The Human Side of Technology -- Sopnendu Mohanty, Chief Fintech Officer of the Monetary Authority of Singapore
This is our second show with Sopnendu Mohanty, Chief Fintech Officer of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. We recorded it at the MAS annual fintech festival in Singapore, which is a remarkable event. I think it’s probably the world’s largest financial conference, with an incredible 45,000 people attending this year from all over the world. Maybe even more surprisingly, it’s a “fintech festival” that is sponsored by a central bank!
That captures the essence of the extraordinary global role being played by MAS, by its visionary managing director Ravi Menon, and by Sopnendu, in creating a new model of financial regulation. They have staked out a unique position as world leaders in fintech and regtech innovation, not only making Singapore a magnet for fintech innovators throughout Asia and the world, but also leading on pretty much every modernizing idea that regulators, themselves, can undertake.
If you think about the kinds of innovation initiatives that regulators have been inventing around the world, MAS might be the regulator that’s the most. They have a sandbox. They have a Singapore “tech stack” to ease software development, security and interoperability. They have a robust set of multinational and bilateral agreements, including some for passporting fintech licenses between countries. They launched Project Ubin which explores use of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) for clearing and settling payments and securities. They have experimented with reforming the anti-money laundering Know-Your-Customer process by building a government utility-style database instead of making every bank conduct an individual KYC review. This has worked for individuals, who can now easily and instantly open bank accounts with full verification through a national infrastructure called “My Info,” because the government collected data for all residents and enables banks to share and verify information online. The KYC effort turned out to be harder for corporations -- something that MAS has been quick to acknowledge. The acknowledgement is, itself, yet another model for how modern regulators should lead today, being proactive in trying things out while realizing that some things won’t work, and that therefore, testing is critical.
Take a moment to picture this enormous conference with its massive exhibit hall, with huge, high-tech display booths from all the world’s leading financial and technology companies, and picture the throngs of people trying to navigate it. To make that easier, the conference suspended huge signs from the ceiling, easily seen from far away. I was struck by the fact that this year, one of those signs read, “Regulators.” Below it were innovative regulators from all over the world.
I often think about, and often quote, something Sop said to me in our earlier podcast. That episode is called, We Have Less Time Than We Think, and we recorded it at an international regulators conference in Jakarta sponsored by the Omidyar Network and the Gates Foundation. During that talk, I was expressing admiration for the many initiatives MAS was taking, but I observed -- as Americans often do on this topic -- that Singapore has an easier challenge than we do, because they basically have one regulator and just a handful of banks, whereas we have dozens of regulatory bodies and thousands of banks. Sop answered me by saying, “but the US has the talent.” He said that we, in the US, should be able to lead the world in regulatory modernization, given the abundance of world-class talent in our tech and financial and regulatory sectors.
I think he’s right, and I’m excited to say that, as we reach the end of 2018, the US regulators are clearly moving forward in innovation leadership. We’ll have more on those exciting developments in upcoming podcasts!
Sop, of course, was the busiest person at the MAS festival, and, given its size, that’s saying something! To record this talk, we ducked into a private VIP lounge away from the hubbub, except that people were lining up outside hoping to get his attention. Recording as we did in the moment, on the festival’s last day, the talk captures the excitement in his voice about the progress MAS is making, and his powerful insight that as their work in regulatory innovation matures, they have come to focus on the human side of technology. Not tech for tech’s sake, or for the financial industry’s sake, but for solving people’s real problems. He talks about the need to fix the trust deficit, in finance and technology, and to make new tech truly work for people, and not hurt them.
I first met Sop on a panel I moderated at MIT’s fintech conference while I was at Harvard a few years back. These days, I see him every few months in some setting around the world. This fall I saw him at Money 2020 in October, and at the MAS festival in November, and at a meeting in Seattle in December. Every time I encounter him, I can see that he’s pulling even further away from the “pack” -- all the rest of us -- in his thinking. He explains in the podcast that the secret to this is that he is constantly listening to and learning from people, throughout the whole financial ecosystem, all over the world.
So, that makes us all incredibly fortunate to be able to listen to, and learn, from him.
More on Sopnendu Mohanty
Sopnendu Mohanty is the Chief Financial Technology (Fintech) Officer of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). He is responsible for creating development strategies and regulatory policies around technology innovation to “better manage risks, enhance efficiency and strengthen competitiveness in the financial sector.” Prior to joining MAS, Mohanty was with Citibank as their Global Head of the Consumer Lab Network and Programs, which included driving innovation programs and managing innovation labs across multiple geographies globally.
Mohanty has spent 20 years in the APAC region and held various roles in technology, finance, productivity, and business development. He was Citibank’s APAC regional head of Branch operations along with heading the Consumer Innovation Lab in Singapore. He spent a significant time in Japan, where he was Citibank’s Retail Business Development head and also did leadership stints in various functions within operations and technology. Globally, he played a significant subject matter expert role in driving Citibank’s global smart banking program, to transform the bank’s physical network into a digital-first, smart, innovative, client centric and delightful customer engagement center.
Mohanty has co-authored various patented work in area of retail distribution in the financial sector. He is based in Singapore, loves traveling, reads history and pursues culinary innovation as a hobby.
More for our listeners
We have more great podcast episodes in the queue. We’ll talk with Anju Patwardhan of CreditEase and Stanford University, and with Walter Cruttenden, Co-Founder of Acorns and Co-founder and CEO of Blast. We’ll have two from Boston -- one on AI with Steve Cohen of Basis Technologies and one with Lamont Young, who’s leading digital innovation at Citizens Bank. And we’ll have an especially provocative and entertaining show I recorded in London, in the old City at Armourers Hall, with my friend Dave Birch.
Next year’s calendar is filling up. My first speaking event of 2019 will be the FINRA Regtech Conference on January 17th in New York.
Also watch for upcoming information on my collaboration with Brett King on his new book, Bank 4.0, which you can now buy on Amazon. I co-wrote the regulatory chapter with Brett, and we’ll have a show and events on that as well.
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Finally, as we close the year, let me share my excitement about the breakthroughs we’re seeing in fintech and regtech, and let me express my gratitude to all of you -- for listening to the show and for sharing your ideas and energy. I think we’re building a community of people who see the chance to do better for financial customers through innovation, and are joining together, and are leading the way.
I’ll look forward to seeing you in 2019!