opening its doors, on July 21, 2011.  I had the pleasure of serving on the Bureau's Consumer Advisory Board, or CAB, for its first three years. It's been fascinating to watch the launch of this agency, which is the first in many years to be built from scratch, as opposed to something like, say, Homeland Security, that amalgamated existing agencies. As Director Cordray says in our discussion, the CFPB has actually faced many of the same challenges as private sector startup. There are obvious differences, of course, but they still began with a small team, like founders, and went through the stresses of very rapid growth amid having to deliver against a lot of tough deadlines - and under a bright floodlight of scrutiny.

A unique thing about the CFPB is that it looks at consumer financial services as a holistic marketplace. Most of our financial regulatory system is bank-centric, with numerous agencies closely overseeing bank activities, while nonbank financial companies - while generally subject to the same rules -- don't normally face the constant, close scrutiny that banks do. This has led to a highly uneven marketplace in terms of both de facto regulatory standards and compliance burdens. That unevenness, in turn, produces some unintended consequences. One is uneven protection of consumers based on what financial company they deal with. Another is some distortion of what products banks and nonbanks are willing to offer, based on their assessments of the related regulatory risks. Moving toward a more uniform framework lays groundwork for a system that can potentially be more fair and workable for both consumers and providers.

The CFPB has also been a leader in pioneering regulatory exploration of innovation. Its Project Catalyst was the first initiative in the world, to my knowledge, to create a learning laboratory for looking at regulatory issues in innovative fintech.  In our conversation, Director Cordray mentions that they have special powers to allow trial waivers of disclosure rules for companies that have better ideas. They're open for proposals on this -- it would be great to see some new thinking come out of those tests, to move toward updating our old, low-tech disclosure models.

I think you'll enjoy hearing Director Cordray's thoughts about Project Catalyst; about how the Bureau thinks about innovation and fintech; and about CFPB itself being a startup and how hard it is to do that inside government. You'll also be interested in what we discussed about the agency's priorities as it enters year six, and about what he has learned from the first five years.

Here's more information:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at age 5!  Enjoy my conversation with Director Richard Cordray.


And a note about our next show....

My guests next time will be the chief compliance officers of two of America's largest banks -Yvette Hollingsworth Clark of Wells Fargo and Kathryn Reimann of Citi, who are leaders in - if you can imagine this phrase - innovating in regulatory compliance.
 



Fintech for Everyone : Vinay Patel and Max Gasner from Bee

Jo Ann Barefoot

I enjoy all my guests on Barefoot Innovation, but if someone forced me to choose my favorite episodes, this one would be on the list. It’s partly because my guests, the co-founders of Bee, were so fun to talk with, and so thoughtful. And it’s also because they are addressing one of the objections people raise to fintech – the notion that it’s only for millennials.

Bee was founded in June of 2015 by Vinay Patel and brothers Max and Alex Grasner as an outgrowth of One Financial Holdings, a 'venture-backed laboratory for innovation in retail financial services'. In pioneering an innovative capital-light model using pop-up kiosks and street teams to sign up customers in-person, Bee is able to offer top quality financial services at a significantly lower cost than traditional brick-and-mortar bank branches. Bee is specifically targeting the lack of quality services for low-and moderate-income underserved people (although my guests point out that 'underserved' and 'underbanked' are not words people use to describe themselves). The product is intended to function as an alternative to checking accounts, structured as a prepaid card paired with a mobile app. Bee partners with Community Federal Savings Bank to offer alternatives to checking and savings accounts to its customers in New York and California. 

Part of what makes this interesting is Bee’s specific hybrid model of personal touch and high tech. They’re trying to put the human beings where customers need them the most – in explaining and opening the account. And then they’re trying to drive down costs overall by not providing branches and tellers for routine functions. Bee’s team goes in person into underserved neighborhoods in New York and San Francisco, and they set up eye-catching mobile kiosks, which they compare to food trucks. They get people interested and then help them through a thorough process of thinking through their needs; opening an account; setting up and learning to use the app; and then, often, letting the new customer stay on to take advantage of the Bee wifi hotspot.

The in-person signup process also helps guard against money laundering, since people are seen face-to-face. 

I think you’ll be fascinated by Max and Vinay’s insights into these consumers, including their huge financial savvy -- how thoroughly they know their money situations, and how they optimize their spending on their phones (and the challenges of working with such a wide array of phones that may be old or broken). Vinay and Max talk about their customers’ worries about both pricing uncertainties and payment delays (issues that are being tackled by other innovators as well).   

One repeated theme is the company’s commitment to treating these customers with respect by providing a product that is obviously high-quality, right down to the thickness of the card, and providing a truly fantastic user experience on the app. They say customers often take selfies with the Bee team, at the end of setting up an account. 

Bee’s CEO, Vinay Patel, has a joint law degree and MBA from NYU. He spent 5 years teaching at NYU Business school and at Columbia Public Policy Business School. He then moved on to McKinsey and Co. as a consultant to banks and government. 

Max Gasner has a background as an investment stock broker on Wall street from 2007 – part of what motivated this work. He has also worked in the Bay area at an AI company  - Prior Knowledge, and then moved on to a tech company which eventually morphed into Salesforce

We recorded this episode several months ago. Since then the company has grown. It also won national recognition in New Orleans in June at the Emerge Conference, as one of the winners of the Financial Solutions Lab competition run by the Center for Financial Services Innovation and funded by JPMorgan Chase.

Max and Vinay are eloquent on the need for regulators to allow space for robust innovation – just one startup might create the 10X breakthrough that can change people’s lives. They’re also thoughtful on their commitment to earning compelling returns for their investors, including Blumberg CapitalFenway Summer Ventures and AXA Strategy Ventures.  They aim to do this with their unique formula of delivering personal attention and high value to a huge, largely untapped market, at very low cost.

 Enjoy my conversation with Bee.


Prior to Bee, Vinay spent five years at McKinsey & Company, where he advised leaders of US banks and public sector organizations on executing large-scale IT modernization programs. Vinay is a faculty member at both NYU Stern School of Business and Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, where he has taught courses on Enterprise Strategy, Game Theory, and Data Visualization. Vinay holds a J.D. and an M.B.A from NYU, and a B.A. with honors in Economics from the University of Chicago. He is happily married and lives in Brooklyn.

LinkedIn

Twitter: @patelpost

More about Max

Prior to Bee, Max built and sold a machine learning company to Salesforce.com and traded equities in NY and London. Max holds a B.A. in South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago, where he graduated after spending two years at Deep Springs College. He lives in West Oakland.

LinkedIn

Twitter: @gasnerpants

More about Bee

Bee is a financial technology startup built on the principle that all Americans deserve convenient, high quality retail financial services. Bee has pioneered an innovative capital-light model using pop-up street teams and kiosks to sign up customers in-person for financial services at significantly lower cost than with traditional brick-and-mortar bank branches. Bee partners with Community Federal Savings Bank to offer alternatives to checking and savings accounts to its customers in New York and California. Bee has ambitious plans to expand its product offering and geographic footprint over the coming years.

Its major investors are Blumberg Capital, AXA Strategic Ventures, T5 Capital, Fenway Summer Ventures, and Western Technology Investment

Websiteswww.onefinancialholdings.com and www.beecard.us


Support the podcasts - A buck a show!

I've decided to distill a lesson from the popular podcast series Hardcore History, by emulating their habit of asking everyone to send them "a buck a show." Some years ago, the show's host Dan Carlin realized the podcast was taking over his life - much as Barefoot Innovation has been doing with mine! He hit on the idea of asking listeners for "a buck a show," and eventually reached the point where he can devote himself to producing the series. Barefoot Innovation is produced part-time by me and two young, very talented helpers. One of them has a day job and the other is a full-time graduate student. If all our listeners will chip in a buck a show, we'll be able to expand our interviews, accelerate our pace (believe it or not, we currently run at a four- to five-month backlog from recording date to posting!), and be able to do some fun new things we have in mind for you. We'll appreciate any and all help to keep the show going, and growing!

And remember to post a review on iTunes.

Support the Podcast


Cost Cutting with the Blockchain - Blythe Masters, CEO of Digital Asset Holdings

Jo Ann Barefoot

Barefoot Innovation usually explores technology that touches financial consumers - new products and new ways of managing money. Today's episode pivots 180 degrees and looks internally, inside financial companies, at the equally transformative change underway in how financial products are made and delivered.

My conversation is with Blythe Masters, CEO of Digital Asset Holdings, and our topic is the blockchain -- distributed ledger technology, or DLT.

Most of our listeners know that the blockchain, created by the inventors of Bitcoin, is expanding far beyond digital currency and has revolutionary potential for changing how society operates.  Any complex system that keeps records or involves chains of transactions - payments, contracts, titles, tickets, warranties, exchanges of all kinds, government records, medical information, purchasing systems - anything -- can potentially be managed through distributed ledgers that can eliminate most of the current costs as well as errors, uncertainty, and fraud. DLT can also enable trustable transactions among parties who don't know each other, without need for a trusted intermediary. That's because safeguards are built into the technology itself, by making all the records and transactions transparent to all parties and preventing duplication or fabrication of information.

Blythe Masters says she began as a skeptic because, like many people, she equated the blockchain with Bitcoin and, given Bitcoin's colorful developments, dismissed both. However, after leaving her long career as a senior executive at JPMorgan Chase, she took a closer look and became a convert. Today she's leading one of the most exciting and best-financed firms in the field, Digital Asset Holdings in New York.

We had a chance to sit down together at the 2016 Fintech Forum of Women in Housing and Finance in Washington, where she shared her vision for the power of DLT to transform the internal operations of banks.

Note that DLT systems can be either open-access and "permissionless," moving information on the open internet as with digital currency, or can be closed and "permissioned" within a single organization or a gatekeeping group that shares a common need. (For more on open systems and digital currency, see our episode with Jeremy Allaire of Circle.) Large banks are actively exploring use of closed DLT systems to streamline their internal operations to cut out expense, mistakes, and the slowness caused by the need for reconciliation of records. These efforts will bring enormous cost savings, for three reasons. First, the DLT system is simply cheaper to operate. Second, it eliminates many kinds of errors - and preventing, detecting and correcting errors is a massive source of expense in every financial company. And third, reducing delay will also reduce the need to hold capital against the risks that attend pending transactions.

I would add that DLT will, over time, open up the opportunity to modernize and streamline regulation itself, through use of "reg-tech" relies on automated data in many areas that are now subject to expensive traditional examination.

Blythe thinks DLT is coming to banking much faster than people think - that these solutions will be in commercial deployment in just two years! One reason is that banks can modularize them, dropping DLT into functions that need it and then connecting them up with the other, older systems.

She makes another interesting argument, which is that those notoriously outdated old systems are going to have to be replaced soon anyway. Many are about thirty years old use computer languages no longer taught in college. The industry will have to invest in new technology, and DLT solutions will fortunately be ready at just the right time to permit a real leap forward in efficiency and effectiveness. Blythe also says regulators are thinking right about these challenges and have the right tools to manage them.

Her company is focused on banks' non-consumer activities, but think about the impact of these changes for everyone. Smart phones are demolishing the cost structure of delivering financial services, worldwide. Simultaneously, DLT is demolishing the cost of manufacturing and servicing them. The combination will bring vastly more efficient, affordable and accessible services.

Blythe Masters is a fascinating person. She was previously a senior executive at J.P. Morgan, where she started as an intern and spent 27 years. In 2007 she was named head of Global Commodities, and left the firm in 2014 upon the unit's successful sale. She had also been responsible for the Corporate & Investment Bank's Regulatory Affairs, and was a member of the J.P. Morgan Corporate & Investment Bank Operating Committee and previously the firm's Executive Committee.

From 2004 to 2007, she was Chief Financial Officer of the Investment Bank. Previously she headed the Global Credit Portfolio and Credit Policy and Strategy. Earlier positions included head of North American Structured Credit Products, co-head of Asset Backed Securitization and head of Global Credit Derivatives Marketing.

From 2012 to 2014, Blythe was chair of the Global Financial Markets Association (GFMA). From 2008-2010 she was chair of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA). She currently chairs the board of Santander Consumer USA Holdings and serves on the boards the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the Global Fund for Women. She is an avid amateur equestrian.

Her efforts have long generated interest and buzz, including this feature story in Bloomberg, others in Fortune and CNBC, and a Financial Times story on her company's blockchain test with Chase.

In our discussion I quoted from an invaluable report on DLT by the Bank of England. Here is the quote I cited in our conversation - the report's opening lines:

              "The progress of mankind is marked by the rise of new technologies and the human ingenuity they unlock. In distributed ledger technology, we may be witnessing one of those potential explosions of creative potential that catalyse exceptional levels of innovation....that could prove to have the capacity to deliver a new kind of trust to a wide range of services."

Please enjoy this thought-provoking conversation with Blythe Masters.
 


Support the podcasts - A buck a show!

I've decided to distill a lesson from the popular podcast series Hardcore History, by emulating their habit of asking everyone to send them "a buck a show." Some years ago, the show's host Dan Carlin realized the podcast was taking over his life - much as Barefoot Innovation has been doing with mine! He hit on the idea of asking listeners for "a buck a show," and eventually reached the point where he can devote himself to producing the series. Barefoot Innovation is produced part-time by me and two young, very talented helpers. One of them has a day job and the other is a full-time graduate student. If all our listeners will chip in a buck a show, we'll be able to expand our interviews, accelerate our pace (believe it or not, we currently run at a four- to five-month backlog from recording date to posting!), and be able to do some fun new things we have in mind for you. We'll appreciate any and all help to keep the show going, and growing!

And remember to post a review on iTunes.

Support the Podcast


The Last Helicopter Pioneer – Innovation Insights from my Father, Glidden S. Doman

Jo Ann Barefoot

Barefoot Innovation has been in hiatus in recent weeks because my father passed away. I was in San Francisco and got a call saying he was suddenly ill and might not live through the day. I rushed for a redeye and flew all night home to Boston, where my son Matt met me and we drove to Harford in the wee hours. My brother and sister had rushed to our Dad too, and he had held on. In fact he began to do better, regaling us with stories in the ICU, bringing his sharp engineering mind to analyzing his medical situation, and enjoying us singing to him (we’re a singing family). We had hopes he would recover, but a few days later, he worsened and ultimately did not pull through.

He was 95 years old. His name was Glidden Sweet Doman. And he was a remarkable innovator. He’s being widely remembered as the last of the great helicopter pioneers, and he was also an important inventor in wind energy. Those two industries share the same technology – the wickedly complex science of rotor dynamics.

This very special episode of Barefoot Innovation is a conversation I recorded with him last Thanksgiving but had not yet posted. I got the idea of doing this podcast after watching a video of a talk he’d recently given at the New England Air Museum, which has two of his Doman Helicopters on permanent display. Listening to his lecture, I kept noticing parallels with the themes we discuss on Barefoot Innovation. It occurred to me that it would be fun to do a show inviting insights from someone who, nearly a century ago, began innovating in a field that’s very different from finance, but that was being similarly transformed by new, fast-changing technology.

Glid Doman was born in the village of Elbridge, New York, in 1921. His father, Albert Doman, brought electricity to that part of the state in 1890 (you can still see historic sites related to it), and was an inventor of the electric starter and electric windshield wiper. My Dad’s uncle, Lewis Doman, invented the player piano. His half-brother Carl Doman pioneered both aircraft and automobile engines and became a senior executive at Ford. His half-sister Ruth Chamberlain was the first woman architect in the region. My family is loaded with the genes for invention and entrepreneurship.

For my Dad as a boy, the most exciting field of invention was aviation. Airplanes were barnstorming farm fields. Airlines did not yet exist. And my Dad, who avidly read Popular Mechanics, built an airplane in his back yard (you’ll hear in the podcast whether he ever made it fly).

Aviation was the new technology then, the way digitization and mobile phones and blockchains are the tech frontiers today -- or genetics or robotics or 3D printing. Aviation was full of novel engineering challenges that were not yet understood. Flight was also inspiring bold predictions about how our lives were going to change, some of which were hilariously wrong – a good lesson for people like me who like to try to forecast tech impacts. For instance, in clearing out our parents’ attic in recent days, my siblings and I found a magazine cover story advising on women’s fashion for the coming trend of traveling by helicopter.

This little podcast touches only a tiny fragment of what made my Dad fascinating, and has nothing on his great life partner, our late mother, Joan Hamilton Doman. They met because she was the only woman in the 50-person University of Michigan flying club in World War II – and she was its top pilot. They had an amazing six decades or so, built around family and his work. He knew all the aviation greats from Igor Sikorsky to Charles Lindberg. He was featured on aviation magazine covers and traveled throughout the world. He was enlisted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab to help design a “space sail” to rendezvous with Haley’s Comet (ultimately not deployed). He’s been honored by his alma mater, the University of Michigan aeronautical engineering school. And when his helicopter company didn’t reach scale, he pivoted to wind energy and invented a superior rotor design for wind turbines, using the same insights he’d developed working with helicopters. He led the design of two colossal experimental turbines funded by the Departments of Energy and Interior and installed in Wyoming. When he “retired” at age 65, he and my mother moved to Rome where he led international engineering teams in designing huge turbines in Europe.

And then, in his 80’s, he started a new wind energy venture of his own.  Right up to his death, he continued to be engaged with an affiliated firm, Seawind Technology, which is actively working to deploy his “Gamma” rotor designs on offshore wind turbines in Europe and other parts of the world.

Decades before computers could model the movements of rotor blades, my Dad used a combination of intuition, math, physics and relentless measurement to understand, correctly, the movement of spinning blades. For both helicopters and wind turbines, my Dad created massively simplified rotor designs and drastically reduced the stress on the blades as they rotate. This captures huge efficiency gains and virtually eliminates blade failure, the bane of most rotor systems. As he explains in our talk, one key to this was to realize that the commonly-used three-bladed rotor design is inherently unstable.  Wind turbines, he argued, should have two blades and helicopters – because they have to fly forward – need four.

Our conversation elicited a lot of my Dad’s thoughts about how to work with young, little-understood technology, as both an engineer and entrepreneur. While we didn’t cover all the ground I’d hoped to, you’ll hear him imparting Lean Startup-type wisdom. As a young engineer, for instance, he used a jackknife to cut open the balsa wood of a Sikorsky rotor blade to install measurement gauges on it and figure out what it was doing. He bought a postwar helicopter body for a dollar. He got hold of a Chevrolet clutch to use in his helicopter engine. His team invented do-it-yourself wind tunnels. It’s an MVP approach – a minimum viable product – in which they methodically identified, isolated, and intensively tested issues and reaped what today we call “rapid learning” and “fail-fast” lessons. As they figured out answers, they quickly pivoted, trying to succeed in an industry where, unlike today’s fintech, entrepreneurs needed huge amounts of capital. (In our recording, he talks about how easily his enterprise raised money, but that pattern did not hold over the decades.)

Our conversation only touches on a few of these lessons (and nothing about the wind business), but shining through it is his defining trait, the one that made him most successful, which was unbounded and insatiable curiosity.

Mainly, this episode shares his secret to being an innovator – and to having a wonderful career. His advice:  find organizations that have a lot of interesting problems, and go there and figure out how to solve them.

For those intrigued with the technology history of the twentieth century, I’m attaching early chapters of a biography that my brother, Steve Doman – also an aeronautical engineer -- is writing about our father’s journey. Here, also, is an overview and short video on Doman Helicopters created by my sister, Terry Gibbon (she too is an entrepreneur, with her own video company).  And here is a short video of one of the wind turbines.

To prepare this episode, I re-listened to the recording just a few weeks after his passing. One thing I notice is that, as we had this conversation after our Thanksgiving dinner last fall, my Dad’s comments kept making me laugh. Whenever he said goodbye to people, he always added the advice, “keep smiling.”  Words to live by.


Let me share two updates about me and the show.

First, I’ve become involved in a very significant project aimed at helping prepare our U.S. financial regulatory framework for the challenges raised by innovation. I’m going to stay in my Harvard fellowship for a second year, still writing my book on innovation and regulation, but will also be devoting much of my time to this initiative, which I’ll tell you more about as it develops. One result of the new project is that I’ve decided to suspend the Regulation Innovation video series we launched earlier this year. I expect to reactivate it when I have time to create the videos.  Meanwhile, they are still available, still for free, at www.RegulationInnovation.com. Please do check them out. As I said when we started the series, I think the articles that accompany these videos might be the most important writing I’ve ever done.

Second, we will soon be back from the Barefoot Innovation hiatus, and what a line up we have!  We’ll have CFPB Director Richard Cordray; Digital Asset Holdings’ Blythe Masters; National Consumer Law Center’s Lauren Saunders; the prize-winning founders of Bee, Vinay Patel and Max Gasner; Harvard professor and behavioral economics scholar Brigitte Madrian; Funding Circle’s U.S. CEO Sam Hodges; QED Investors co-founder and venture capital wise man Caribou Honig, and the chief compliance officers of both Citi and Wells Fargo, Kathryn Reimann and Yvette Hollingsworth Clark, together.  And those are the ones we’ve already recorded! We have many more exciting people in the scheduling queue. This is why we ask you to send in “a buck a show” – the show has turned into a major enterprise, just because we have so many fascinating people to talk with.

We’ll try to speed up production as best we can, I’ll look forward to your continued feedback.

Meanwhile, keep smiling.  Jo Ann


Click below to donate your "buck a show" to keep Barefoot Innovation going and growing.

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FINANCIAL INCLUSION: RAUL VAZQUEZ OF OPORTUN

Jo Ann Barefoot

In addition to our podcast, please take a look at Raul's keynote at the EMERGE Forum.

I am constantly amazed by the fascinating and unpredictable course of our conversations on Barefoot Innovation - and what a fun one I had with Raul Vazquez, CEO of Oportun. I always like to ask my guests to tell us how they, themselves, keep up with technology. With Raul, I asked this just as I thought we were wrapping up, and the question launched us on a whole new conversation. He's definitely my first guest to bring up potential uses of virtual reality in financial services, not to mention the first to describe virtually interacting with bison.  He thinks we're heading to a "transformative" ability for "anyone, regardless of their incomes" to be able to immerse themselves in a virtual world to try out products and experiences.

As sometimes happens as I get to know great innovators, this is a second podcast with the same company -- click here to listen to our prior discussion with Luz Urrutia, Global Head of Retail. Oportun is based in Silicon Valley and was formerly called Progresso Financiero. It leverages advanced data analytics and technology to provide affordable, credit-building loans to U.S. Hispanics and others with limited or no credit history. The company's proprietary platform risk-scores loan applicants, calculates each one's ability to repay, approves the loans it believes can be paid back, and sets loan amounts and terms to fit individual budgets. Customer accounts are also reported to credit bureaus to help establish credit history. The goal is to combine a highly personal experience with back-office efficiency. Between 2006 and 2015, Oportun helped more than 689,000 customers, disbursing more than $2.2 billion through more than 1.3 million small dollar loans.

Raul joined Oportun in 2012 after nine years in senior leadership roles at Walmart, including as EVP and President of Walmart West, President and CEO of Walmart.com, and EVP of Global eCommerce for developed markets. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Staples, Inc. and is a member of the Federal Reserve Board's Community Advisory Council. He's a graduate of Stanford University with BS and MS degrees in industrial engineering, and also earned an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania.

This is one of those fun episodes where we could have kept talking for hours if we hadn't run out of time. So...enjoy my conversation with Raul Vazquez!

To learn more about Oportun Financial, click here.

Click here to Opor-tune in to Raul's presentation at last year's EMERGE conference about Oportun's four key learnings so far.

To register for this year's indispensable Emerge in June in New Orleans, click here.

And here's my favorite Wired article on voice technology: "We're on the Brink of a Revolution in Crazy-Smart Digital Assistants"


A note on the podcasts - A buck a show!

I've decided to distill a lesson from the popular podcast series Hardcore History, by emulating their habit of asking everyone to send them "a buck a show." Some years ago, the show's host Dan Carlin realized the podcast was taking over his life - much as Barefoot Innovatoin has been doing with mine! He hit on the idea of asking listeners for "a buck a show," and eventually reached the point where he can devote himself to producing the series. Barefoot Innovation is produced part-time by me and two young, very talented helpers. One of them has a day job and the other is a full-time graduate student. If all our listeners will chip in a buck a show, we'll be able to expand our interviews, accelerate our pace (believe it or not, we currently run at a four- to five-month backlog from recording date to posting!), and be able to do some fun new things we have in mind for you. We'll appreciate any and all help to keep the show going, and growing!

And remember to post a review on ITunes.

Support the Podcast


A note on my Regulation Innovation videos and the most important writing I've ever done

Also click here to watch the new Regulation Innovation videos we've posted and read the new articles. These are currently a free sample but will soon become limited to subscribers. Every month, I'm creating a short video briefing and then backing it up with a deep article that shares what I've been learning about financial innovation, and also shares my hard-earned secrets about how I've been learning it. The articles are rich with links to resources -- everything from news reports and white papers to statistical trends to my very favorite Ted Talks.

My goal is to use this pairing of videos and deep articles to repackage my consulting advice, so it can reach a wide audience affordably. In essence, I'm searching the fintech world and curating the best insights for you. As a series, it's a journey through this changing landscape, finding the keys to thriving on disruption with me as your guide.

I've done a huge amount of writing over the years - I've published hundreds of articles. These are the most important, valuable writings I've ever done. Again, these are currently free - I hope everyone will try them out.
 


Upcoming shows

We have terrific shows come up - the amazing Blythe Masters, the very innovative founders of Bee, and much more.  Join me then!



Effortless Investing : Jon Stein of Betterment

Jo Ann Barefoot

Welcome to Barefoot Innovation and to a new dimension in the topics we explore. We've talked with many startups in lending, payments, and managing personal finance. Today, we're looking at the most exciting change underway in the investment space - "robo-investing." My guest is Jon Stein, the founder and CEO of Betterment.

We met in their fast-growing offices in New York, a converted warehouse steeped in industrial character and with mouth-watering aromas wafting from a very substantial food bar that lined one end of the busy open space, and offering the special charm unique to businesses where people bring their dogs to work.

In our conversations, Jon told me the story of his personal journey. He graduated from Harvard and - since, as he says, no one was recruiting for jobs with the description of "making people happy" - went into finance. Eventually he went on to Columbia Business School, gained Series 7, 24, 63 certifications, and become a CFA, Chartered Financial Analyst. He expresses respect for traditional financial businesses, but became frustrated by their transactional focus, and also by his own financial life - he had 7 brokerage accounts, invested in Enron, and finally concluded that the industry encourages the wrong investor behaviors, especially in trying to "beat the market." He'd studied both economics and human behavior in college (before behavioral economics caught on) and realized that his interests lie at the intersection of behavior, psychology, and economics. He remembers a professor saying "how crazy people can be, and how very often they would get in their own way, and how even when we wanted to do the right thing, we would do the wrong thing."

He also says he always knew he wanted to do "something big."

So in 2008, he founded Betterment.

Betterment is now the largest independent "robo-advisor," with $4.3 billion in assets under management and 150,000 customers. I've interviewed many founders of startups on Barefoot Innovation, but this is the first one that runs commercials on television.

Betterment aims to optimize investment through automation that produces sound advice for the long term, and that also makes the process both easy and more affordable. It builds around what Jon considers the MOST important advice -- which is too often overlooked, namely -- "How much to save?" The company has also taken on the "behavior gap" in financial advice - Betterment has the lowest in the industry and is trying to drive it to zero.

They are also constantly driving for efficiency gains (his colleagues say if you want to sell Jon on an idea just tell him it will increase efficiency), and for fee transparency. They think this combination of strengths - being advice-centric, transparent, and hyper-efficient -- will revolutionize the investment world. They also think their model, over time, can be applied to a much broader set of financial services. As Jon's biography puts it, "What excites him most about his work is making everyday activities and products more efficient, accessible, and easy to use."

One highlight of our conversation is his insights on the thorny questions of how these innovations should be regulated, including on the advice given, how data should be used to be sure it's helping customers, and how performance should be measured.
 


Note on upcoming podcasts

Click below to donate your "buck a show" to keep Barefoot Innovation going and growing. (If you didn't hear my explanation on this, it's at the end of the previous episode, with Raul Vazquez of Oportun).

Support the Podcast

Upcoming shows are going to be so interesting. Keying off Jon Stein's thinking on human behavior, we'll have an episode with one of America's top experts in how behavioral economics impacts investment and retirement savings, Harvard Professor Brigitte Madrian. I'm delighted to say Brigitte is also my faculty advisor on the book I'm writing on financial innovation and regulation for my Harvard fellowship this year.

We're also working on a fascinating show on innovation emerging in the insurance sector, dubbed, "insure-tech."

Other guests in the queue include some of the country's most thoughtful bank compliance officers, and the very thoughtful founders of Bee.


Note on Regulation Innovation Briefing Series

Meanwhile, click here to explore my Regulation Innovation briefings, while you still can for free!  The briefings are short monthly videos, each paired with a deep article about the twin and intertwined challenges of financial innovation and regulation. They are still free for a few more weeks, and then the series will be for subscribers, so please check it out.

As I said last time, these articles are the most important and valuable thing I've ever written. I hope you'll join the journey.



Its Still Simple : Josh Reich One Year Later

Jo Ann Barefoot

This episode updates one of the very first ones we did in our Barefoot Innovation series, last year. Episode Two featured the two co-founders of Simple, Josh Reich and Shamir Karkal. A year later, we all found ourselves back at the same conference where we'd recorded that program. Shamir has now taken on a new role, leading the open platform innovation of the very innovative bank that bought Simple, BBVA.  Josh, though, is still CEO of Simple (a fact that he says tends to surprise people). So on a very rainy afternoon in Southern California, he and I found a place where we could duck out of the weather (you may hear the deluge in the background), and talked about how Simple has progressed in the year just past.

So...very few people are more fun to talk with than Josh Reich, but I think my favorite thing about this episode might not be the podcast, fascinating as it is, but rather something the podcast led me to. In our conversation, Josh talks about a customer whose dog chewed her debit card - twice! Simple sent her a customer appreciation package with the second card, and she was so grateful that she made a YouTube video about getting it.

Every banker in the world should watch this:  customer appreciation reaction video
 


I won't update the full show notes here - please look at Episode 2 for the basics on Simple which, again, is now part of BBVA bank.  And if you missed it, be sure to listen also to my podcast with Manolo Sanchez, the CEO of BBVA Compass, who I think may be the most innovative bank president anywhere. BBVA is all-in on fintech innovation.

Also, Josh and I did not get to a key update, which is the big move Simple made last year to eliminate ALL its checking account fees. I'm linking to his blog post here explaining what they did and why.  Remember, Barefoot Innovation is a search for better solutions for financial consumers through all kinds of innovation. BBVA and Simple are making this search in a great many interesting ways.

So enjoy hearing Josh's insights, ranging from how to succeed when a big banks buys a small innovator, to the make-or-break power of a bank's culture, to the incredible efficiencies of growing a bank without branches - he shares some numbers -- to his advice for regulators.

And watch for fantastic episodes coming up: Oportun CEO Raul Vazquez; Betterment CEO Jon Stein; two of the country's top compliance officers, together; and Blythe Masters of Digital Asset Holdings - to name a few.

 


Regulation Innovation Video Series: Briefing One - The Five Tech Trends Driving Financial Transformation

The Five Tech Trends - the latest video in the Regulation Innovation Video series.

Meanwhile be sure to sign up for our new video series, Regulation Innovation - Thriving on Disruption.

These are short briefings - 10 to 15 minutes each - designed to be the single easiest way to understand the huge issues raised by fintech, in both technology and regulation, and how best to address them.

Since fintech is far more about "tech" than "fin," we're starting the series with The Five Tech trends transforming finance.

Plus we have a lighthearted little extra, straight from my own kitchen, on how I was inspired to some thoughts about innovation by a very unusual gadget.

The briefings are designed share in meetings and training sessions, from board rooms to business and compliance teams. They come with access to a subscriber-only website with resources and advice. We have group pricing available - just contact us!

Please sign up for them, and also to get my podcasts by email. And be sure to leave reviews on ITunes.


Please consider a donation to support our efforts to bring the best thought leaders in the financial innovation world to you.

A dollar a show is all we ask.

Support the Podcast


CFSI's Innovation Contest

Jo Ann Barefoot

We have a very special show today. I realized – rather late – that we should do an episode on the CFSI financial solutions lab competition. It’s belated, because the contest is open, now, for its second year of applications, and the deadline is April 7 – just a few days from now. 

My guests are Ryan Falvey, who heads the lab, plus three of last year’s 9 winners. They are Sheri Atwood of SupportPay; Jerry Nemorin, of LendStreet, and Quinten Farmer of Even. They explain how the competition works, what they are looking for this year, and, from the standpoint of last year’s winners, what they have gotten from participating in the program.

FINLAB:  The FinLab is investing about $5 million each year in the contest winners, who also receive a huge array of expert advice and access to networks and resources. Here’s the information on the competition and how to apply by April 7 Finlab.cfsinnovation.com. And here is an overview of the full list of last year’s winners.

For today’s show, we’re featuring these guests:

RYAN FALVEY

As a Managing Director at the Center for Financial Services Innovation, Ryan oversees the Financial Solutions Lab, bringing together innovators from the fields of technology, behavioral economics, nonprofit services and design to provide guidance, share best practices and develop scalable financial products. He loves to help organizations solve hard problems. Prior to joining CFSI, Ryan was at Silicon Valley Bank, working with leading technology firms to develop innovative payment products and solutions. He also served as the Strategy Group Lead at Enclude Solutions, overseeing its global strategy consulting work in over 30 countries and supporting the development of several of the world’s most successful mobile-enabled financial products. Ryan has a graduate degree from Yale and an undergraduate degree from UCLA. 

Twitter: @TheFinLab@CFSInnovation

Personal Twitter: @Ryan_Falvey

SHERI ATWOOD

Sheri Atwood, Founder and CEO of SupportPay by Ittavi (acronym for “it takes a village"), is a former Silicon Valley executive, single mom and child of a bitter divorce. Atwood, who was raised by a single mother and was the only person in her family to attend college, married at 19, completed her undergraduate degree in less than 4 years and completed her MBA 10 days before her daughter was born. When Atwood herself divorced at 25, she was the youngest Vice President at Symantec. Before SupportPay, there was no easy way for parents to exchange child support -- and Atwood was so determined to create a solution that she taught herself to code and is today an expert in front-end development. Atwood was named “#5 of 50 Women in Tech Dominating Silicon Valley” and a "Top 40 Under 40 Executive in Silicon Valley." 

Website: www.supportpay.com

Twitter: @SupportPayApp

Personal Twitter: @SheriAtwood

JERRY NEMORIN

Jerry is founder and CEO of LendStreet. He previously worked at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in its Global Corporate & Investing Banking division, helping major companies restructure their debt during the financial crisis and raise money from the high yield debt market. Jerry is now putting that expertise to use in a way that helps consumers in financial distress deal with their debt and rebuild their credit.

Jerry has been a speaker, guest, and advocate for responsible lending and sustainable financial services on Capitol Hill and industry events such as Finovate, SWIFT Innotribe Competition, Experian's Vision Conference and Credit Suisse Impact Investing Conference.

Jerry recently served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Darden School of Business Incubator. He began his career in Tyco's Treasury group and received a B.S. in Finance and Exercise & Sports Science from the University of Florida and an M.B.A. from the Darden Graduate School of BusinessAdministration at the University of Virginia.

Website: www.lendstreet.com

Twitter: @LendStreet

Personal Twitter: @JNemorin

QUINTEN FARMER

Quinten Farmer is Co-Founder at Even. Previously, Quinten ran Client Operations at Taykey, a venture-backed advertising technology company, and was Vice President of Operations at Onswipe, a New York-based startup. Quinten studied Computer Science at Columbia University, and also founded the Open Loans Project, a nonprofit working to bring transparency to the student loans industry. He founded Even to help employers enable workers to even out timing mismatches between paychecks and expenses, especially in volatile or disruptive situations.

Website: https://even.com

Personal Twitter: @Quintendf


Also, be sure to come to the CFSI Emerge Forum on Consumer Financial Health, in New Orleans, June 14-17. The new contest winners will be announced, and there will be an amazing lineup of speakers and events focused on technology solutions to building consumer financial health and well being.


As always, please donate to my free podcast series (which seems to be trying to take over my life) and please write a review of it on ITunes!

Support the Podcast


At the Front with NFCC's Susan Keating

Jo Ann Barefoot

In 1967, the Beatles sang: "I get by with a little help from my friends." That sentiment captures something at the heart of many people's financial lives today, and it embodies the idea behind the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), the oldest and largest nonprofit credit counseling organization in the U.S.

I have known Susan Keating, NFCC's President and CEO, for about 30 years. I've been wanting to record a Barefoot Innovation episode with her, because the NFCC is on the front lines of the topics we're exploring here. They work directly, personally, with the people who are not thriving in our consumer financial system. The reasons people don't thrive are complex. We've talked about a lot of them, and I find it's easy to get excited about new technologies or regulatory challenges impacting them, and to lose sight of the real people who are immersed in these struggles. Helping these people is the driver behind much of the search for better solutions by industry, government, and the innovation world, and it's good to pause and think about who they are.

As we discussed with CFSI's CEO Jennifer Tescher LINK TO IT, the so-called "underserved" market is enormous -- estimated between 70 and 140 million Americans -- and covers a huge percentage of the middle class. It is also heterogeneous. Data from NFCC, CFSI and others is breaking the old stereotype of a monolithic "low and moderate income" category whose problem is just not being able to afford traditional financial services.  Many underserved consumers, in fact, can afford to pay for high-cost financial services, and are doing so, but are stuck there due to a wide array of issues. Some of their problems are caused by their own errors and difficulties. Some are caused by the difficulties of serving them through the business models and cost structures that prevail in the industry today. Some are a mix of both.

Both of these kinds of problems are ripe for improvement today, thanks to the innovations we discuss here on this show. I think, though, that we'll still have a big gap between new financial solutions and the people who need them, unless we build some bridges -- add in some glue -- in the form of human beings who can help people learn to use new technology. NFCC is one of the key organizations able to do this.

Susan talks about all this in our conversation. She describes the massive scope of the challenge; the "new face of poverty" in the United States; the NFCC's focus on "breadwinner moms;" and its key new initiative for helping people manage student debt, with a insight into the daunting scope of that challenge.

Susan's background:

Susan began her banking career in 1974 at First Bank System in Milwaukee, where she became Senior Vice President of retail banking. In 1988 she joined MNC Financial in Maryland and later became President and senior banking executive for Maryland when NationsBank (Bank of America) acquired MNC in 1993.

She went on to become the highest-ranking female CEO of a US-bank holding company, as President and Chief Executive of All First Financial from 2000-2002. Then in 2002, she was appointed to the Group Executive Committee of AIB (Allied Irish Banks plc), which is responsible for developing corporate strategy and overseeing management of AIB Group.

In 2004 she took on the role of NFCC President. She thought is was a short term move but, to her own surprise, she's still there twelve years later, caught up in the mission. Upon reappointment after her first three-year term, she said, "The NFCC is uniquely positioned to serve the many consumers who are struggling to make ends meet and find their way to a better financial future. I am deeply committed to doing all that I can in order to lead the efforts in the years ahead."

Susan also serves on Bank of America's National Consumer Advisory Council; is a board member of the Council on Accreditation; and participates in the Financial Regulation Reform Collaborative, a non-partisan group committed to finding solutions for reforming financial services regulation.

NFCC:

Last fall I had the honor of joining the NFCC's board on the occasion of the organization's 50th birthday. Today the NFCC works with 90 member agencies through more than 750 offices in communities nationwide. Its certified counselors counsel and provide financial education to three million clients annually, focusing on issues that include seniors and the military and guidance relating to financial literacy, mortgages, and credit cards. It recently launched a key initiative on helping people with student debt, and in helping illuminate that magnitude of that challenge, and plays an invaluable role in consumer financial research overall.
Here are some links:

Enjoy my conversation with someone on the front lines -- NFCC's CEO Susan Keating.

And please note:

The video series is launched!  Please come to my new site www.RegulationInnovation.com  where we have launched my video briefing show. It's a practical guide for financial companies trying to figure out how to thrive on disruption-to thrive through the twin, intertwined challenges of technology disruption and regulatory disruption. We're off to a terrific start with the series.

The next video will be called, "The 5 Tech Trends." I made it because I think financial people often underestimate the disruption underway, because we tend to think of fintech as a financial topic. In reality, it's mainly a technology topic. That means the forces shaping it lie mainly in the tech world, not the financial world. That in turn means they are mostly over the horizon, outside the field of vision of busy people focusing on finance.

I've been spending a lot of time in that world, and am creating this video to explain what these five huge drivers are, how they are converging, and how they will transform both consumer financial services and financial regulation. Again, fintech is way more about "tech" than "fin."

I'll also have a light-hearted short video for your entertainment, brought to you from my very own kitchen. I'm going to demonstrate an extremely odd little gadget that contains a big lesson for innovators.

Coming episodes:

Last but not least, come back next time to Barefoot Innovation, when my guest will be the visionary CEO of Opportun, Raul Vazquez. Among other things, he is totally fascinating on the topic of how he personally keeps up with technology.

Up next in the queue after Raul, we'll have a short update with Simple CEO Josh Reich, and then an interview with the founder and CEO of Betterment, Jon Stein.

See you soon!


As always, please donate to my free podcast series (which seems to be trying to take over my life) and please write a review of it on ITunes!

Support the Podcast


Consulting the Source - Leonard Chanin of Morrison & Foerster

Jo Ann Barefoot

I’m calling this episode “Consulting the Source.” My guest would be the first to say he is not the source of our consumer financial protection rules -- that would be Congress. Still, no one has had more to do with translating law into regulatory form than Leonard Chanin.

When Leonard left the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for his current position at the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP, it was big news. American Banker wrote: “Morrison & Foerster can’t say it hired the attorney who wrote the CFPB’s rulebook. But it picked up the guy who started the job.”

Actually, Leonard has been involved in the crafting of pretty much all the consumer financial regulations since 1985. And for years he led the legal teams – first at the Fed and then at the CFPB – that wrote them. I consider him the single most expert person in the world on how to write consumer protection regulation in finance. His deep knowledge of the field and his great sense of humor led to a really fun and animated discussion about the challenges of financial regulation.

In fact, our conversation continued for nearly another hour after we turned off the microphone. I often find that, after the recorded part of the podcast, my guests go on to say things even more interesting. In Leonard’s case, he said something I’ve been thinking about ever since, and I got his permission to share it.

He said, “The only solution is to blow it all up. If we just take what we have and try to improve it, we will fail.”

Our regular listeners know I’m at Harvard this year writing a book about modernizing consumer financial protection for the innovation age. I think most people in the financial field agree that the system we have hasn’t worked well. And yet, the course we’re on is exactly the one Leonard says won’t work – taking what we have and just trying to improve it at the margins. The CFPB, of course, is adding vigor and rigor to the effort and having many impacts. Still, this is a good time to examine the basic questions of what works, and whether we could do better.

I met with Leonard in his office in Washington, and we explored it all. Can disclosure ever really be effective? What should we do about information overload?  Is it impossible for regulations to be both simple, and clear, at the same time, or do we have to choose between those two goals?  Should we rely more on principles-based regulations instead of detailed rules? When should the law just ban practices, instead of requiring them to be disclosed?  Should we have a regulatory sandbox? Is it worth trying to do better, given the enormous costs the industry incurs every time the rules change? What could we do better now that people can get information instantly on their cell phones? Should government try to protect people from their own mistakes, or just prevent deception and let consumers make their choices?

I recently spoke at a conference where I said I think disclosure has largely failed as a consumer protection strategy in finance. Someone afterwards said to me that he thinks it was never meant to work – that it was just the industry’s strategy for preventing tougher regulation. I was involved in a lot of those early efforts, and as I say to Leonard in our talk, it seemed like a good idea at the time, to me. It seemed worth trying. But today, it’s time to think again. (For an interesting analysis of the ineffectiveness of disclosure, see this article by Temple University’s Hosea Harvey.

Leonard is currently Of Counsel in the Financial Services group at Morrison & Foerster LLP. He advises clients on issues relating to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Truth in Lending Act, Electronic Fund Transfer Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Truth in Savings Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

Before rejoining Morrison & Foerster, he was the Assistant Director of the Office of Regulations of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, heading the agency’s rule-making team of nearly 40 lawyers. He also provided legal opinions to Bureau supervisory and enforcement offices on federal consumer financial protection laws. Prior to that, he was Deputy Director of the Division of Consumer and Community Affairs at the Federal Reserve Board. His role there included providing legal opinions and policy recommendations to the Board and the Division on federal consumer financial services laws, negotiating rules and policies with the other federal banking agencies and providing legal views on enforcement actions against state member banks.

Leonard’s law degree is from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, where he served on the board of the Washington University Law Review. He is a currently a fellow of the American College of Consumer Financial Services Lawyers.

So, please enjoy my conversation with Leonard Chanin.

And…try my new video series, Regulation Innovation!

And be sure to come to my new site, www.RegulationInnovation.com, and sign up for my new series of video briefings!  I’ve posted a short trailer (EMBED?) explaining the videos as a roadmap for navigating through the two toughest challenges facing every financial company – how to thrive on all this regulatory and technology. You can try it out and get started very easily.


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Transforming Payments: Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire

Jo Ann Barefoot

Welcome to our first episode focused on Bitcoin, digital currency, and the blockchain. My guest is one of the most thoughtful people anywhere on this topic and on payments overall: Circle CEO and Founder Jeremy Allaire.

I met with Jeremy at his office in south Boston's "Innovation District," a few blocks from where I live myself. They have quintessential startup space in an old brick warehouse, and we sat down on a New England winter day for a really fascinating conversation.

I often talk about the five huge technology trends that are revolutionizing financial services. Number 4 on my list is digital currency. Not long ago, even senior leaders in banks and regulatory agencies dismissed Bitcoin as insignificant and weird at best, and dangerous at worst. Today, many people still think it's weird and dangerous, but no one thinks it's unimportant. I'm going to assume our listeners know the basics - that Bitcoin invented the "blockchain," which is an open "distributed ledger" of transactions, visible on the internet, and that being on the internet makes it (like everything else there) instant and free. Most people also understand that this can transform our slow, high-cost payments system, and also any other system that is, in effect, a chain of transactions or records. Most people also know the blockchain record is unfakeable, unbreakable, and again, visible - attributes that can fundamentally change how we organize things from money and contracts and legal titles to operational systems and markets of all kinds.

I once wrote a blog post called "The Benefits of Bitcoin", arguing that the cheap and instant movement of money can bring incredible upside potential for financial consumers, as well as new risks. It will eventually change everything from remittance services to the struggles facing people on tight budgets who now rely on cash, since it's the only way to be sure a bill gets paid exactly when it's due.

As understanding of Bitcoin has spread, a new conventional wisdom has emerged - the notion that the crucial innovation here is not digital currency, but rather the blockchain, including closed chains inside companies and closed networks. In our conversation, Jeremy challenges that idea head-on. He argues passionately that the big power in this technology is its openness.

He reminds us, for one thing, that the internet initially spurred hot debate over how to secure the unprecedented free-flow of information. In a widely-circulated article on re/code.com last November Jeremy wrote,  "Remember, the Internet was unreliable, insecure, and filled with creeps and hackers. People wanted safe, secure, trusted and proprietary networks. That was the future...(yet) We all know what happened. Smart creators and engineers from all around the world got inspired by the open Internet...Permissionless innovation took hold, and we changed the world." He thinks we now need to take the basic DNA of the Internet - open protocols and distributed and decentralized networks - and apply them not just to sharing data and information, but to the sharing of value.

He also emphasizes a core power of this - the fact that if you don't have to trust a single centralized institution to facilitate value exchange, amazing things become possible. Jeremy refers to bitcoin as a distributor of trust, one that "provides a highly secure ledger to exchange value around the world." He believes that just as the early Internet disrupted media and communications, this wave of innovation will transform the "trust and assurance" industries - "which includes government, law, accounting, insurance and, last but not least, finance."

Entering into a global economy in which everything from social identities to commerce flow instantly and freely is discomfiting to some. Even though today's closed and proprietary technology and networks create frustration and high costs for consumers, Bitcoin critics still doubt the soundness and resilience of the model. For innovators like Jeremy, though, it is creating a whole new set of solutions that use financial technology to build "smart rules" and business logic that can eventually shape the new laws of global commercial and legal governance.

Jeremy's "aha" moment on this came in 2012, and inspired him to start a company that would use blockchain technology, which he calls the "global trust and transaction ledger," to change the way we store and use money. That company is Circle, a provider of mobile apps "aimed at enabling greater ease-of-use in online and in-person payments, enhanced security and privacy for customers, and the convenience of free, instant, global digital money transfers." A revolutionary idea. As I say in our conversation, I'm a Circle customer myself.  Every time I use it, it amazes me.

Before Circle, Jeremy was an entrepreneur who'd already spent two decades building and leading global technology companies. His first startup, Allaire Corp, pioneered the use of the Web as a platform for commerce and business applications, and grew to serve over 1 million customers around the world. In 2000, Allaire Corp was acquired by Macromedia, where Jeremy became Chief Technology Officer and helped transform Flash into a platform for rich applications and video that became the most widely adopted piece of software in the history of computing.

He then founded Brightcove, the first Internet video publishing platform for websites, smartphones, tablets and connected-TVs. The company has customers in more than 100 countries and powers video operations for 25 percent of the top 10,000 websites in the world. From 2003 to 2014, Jeremy also served as a Director at Ping Identity Corporation, an industry-leading software and online service provider for securing identity on the Internet whose clients include many of the largest financial institutions in the world.

 

In our conversation, Jeremy explains his vision, his long background in technology, how Circle works, their business model and plans, and his thoughts about regulation of finance and fintech.  The regulatory challenges are obviously huge. Circle sought and received the first-ever (and at this writing, still only) New York State "bit-license." Jeremy talks about the challenges of becoming licensed as a money transmitter in the U. S. state-by-state regulatory patchwork. He also recognizes that, importantly, governments throughout the country and the world see potential as well as risk in these innovations. An example is that Jennifer Shasky Calvery, Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, has testified before Congress that FinCENrecognizes the "potential for abuse by illicit actors," and that the agency has for almost five years worked with its regulatory partners on designing rules that provide the "needed flexibility to accommodate innovation in the payment systems space under our preexisting regulatory framework."

Jeremy Allaire has an exceptional gift for making mind-bending technology and regulatory challenges easy to understand - and for provoking thought. This is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating episodes we've had.

Enjoy it, and please be sure to click the "Donate" button HERE, and to write a review on ITunes, to keep supporting the show.

And.....Introducing my video series: Regulation Innovation

Meanwhile, I have a video for you -- two of them, actually.

Many listeners know I have long been a consultant to the financial industry, first on regulatory matters and more recently on fintech. A couple of years ago, someone suggested that I take the kind of advice people pay me for as a consultant, and distill it into video briefings that are accessible and affordable for a much wider market. It was a great idea, and so I began building a video series offering my advice.

I've focused the videos on the most important question facing consumer financial services -- How to survive, and actually thrive, through the twin disruptions that are hitting the industry:  technology innovation, and regulation.

I think everyone in fintech will enjoy them, but the series is specifically designed as a guide for financial companies - it's informative, thought-provoking, and practical. It's for both traditional companies and innovators. And it's for the people working on innovation, regulation, and building the business.

I am very confident in saying there is nothing else remotely like it.  Please check it out!

And while you're there, check out my little bonus video because it answers, at long last, this burning question: "Why does Jo Ann Barefoot have an Xbox, since she's never played a videogame in her entire life, and what the heck does this have to do with financial innovation?"

www.regulationinnovation.com. See you there!


If you enjoy our work to bring together thought provoking ideas and people please consider a contribution to support the site.

Support the Podcast

Please subscribe to the podcast by opening your favorite podcast app and searching for "Jo Ann Barefoot", in TuneIn, or in iTunes.