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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

Filtering by Category: Regulators

Regulatory Challenger: LabCFTC and Daniel Gorfine

Jo Ann Barefoot

Gorfine 1.png

Some organizations are so interesting that we come back to them more than once. Among US regulatory agencies, the most fascinating may be the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Last July we ran a podcast conversation with the Commission’s Chairman, Christopher Giancarlo, which goes into greater depth about the role of the CFTC and it also contains Chairman Giancarlo’s thought-provoking statement that the top priority facing every regulatory body is to convert the rule book from analog to digital design. The CFTC is at the forefront of regulatory innovation in part because its leader is so passionate about the importance of it.

In that spirit, they recruited the perfect person to lead the LabCFTC innovation project -- today’s guest, Daniel Gorfine. Luckily for us, the CFTC was able to attract Dan into government from the fintech sector – I first met him when he was at OnDeck – and he’s been bringing an innovator’s mindset and working models to this venerable government agency.

This episode has three very meaty topics, each of which could have been a whole show.

First, Dan talks about the vision and work of LabCFTC, sharing insights about how it’s organized that I know other regulators will find helpful. He talks about how they track and facilitate innovation in the financial markets, including a “primer” they issued on rules applying to cryptocurrency. He also explains how they explore new technology for use by the agency, itself -- they call that CFTC 2.0 -- as well as “Digital Reg,” an internal think tank for rapid learning and sharing of tech insight.

Second, Dan talks with me about an exciting initiative they’ve just launched, issuing the first-ever CFTC Science Prize Competition Act challenge. They discovered this law empowering agencies to run competitions to solve regulatory problems in science and technology, and they decided to crowdsource ideas on both the problems to tackle and the process to use. Public comments are due July 24. In our conversation, Dan throws out some of the ideas he and his colleagues have thought of -- maybe regulatory data visualization tools, or machine-learning for market surveillance, or machine-readable and machine-executable regulation -- but they want to hear from you. Our listeners are among the most thoughtful people anywhere on regulation innovation, so please comment. You could even become CFTC Innovator of the Year!

Our third topic is one that rarely surfaces in the innovation dialogue, and solely needs discussion: the legal and procedural obstacles to government agencies that want to embrace innovation. We could call the topic, government modernization.

Think about it. If you were a federal agency wanting to keep up with technology innovation, you would want to be able to do a few things. You would want to be able to try out new technologies, hands-on. If the innovation was something you might adopt for your own agency, you would want to test it before you had to commit to a major procurement budget and procedure. You would also want to be able to brainstorm with a wide range of people, learning from them, thinking through ideas with them.

All of this is stunted today by well-intentioned rules that were designed long ago -- for good reason -- to prevent inappropriate influence, backroom deals, and the like. Dan talks in particular about the Anti-Deficiency Act, which restricts procurement activities and prevents the CFTC from being able to try out new kinds of tools. Another issue is the procurement process itself. I met a few months ago with people from a different agency, showing them some innovative technology that could make their regulatory work easier, and one of them said, “If we decided today that we should adopt this, we would have it in seven years.”

I’ve talked with other agencies that cite the Federal Advisory Committee Act, with its restrictions on meetings, and the Administrative Procedure Act, which structures the rule-making process and, at some stages, limits interactive dialogue. Agencies have raised concerns about various “government in the sunshine” rules, which again make it difficult to talk informally. Some can’t readily attend a breakfast or lunch event. They have to ask about the value of the meal being served and if it’s more than, I think it’s $15, they can’t eat it, or they have to go through paperwork to pay for it. And of course, there are complex approval processes for participating in various kinds of forums.

More than any show we’ve done, this one puts you in the shoes of the regulatory agency and shows how their hands are tied by procedural prohibitions and requirements. I’d love to see someone do a study, maybe a graduate thesis, on how rules that were written in an older, slower era may now undermine the ability of regulators to keep up with exponential change in technology. We could use suggestions on updating them for the digital age. And remember, it’s an issue much broader than finance.

I’ve been in and around Washington for decades and can remember the bad old days before some of these rules were created -- indeed, I remember some of the bad old practices that led to them. Still, we don’t need to straightjacket our regulators. Other countries have a much more fluid discussion between agencies and industry, and also have the ability to try things. One model is the Bank of England’s Fintech Accelerator, which explores new technology for the bank itself. And Dan and I both participated in London last month in the amazing AML Tech Sprint run by the UK Financial Conduct Authority -- which is a stunning model of innovative regulatory process. Its leaders were my guests on the last podcast we posted (which my friend Peter Renton of LendAcademy and LendIt called the “most fascinating discussion he’s ever heard on the future of financial regulation” -- if you missed it, check it out).

Meanwhile, here’s some great news. Just a few days ago, Congressman Austin Scott (R-GA) introduced the CFTC Research and Development Modernization Act, H.R. 6121. Dan refers to it in our talk – it’s bipartisan legislation to address some of these hurdles at the CFTC. We’ll link to it in the show notes. The bill would permit the Commission to collaborate on projects with fintech developers. It would also allow it to receive “gifts” for R&D purposes, including software to try out, subject to common sense safeguards.

The bill echoes work by Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who has sought to facilitate innovation by all the financial regulatory agencies. And the US agencies, themselves, are all moving ahead, too. The CFPB’s Acting Director, Mick Mulvaney, plans to launch a regulatory sandbox. The FDIC held a tremendously impressive technology forum. Five US agencies attended the UK tech sprint.

Regulation innovation is coming, and no one is more thoughtful about it than Dan Gorfine.

More links

More on Dan Gorfine

Daniel Gorfine is Chief Innovation Officer and Director, LabCFTC at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. LabCFTC is dedicated to facilitating market-enhancing financial technology (FinTech) innovation, fair market competition, and proactive regulatory excellence and understanding of emerging technologies. Daniel is also an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center where he teaches a course on ‘FinTech Law & Policy.’ Daniel was most recently Vice President, External Affairs & Associate General Counsel at OnDeck, and previously served as director of financial markets policy and legal counsel at the Milken Institute think tank where he focused on technology-driven financial innovation, capital access, and financial market policy. Earlier in his career, Gorfine worked at the international law firm Covington & Burling LLP and served a clerkship with U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake in the District of Maryland. A graduate of Brown University (A.B.), Daniel holds a J.D. from George Washington University Law School and an M.A. from the Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University.

More for our listeners

We have many more great podcasts in the queue. We’ll talk with another community bank CEO, Mike Butler of Radius Bank.  We’ll have two more episodes that we recorded this year at LendIt. One is a discussion of new research by LendUp and Experian, on credit reporting, and the other is with Greg Kidd, Founder of Global ID.  We also recorded two episodes at last month’s Comply 2018 conference in New York, with two regtech firms --, which offers machine-readable regulatory compliance, and Alloy, which has high-tech solutions for meeting the Know-Your-Customer rules in AML.

Speaking of LendIt, I was a guest last week on Lend Academy podcast, and Peter Renton will be on our show soon as well, so watch for those.

I’m also excited we’ll have several leading members of Congress on the show in the coming weeks. So, stay tuned!

The summer conference slowdown is nearly upon us, but I hope to see you at upcoming speeches and events including:

Also, watch for upcoming information on my collaboration with Brett King on his new book on the future of finance -- we’ll have a show and events on that as well.

If you listen to Barefoot Innovation on iTunes, please leave a five-star rating on the show to help us build it. Also please remember to send in your “buck a show” to keep it going, and come to for today’s show notes and to join our email list, so you’ll get the newest podcast, newsletter, and blog posts. As always, please follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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And tell me what you’re thinking about digitizing regulation. Let’s widen this dialogue to more people and more and more ideas!

The Future of Regulation: The FCA's Reg-Tech Leader, Nick Cook

Jo Ann Barefoot

Nick Cook 2.png

What if regulation, as we know it, might disappear? Regulation will never stop, of course, but what if some of it will take on a new form, shaped by technology?  What if we’re entering into a new era of what we could call “digitally-native” regulation, that’s as agile and intuitive about regulation as digitally-native consumers are about consumer technology?

Of all the shows we’ve ever done, I think this is the most mold-breaking and thought-provoking. My guest comes from the agency that is leading the world in modernizing financial regulation for the digital age, and he leads the team that’s doing it.

Nick Cook is the head of Regtech and Advanced Analytics for the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority. The FCA’s innovation leadership is world-renowned, especially for their Project Innovate and its “regulatory sandbox,” which allows careful testing of new financial technology that could benefit consumers. Less well-known, though, is a newer initiative, launched about 16 months ago, to explore regtech.

As we’ve discussed in other shows, the term “regtech” is used in two ways. It refers both to regtech for regulators -- technology to enhance their own activities, and to regtech for the industry, to improve or streamline regulatory compliance. The FCA is working on both halves of this equation, and true to form, they’ve invented an innovative way to explore it. They aren’t using a sandbox for regtech (although the Bank of England has a sandbox-like “Fintech Accelerator”). Instead, Nick’s team has been convening what they call “tech sprints.” They invite a diverse set of participants -- banks, fintechs, tech companies, lawyers, consultancies, academics and others -- to come together for problem-solving exercises designed like hackathons. Sometimes for a day or two, and sometimes longer, they work on how new technology could be applied to a regulatory challenge like “digitizing” the rule book or streamlining regulatory reporting.

Nick and I recorded this discussion at the Regtech Enable conference in Washington in December, where he had just shared an update on their work from the stage. At the time, they were in the midst of a two-week sprint that had two objectives.

The first is to try to make regulatory reporting requirements “machine-readable,” and therefore much easier to navigate, including for innovative companies that often struggle just to know what rules apply to them.

The second -- even more profound -- is to explore whether some regulations can also be made “machine-executable” -- could regulatory guidance, in some cases, be issued in the form of computer code, and therefore be self-implementing?

This is an idea that’s been under discussion for about a year, including at a regtech roundtable I hosted last spring as a Senior Fellow in the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Business and Government. The same conversations have included a second concept the FCA is also pursuing, namely that new, high-tech regulation should be introduced gradually and should be optional for the industry. Gradual rollout would enable policymakers to start small and learn, while voluntary adoption opens up a practical road to changing our complex system with minimal disruption.  

The FCA’s tech sprint on machine executable reporting ended a few days after we recorded this podcast. They will be sharing its results in the coming months, so be sure to watch for it!

Let’s step back and think about what’s underway here. Finance is being transformed from analog to digital design. And, right behind it, so is regulation. Digitization will do for both -- for finance and financial regulation -- what it does for everything else. That is, it will make them faster, better, and cheaper, and will create a new foundation on which people will innovate further, in ways we cannot yet envision.

A striking thing about my talk with Nick is how different he sounds from traditional regulators. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly why, but I think it’s mainly the comfort he displays with uncertainty. The same trait was evident in my earlier podcast with Christopher Woolard, who heads the FCA’s innovation strategy. Somehow this agency manages to be simultaneously bold and humble. They know they don’t have this all figured out. They even know they can’t figure it out by themselves. But they also know they can move forward, and that the way to do so is by engaging a community of diverse experts to work together. As Nick says, that can be scary, but the risks come way down, for regulators and everyone else, when solutions are developed collaboratively by people who believe in its potential to make regulation better.

I hope this episode finds its way to many regulators, including those in the US where our agencies are actively exploring innovation agendas. Nick says regtech should be easier for regulators than fintech change is. For one thing, the companies leading it are generally not regulated entities, which makes them easier to work with. In addition, no consumers are affected by regtech experimentation. It’s about how the regulators can do their own jobs better, and/or can enable financial companies to do the same. As he puts it, regulators can, therefore, put “a toe in the water,” in regtech, and then move forward.

My friend Andrew Burt of Imuta and Yale Law School helped design the FCA’s December sprint and has put out a white paper on it. And here is the FCA’s great video on how tech sprints work.

So, I’m not naive. I’ve been a bank regulator, a U.S. Senate staffer, and I’ve worked in regulatory compliance for decades. Technology won’t magically make regulation easy. These solutions won’t fit some types of regulation, and where they do fit, they will inevitably create new problems. We all know all that.

Still...Digitally-native regulation. Think about it.

More on Nick Cook

Nick leads the FCA’s RegTech activities, including the FCA’s TechSprint events - the first events of their kind convened by a financial regulator. He is responsible for creating the FCA’s Analytics Centre of Excellence to drive the organization’s use of data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence.  Nick is the FCA’s representative on the European Securities and Markets Authority’s (ESMA) Financial Innovation Standing Committee and an advisor to the RegTech for Regulators Accelerator Programme. Nick joined the Financial Services Authority (the FCA’s predecessor) in 2009, initially in its Enforcement and Market Oversight Division. Prior to joining the regulator, Nick qualified as a chartered accountant at KPMG Forensic.

Other links

More for our listeners

Just before Christmas, I finished my 7 week, three-continent “World Tour.” I think 2017 was the pivotal year for moving both fintech regulation and regtech toward becoming priority issues at regulatory agencies throughout the world. 2018 will take it all to the next level.

We’re starting the year with amazing shows in the queue. We’ll have a fascinating London conversation with the charismatic CEO of Starling Bank, Anne Boden; another with Innovate Finance CEO Charlotte Crosswell; and another with a group of amazing innovators working in Europe and Africa, including Ecobank. In the U.S. we’ll have one with Cross River Bank CEO Gilles Gade; with Michael Wiegand, who heads the Gates Foundation’s work on financial services for the poor; with Financial Services Roundtable CEO Tim Pawlenty; and with Nerd Wallet CEO Tim Chen...and many more!

I hope to see you at upcoming events including:

  • OCC Bank Information Technology Conference, January 9-12, Washington, DC

  • Innovate Finance Global Summit, March 19-20, London, UK

  • Bank Director, The Reality of Regtech, April 18, New York

  • Texas Bankers Association Annual Conference, May 3, Houston, Texas

  • Comply 2018, May 16, New York

As always, please remember to review Barefoot Innovation on iTunes, and sign up to get emails that bring you the newest podcast, newsletter, and blog posts, at Again, follow me on twitter and facebook.  And please send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going. And keep innovating!

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Jo Ann

Regulation Innovation: The FCA's Christopher Woolard

Jo Ann Barefoot

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I’ve been looking forward to today’s show since my very first visit to the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, over two years ago. It was clear even then that they were doing something completely new for a regulatory agency. They were innovating. Not just creating new regulations, but actually rethinking how to create them. Reinventing the regulatory process itself.

Specifically, they were responding to the novelty and especially the rapid pace of technology change in finance by creating an innovation initiative and soon thereafter, the world’s most famous regulatory sandbox.

Today’s guest is Christopher Woolard, the FCA’s head of Strategy and Competition. In this episode, he tells the story of how they first realized they had to change, how they did it, and, importantly, what they’ve been learning so far. We sat down together last month during the Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas, where we also did a fireside chat on the regulatory stage and where, for the first time, Chris shared their new report on lessons drawn from their first several cohorts of sandbox companies.

Most of our listeners know what these sandboxes are -- they’re also sometimes called reglabs, greenhouses, or a new generation of pilot projects. They’re being adopted by a leading cadre of regulators, including a few in the United States, who have realized that the speed of innovation today is outstripping traditional regulatory processes, which means policymakers are going to have to invent something new to keep up. Part of what they’re inventing are these small, safe “testbeds” where they can get hands-on with new ideas, understand them, shape them if appropriate, and generate insights to feed back into mainstream regulatory activities. The original version, really, was in the United States in the CFPB’s Project Catalyst, which inspired the FCA to build something similar. But it was the UK’s much bigger and bolder effort that then caught the world’s attention and has now inspired several dozen imitators around the world, according to Aspen Institute research. Here is an article I wrote with more on how the program is designed.

The FCA itself grew out of the financial crisis, as the UK decided to separate prudential banking oversight from a new entity focused on “conduct.” In some ways the restructure mirrors the U.S. decision to create the CFPB after the crisis, except that the FCA’s remit is not limited to consumer protection. The UK Prudential Regulation Authority is now housed in the Bank of England in the old City, while the FCA inhabits contemporary offices out in Canary Wharf, in an area burgeoning with startups and financial companies converting old warehouses to cool new space.

In our talk, Chris describes what the FCA is doing in both the sandbox and the agency’s wider set of innovation initiatives -- and again, what they’re learning so far. He cites the FCA’s advantage over many regulators in having a mandate that includes fostering competition. He debunks some misconceptions about the UK sandbox, including that it waives or dilutes consumer protections. He touches on their work in regtech (a topic we’ll soon return to with the FCA’s regtech head, Nick Cook, in an upcoming show). He talks about the sandbox’s global imitators and also how the UK cooperates directly with other countries to ease the path for their respective innovators. And he shares his concern that if even one of these global sandbox experiments “catches a cold,” we could see a contagious loss of confidence that could undermine regulatory innovation, worldwide.

I admire the FCA’s deft mixing of a very high-profile, exciting initiative with, simultaneously, a strong note of humility. They always emphasize that they don’t have all the answers, that they’re just learning as they go. But this, you see, is actually the key. The thing they figured out -- and believe me, it doesn’t come easily to regulators (or to anyone, for that matter) -- is that it’s not going to be possible, anymore, to figure things out before acting, in the way policymakers used to do. Instead, regulatory institutions are going to have to learn to navigate permanent and daunting, technology-driven uncertainty. They won’t have the option to hold still and wait for clarity to materialize...because it won’t. They need to find ways to move ahead iteratively and collaboratively. Testing -- sandboxes and reglabs -- will be essential to that. It’s a huge change, in both process and culture, for both regulators and industry. The sooner everyone starts making this shift, the better.

The FCA’s humble tone is right and wise, but my view is that this regulator has shown not only vision, but also courage. They decided to take the risk to strike out in uncharted territory, to begin to blaze a new kind of policy pathway, and they’re inspiring many others to follow them.

More on Christopher Woolard:

Christopher Woolard is Executive Director of Strategy and Competition, and an Executive Board Member of the Financial Conduct Authority. He’s responsible for policy, strategy, competition, market intelligence, consumer issues, the Chief Economist's department, communications and the Innovate initiative. He is chair of the FCA's Policy Steering Committee and a non-executive board member of the Payment Systems Regulator.

Christopher joined the FCA in January 2013. Previously he was Group Director and Content Board member at Ofcom. He has spent most of his career in regulation or policy development including working at the BBC and in government as a senior civil servant. He is a Sloan Fellow of London Business School.

Here are resources and links to items mentioned in the episode:

More for our listeners

I’m in the midst of a busy set of travels that will produce some fascinating podcasts. Between November 1 and December 20, I’m traveling to seven countries -- three in Asia, three in Europe, and one in Africa -- to speak on fintech and regtech for both industry and regulators. As I mentioned, we’ll have a podcast with the Nick Cook, who leads the FCA’s innovation work on regtech, recorded at Regtech Enable in Washington. We have one coming up with Wells Fargo’s Braden More on payments innovation. We’ll have Nerd Wallet CEO Tim Chen, and Cross River Bank CEO Gilles Gade. We’ll have one in London with the charismatic CEO of Starling Bank, Anne Boden and with the trade association Innovate Finance, and also a lively discussion with a group of amazing innovators working in Europe and Africa. We’ll have one with Michael Wiegand, who heads the Gates Foundation’s work on financial services for the poor. And back in the U.S., we’ll have a show with Financial Services Roundtable CEO Tim name a few!

Plus, I’ll be recording a special series straight from the floor of the American Bankers Association conference on financial crimes, in December.

I hope to see many of you there and at other upcoming events, including these:

Please remember to review Barefoot Innovation on iTunes, and sign up to get emails that bring you the newest podcast, newsletter, and blog posts, at Be sure to follow me on twitter and facebook.  And please send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going. See you soon!

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Access For All: CIIE’s Sanjay Jain and the India Stack

Jo Ann Barefoot

Jain 1.png

My guest today is Sanjay Jain, Chief Innovation Officer at the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE). Among many high-impact achievements, Sanjay helped lead creation of one of the most ambitious government infrastructure initiatives ever undertaken -- the so-called India Stack that is connecting everyone in India to the financial system and mainstream commerce, by providing a biometric ID.

I met Sanjay at the Jakarta international regulator meeting I’ve mentioned before sponsored by the Omidyar Network and Gates Foundation and put on by FintechStage. I sat next to him at dinner one night, and was astonished to hear him explain the project and to hear others at the table describe how it’s already changing India. I’d been vaguely aware of it and knew it was huge, but had no idea how fast and transformational it is. At the conference the next day, we ducked into an idle meeting room to have this talk.

We usually think of innovation as driven by the private sector. We think of government’s role as either to protect people from innovation-related harm or as just to avoid blocking good innovation. In reality, though, government has another critical role, which is to provide the infrastructure within which new technology can work..

A core component of infrastructure is a system through which people can be accurately identified. People need to be able to prove who they are, quickly and easily and inexpensively, and in ways that can’t be faked, so that no one else can pretend to be them, and so that they won’t be excluded from opportunities because their identities are in doubt, or are too complicated to be worth the effort to verify.

This identity infrastructure doesn’t necessarily have to be provided by government -- we’ll do a show at some point with my friend Greg Kidd of Global ID, who argues passionately that it’s better to have a decentralized identity authentication system. Traditionally, though, government has played this role by giving people identity documents like birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and passports, and also unique, standardized identity markers, like social security numbers.

With old technology, that approach was the best we could do, and it worked pretty well for people who had the right documents. However, it’s never worked well for people who don’t, including many new immigrants, and certainly refugees, and of course, the very poor. The very poor have, always, been locked out of the mainstream.

All that has changed today thanks to what is arguably the most democratizing technology ever invented -- the mobile phone. As of 2013, more people have access to cellphones than to toilets. As we’ve discussed before on Barefoot Innovation, we are headed toward total financial inclusion through the phone. This means that, technologically, everyone can be connected, easily and completely and inexpensively, to everyone else. In most of the developing world, a top goal is to enable full access to the financial system and commerce, through the phone, as a primary engine for economic growth and prosperity.

However, people can only connect to the financial system if they can be reliably identified. So UIDAI -- the Unique Identification Authority of India -- has undertaken one of the largest government projects ever -- the collection of biometric identity information on every adult and every child in the world’s second most populous country. They have gathered ten fingerprints, two iris scans and facial recognition data for about 1.2 billion people. And they have done it fast!

The “IndiaStack” is being implemented in phases around four “layers”: “presenceless” identity, paperless records, cashless transactions, and consent-based use of data. At its heart is the Aadhaar card, which contains the person’s unique identity number, authenticated through the biometric ID. With this tool everyone can, among other things, open and use a bank account.

Needless to say, all this has raised concerns about privacy and data security. The project has critics, and even its advocates agree that the challenges are daunting. India’s leaders, however, believe the risks can be managed and that they are massively outweighed by the opportunity to open the doors of the economy to everyone.

I’ve spent time in rural India, including with an NGO called Rising Star Outreach that focuses on micro-finance, education and health services for leprosy communities. India is curing leprosy, but leprosy-affected people and their families still face daunting challenges. As I listened to Sanjay, I found myself remembering people I’ve met in remote villages where families live in one room, sometimes in huts with thatched roofs and dirt floors, and I also thought back to being in Chennai, in southern India, with the streets teeming with cars and lorries and motorcycles carrying five people and bicycles carrying three or four and auto-rickshaws and people carrying bundles of goods on their heads. And I thought about all the languages -- India has twenty-two official languages -- thirty that are spoken by more than a million people -- and hundreds of minor languages and dialects.  What it took these IndiaStack teams to find every single person in this huge country, and document them all -- it’s stunning.

And thanks to their effort, all these people can be connected up with everyone else in India, and eventually everyone else in the world, through a cell phone and a reliable identity.

Listeners outside the developing world may be thinking this is interesting but not very relevant to them. However, the challenge of creating reliable and safe digital identity is one of the top issues facing finance. The digital age is not only enabling new forms of identity, it’s also undermining the old forms. The dark web runs a thriving market in selling and buying personally-identifiable information including social security numbers. In the U.S., the 2015 Office of Personnel Management data breach, alone, compromised identity information like social security numbers for over 20 million people. Banks are increasingly caught up in fighting fraud and crime based on fake identities -- security experts tell me that criminals are more likely that real customers to accurately provide identification information, because they don’t make typos. Meanwhile, regulatory “de-risking” standards for Anti-Money Laundering “Know Your Customer” rules have been cutting off whole sectors of people from financial access because they come from places, industries or groups that raise disproportionate risk, and banks find it too difficult and costly to sort out the good people from the bad ones

Financial companies and regulators everywhere will need better ways to identify people, and India is blazing a trail that will yield fascinating lessons.

Sanjay’s Biography

SANJAY JAIN, Chief Innovation Officer, Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) Sanjay Jain leads efforts to help create, promote, and encourage entrepreneurship in areas around digital technology. Sanjay is also a volunteer with iSPIRT, the software product industry think tank. He has been an active member of the India Stack, Open API, and Cashless teams. He has been working with the NPCI to define the next generation payment systems (the Unified Payment Interface), as well as with regulators and other bodies to help entire processes go paperless. He has been one of the key contributors to help create, and evangelize various government open APIs, which are collectively referred to as the India Stack.

Sanjay has been responsible for the development of many large scale, high impact systems. He was the Chief Product Manager at the UIDAI, where he led the product development efforts from its early days till well after launch. The UIDAI has issued over a billion numbers to Indian residents.

Sanjay was also responsible for the creation and launch of Google Map Maker - a crowd-sourced mapping product that is responsible for Google Maps data for 170+ countries (including India). He’s been a part of many entrepreneurial teams through his career, including most recently at EkStep, Khosla Labs, and as a founder of Novopay Solutions. He holds an M.S. in Computer Science, from the University of California, Los Angeles and a B.Tech in Computer Science & Engineering, from the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai.

More for our listeners

I’ll be speaking this fall at these events:   

Please remember to review Barefoot Innovation on ITunes, and please sign up to get emails that bring you the newest podcast, newsletter, and blog posts, at Be sure to follow me on twitter and facebook.  And please send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going.

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Keep innovating!

We Have Less Time than We Think: Singapore's Sopnendu Mohanty

Jo Ann Barefoot

I met today’s guest, Sopnendu Mohanty, about 18 months ago. I moderated a panel on blockchain for last year’s MIT Fintech Conference, and Sop, who is the Chief Fintech Officer of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, was a panelist -- explaining how MAS was building a regional innovation hub that included blockchain strategies. Since then I’ve seen him three more times -- once at Harvard, which he visited with the visionary head of MAS, Ravi Menon; once when I spoke at MAS’s enormous conference last fall in Singapore; and last at a regulator gathering in Jakarta this year, where we recorded this short conversation.

The thing that strikes me most is that, when I first met Sop, he was way ahead of nearly everyone else in thinking about regulating fintech and regtech for regulators -- and that the last time we talked, he had widened that lead even further. On these issues, he might be the most forward-thinking regulator in the world.

The Jakarta meeting was extraordinary. Funded by the Omidyar Network and the Gates Foundation and organized by the amazing Fintech Stage, it drew regulators from six continents, all coming together to share problems and solutions on how to modernize regulation as technology transforms finance. Many were from the developing world, where rapid mobile phone adoption and mobile money services have outstripped traditional regulatory frameworks. Many, though, were from developed countries grappling with how to become innovative, themselves. Notably absent was the United States.

In Jakarta, Sop and I ducked into an empty conference room during a short break and had this talk, as a teaser for a longer episode on his next trip to the U.S.

Singapore is widely regarded as a top world leader in regulatory innovation, right up there with the UK Financial Conduct Authority that started the worldwide movement toward governments adopting innovation agendas. That movement is burgeoning -- recent research by the Aspen Institute finds that more than twenty nations have launched or are exploring regulatory innovation initiatives. MAS was either the second or third one, depending how you count (Australia was early too). MAS has built a “tech stack” that includes giving innovators wide latitude to try new things, as well as “co-creation” of some regulatory change with industry and a sandbox for experimentation.

I’ve become convinced that regulators actually need sandboxes and reglabs, because hands-on testing will be the only way they can learn fast enough to keep up with today’s technology change. Here’s my recent article making that argument!

In our talk, Sop explains MAS’s  “pragmatic” approach, which emphasizes small-scale experimentation, partnering with industry to solve specific problems, and learning from industry which, he says, generally knows more than government does.

When you talk with Sop, you feel a palpable sense of urgency. I think that’s why his thinking is evolving so fast -- he believes we’re running out of time. He worries that the financial system will suffer a calamitous cyber attack and that we have to move much more aggressively to “future-proof it.”

Of course, Singapore has an easier challenge than we do in the U.S., since it’s smaller and has a vastly simpler financial system and regulatory framework (every country has a much simpler regulatory framework than the United States). When I pointed this out to Sop, though, he had a response that has been haunting me ever since. I think you’ll find it thought-provoking.

I’ll be speaking again at the MAS Fintech Festival in November and urge you to come. Last year it drew a stunning 13,000 people. This year, he thinks that could double!  That would surely make it, by far, the world’s largest financial conference. It will be an exciting place to be.

So, enjoy my conversation with Singapore’s Sopnendu Mohanty!

More for our listeners

I hope to see you at some of my upcoming speaker events, including:  

Meanwhile, remember to review Barefoot Innovation on ITunes, and please sign up to get emails that bring you the newest podcast, newsletter, and blog posts, at Be sure to follow me on twitter and facebook.  And please send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going.

Support our Podcast

We have great new shows coming up. We’ll be posting the series I recorded from the floor of the ABA’s annual Regulatory Compliance Conference, including one with Gene Ludwig and Alistair Renee of IBM’s Watson Financial on how artificial intelligence will transform compliance. In addition we’ll have Sanjay Jain, who helped build India’s revolutionary “tech stack” project to capture customer identity on more than a billion people. We’ll have the exciting startup, Petal, and we have several coming up on anti-money laundering.

Keep innovating!

Banks and Community : CSBS President John Ryan

Jo Ann Barefoot

My favorite episodes of Barefoot Innovation are the ones that take a philosophical turn. That happened with John Ryan, the thoughtful president of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, which is the organization that coordinates America’s state-level financial regulators.

As you would expect, John and I began by discussing the events that have CSBS in the news these days. One is the launch of its Vision 2020 project to streamline state licensing and examinations for nonbank fintechs, to address the costly and monumental task these companies face in trying to grow to national scale by getting licensed state by state. The other news, and bigger controversy, is CSBS’ litigation against the Comptroller of the Currency, seeking to block the OCC’s proposal to create a national bank charter for fintechs. From these themes, though, we went on to far-ranging pondering about the future of banking, community banks and America’s communities.

On the OCC charter proposal, as John knows well, I’m for it. After talking with him, I still am, but this conversation is the best case I’ve heard anywhere about what could be at stake if such a charter were to bring more consolidation of the banking system. I don’t think it would, but his insights are hearty food for thought.

On Vision 2020, let me say that CSBS’s innovativeness amazes me.  At one point in the podcast John said, “we’re not very imaginative, but we get the job done.” Actually, I think they’re very imaginative, and I think the 2020 effort deserves its “visionary” labeling. CSBS is a century-old body and it is, after all, a body of regulators. Neither of those factors makes it a likely leader in innovation, nor does its daunting mandate of coordinating fifty wildly diverse state regulatory systems. And yet it plans to design and execute a high-tech transformation of how states license and supervise nonbanks (a process that, as John notes, is often still paper-based). I think other regulators can learn a lot from watching this model, both in how to design new systems and how to build buy-in from a complex set of stakeholders.

This innovativeness shouldn’t be surprising because, since these states are the regulators of financial innovation. With some exceptions, the cutting edge of innovation is not in the banking system (partly because banks are so highly regulated), but rather in the nonbanks -- the startups and some of the large tech firms. And those are all almost entirely regulated by the states -- the federal government plays almost no direct role and in fact has very little contact with them. (This is one reason I support the OCC fintech charter -- because it would be the single best way for the federal regulators, who dominate national financial regulatory policy, to become expert about the technologies that are rapidly transforming all of finance. Today, they have little first-hand interaction with it. All that expertise resides in the states that license and oversee the firms that are pushing out the frontiers of the financial industry. For me, this puts a huge priority on the need for the U.S. to evolve new regulatory models, because our uniquely complex and fractured regulatory structure cannot effectively cross-fertilize the rapid learning regulators need to keep up with today’s technology.

John offered plenty of philosophical thinking about all these topics, but late in the discussion we moved on to even bigger challenges, including the stresses facing America’s rural communities -- the kinds of places where people voted for disruptive change in last year’s election. John grounds his thinking about CSBS in his concern about the seemingly inexorable centralization and consolidation of banking. He worries about the role regulation plays in that, and about the future of local lending, and about the future of America.

My home in New Mexico is in a small town, and I’ve done a lot of consulting in them. Years ago, I did extensive strategic planning consulting with small banks, mostly in the Midwest. I spent a many days in little towns where, when lunchtime comes and you walk to the sandwich place with the bank president, half the people on the sidewalk greet him by his first name. There’s a reason why these banks are called “pillars of the community.”  It’s because if they disappeared, things would collapse. Talking with John made me remember one holiday-season visit with a little bank, where the management team told me they’d had to cover an emergency year-end budget shortfall for three local nonprofits, which would have failed without the help. One was a health clinic, one the library, and I can’t recall the third. The giving was a significant hit to the banks earnings, but they’d done it anyway because, quite simply, no one else could -- and because without these facilities, the town’s population would continue to shrink, and age.

Think about this question….What would happen to America’s rural communities if they lost their banks?

And what would happen to America, if we lost our rural communities?

These places are the wellspring of much of our unique national heritage. It seems to me they matter, in ways both visible and invisible.

Their problems are hard to solve. They deserve new thinking, and the future of community banks has to be part of it.

More information on John Ryan

John Ryan is president and chief executive officer of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, the national organization of financial regulators from all 50 states and U.S. territories.  Prior to becoming president and CEO in 2011, he was CSBS’s Executive Vice President, and Assistant Vice President of Legislative Affairs. Mr. Ryan also led the financial services consulting practice at a public affairs firm and worked on the U.S. House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs committee. He has a B.A. in political science and economics from the University of California at Berkeley.

More links

Banking Exchange - Reglabs: Time for a major regulatory experiment? (My new article advocating for a new collaboration model for U.S. bank regulators, including through reglabs and a new alternative regulatory channel.)

Karen Mills’ Harvard paper on small business lending and fintech, and my podcast with her.

More for our listeners

I hope to see you at some of my upcoming speaker events, including:  

Meanwhile, remember to review Barefoot Innovation on ITunes, and please sign up to get emails that bring you the newest podcast, newsletter, and blog posts, at Be sure to follow me on twitter and facebook.  And remember, on the website, to send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going.

Support our Podcast


We have new episodes coming up. We’ll be posting the series I recorded from the floor of the ABA’s annual Regulatory Compliance Conference, including one with Gene Ludwig and Alistair Renee of IBM’s Watson Financial on how artificial intelligence and machine learning will transform compliance. Those also include an interesting discussion with prominent regulatory attorney Andy Sandler. In addition we’ll talk with Sanjay Jain, who helped build India’s revolutionary “tech stack” project to capture customer identity on more than a billion people. And we’ll talk with Sopnendu Mohanty, the Chief Fintech Officer of Singapore.

Keep innovating!

From Analog to Digital Regulation - CFTC Acting Chairman Christopher Giancarlo

Jo Ann Barefoot

Today’s program is a very special one -- a conversation about regulatory innovation, with the very innovative acting Chairman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, Christopher Giancarlo.

As regular listeners know, I’ve spent many years in and around Washington where there is a deeply entrenched belief that regulations, and regulators, simply can’t change very much. Regulators are generally, by both nature and design, deliberate, and cautious, and risk-averse. That’s exactly how they’re supposed to be. The slowness of regulatory change can be frustrating, but I think most would agree that, broadly speaking, it’s been better to err on the side of carefulness than boldness, or inventiveness, when taking regulatory actions that will ripple through big swaths of economy and often force change on whole industries and, often, millions of customers.

Today, though, the tilt toward slow and careful under stress in finance, because the world that our regulators oversee is changing too fast for the old system to work well. Our familiar regulatory models -- stable, steady, solidly-rooted -- are being bombarded by technology that is knocking them off their axes. These technology trends, which are much bigger than finance, are developing so fast, and are so powerful, that they are moving us toward a tipping over, into a new world. And in that new world, we’ll face a new paradigm -- namely, that if our regulators are going to be risk-averse, they will have to address not only the dangers of changing, but also the rising dangers of not changing. Technology is growing exponentially, pulling finance along with it, and we’re still trying to regulate it with brains and institutions hard-wired for linear change. We will increasingly face the danger of getting things wrong -- very wrong -- due to falling behind.

Fortunately, a growing group of regulatory leaders, in the United States and other countries, see this shift and are taking on its challenge. One of them is Christopher Giancarlo. Last summer, he and I spoke at the same conference in New York  and happened to sit together at lunch, where he began talking about technology and innovation in ways I’d never heard before from a financial regulator. At the time, he was a commissioner at the CFTC -- he’d been named to that role by President Obama and confirmed unanimously by the Senate. This year, President Trump appointed him Acting Chairman and has now nominated him to be the Chairman going forward. Senate action is expected soon on that -- it may well be that, by the time this show is posted, he’ll be confirmed as the Commission’s chairman.

This spring, he launched an initiative that’s called LabCFTC. Its goal to focus and build the Commission’s extensive work in fintech and regtech innovation. As he explains in our conversation, the Lab will pursue a wide range of activities, from guiding innovators about how to work with regulatory requirements, to participating in research, to building stronger collaboration among financial agencies.

I knew it would be fascinating to have Chairman Giancarlo as a guest on Barefoot Innovation, but I wasn’t prepared for the full vision that he laid out in our discussion. I think this is the single most thought-provoking and eloquent case I’ve ever heard from a senior official about why and how regulators, of all kinds, absolutely have to change.

Remember...the CFTC plays an enormous role today in overseeing financial markets. Its mandate was expanded after the financial crisis, far beyond its traditional focus on commodities. It now oversees the derivatives markets and works to reduce risks to the economy associated with the futures and swaps markets -- areas where, as he explains, technology is rapidly changing everything.

I know you’ll enjoy hearing the Chairman’s far-ranging insights, from the historical reasons why payments are cleared in three days to his eye-opening experience visiting a modern-day, high-tech family farm.

More for our listeners

Remember to review Barefoot Innovation on ITunes, and please sign up to get emails that bring you the newest podcast, newsletter, and blog posts, at  Please also join my facebook fan page, and follow me on twitter @JoAnnBarefoot.

And watch for upcoming podcasts. These include a special series I recorded from the floor of the ABA’s annual Regulatory Compliance Conference, including one with Gene Ludwig and Alistair Renee of IBM’s Watson Financial on how artificial intelligence and machine learning will transform compliance. We’ll also have a provocative discussion with John Ryan of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors; will hear from Sanjay Jain, who helped build India’s revolutionary “tech stack” project to capture customer identity on more than a billion people; and last -- but not least --  we’ll have breakfast in London with the great Brett King.

Regulators & Sandboxes: Wai-Lum Kwok on Abu Dhabi's Reglab

Jo Ann Barefoot

“Sandboxes.” “Greenhouses.” “Pilot tests.” “Labs.”

These are not words we normally associate with financial regulation. Yet suddenly, all over the world, regulatory agencies are giving these novel names to a new,  unconventional kind of initiative.

The break from tradition is being driven by a realization:  they are going to need to find new ways to do their jobs well, in the face of fast-moving technology change and fintech innovation.

My guest today oversees one of these fascinating programs -- Abu Dhabi’s Reglab. He is Wai-Lum Kwok, Executive Director for Capital Markets at the country’s Financial Services Regulatory Authority.

The world’s most famous regulatory sandbox is run by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (which was inspired, in turn, by the CFPB’s Project Catalyst in the United States). We will have a podcast this fall with the FCA, which has just put out a new progress report. Speaking as a former regulator myself -- I was once Deputy Comptroller of the Currency -- I view the FCA’s effort as a remarkable case of regulatory leadership. (Here’s an article I wrote about it for Fintech Law Report.)

When the FCA’s initiative was launched it quickly caught the attention of other regulators around the world. As of today, approximately twenty countries have some form of innovation hub or sandbox underway or on the drawing board, including notably Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The Aspen Institute will soon issue a report with a global overview, which we’ll link to in this episode’s show notes when it’s published.

These sandboxes have a wide variety of designs and specific objectives. As Wai-Lum explains in this episode, the Abu Dhabi initiative accepts a wide range of companies and gives them two years to demonstrate that their innovations will be beneficial and safe. The Abu Dhabi approach, like the UK’s and others, links to a wider national strategy to attract capital and companies wanting to do business in a regulatory climate that welcomes responsible innovation. Some of these countries are cultivating regional and even global leadership positions in fintech.

Note that we recorded today’s episode late last year. In May of 2017, the Abu Dhabi Reglab announced its first cohort of companies.

We had this conversation in the bustling exhibit hall at the Fintech Festival sponsored last fall by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (think about that for a moment -- a central bank ran a 14,000-person fintech meetup, and this year’s will be even bigger).  Our discussion was short, but the topic is one of the most important ones we’ve ever discussed on Barefoot Innovation. I’ve been thinking hard about how regulators are going to keep up with technology innovation in finance, and the answers are not going to be easy. Our regulatory frameworks are designed to be deliberate -- and therefore slow-moving. And to be conservative, and to focus on preventing risk, not fostering change. Some countries have mandates to foster competition, but most, including the United States, don’t. I’ve been researching this challenge in the book and paper I’ve been writing for the past two years as a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Business and Government. Over that period I’ve talked with regulators, innovators, and incumbent companies throughout the United States and all over the world.

I’ve come to an opinion that might be controversial, but here it is. I think regulators will not be able to do a good job of overseeing emerging technology change, unless they create mechanisms for doing empirical testing. I think sandboxes, in some form, are not just helpful, I think they’re necessary.

Of course, it’s far too early to tell how well they will work and which models are best. The regulators running them emphasize that they are figuring this out as they go along. No one thinks sandboxes are panaceas. Nevertheless, the very process of undertaking these experiments is moving a community of regulators forward in deeply understanding fintech innovation -- both its promise and, importantly, its perils.

Despite the sandbox movement sweeping the world, the term sandbox, itself, has fallen out of favor among many in the United States. For one thing, sandboxes sound, well, unserious. For another, there has been talk of using sandboxes to waive or suspend consumer protection rules while companies experiment on real, live human customers. In practice, such suspensions aren’t happening anywhere to my knowledge, but the issue is obviously politically sensitive. (Also, Innovate Finance in London is working on a “virtual sandbox” that could work by modeling innovations using pooled data, so that real consumers would not be affected).

So, fine. Let’s not suspend consumer protections (even though a lot of these laws don’t actually protect people very well). And let’s call these initiatives greenhouses, or pilots, or, as Abu Dhabi does, laboratories. In our conversation, I told Wai-Lum that I too came up with the name “RegLab” for a project I’m working on, exploring the idea of creating a non-profit that could function as an interagency regulatory sandbox in the United States. The U.S. is unique in the world in our dizzingly complex, fractured regulatory structure (five federal financial supervisory agencies, plus dozens of other federal agencies, plus 50 states). We’re going to have to figure out two things -- how to coordinate a coherent fintech regulatory strategy and how to keep up with exponentially growing technology change. If we don’t, we’ll lose our global competitive edge.

There is much more to say on all this -- again, I think it’s one of the most important issues facing the regulatory community -- and we’ll have more shows on it coming up. For now, please listen to my fascinating conversation with Wai-Lum Kwok about the Abu Dhabi RegLab.

More about Wai-Lum Kwok

Wai Lum joined the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) of Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) in June 2015.  He heads up the Capital Markets division responsible for admission and supervision of financial market infrastructures and capital market intermediaries.  The division also regulates the offering of securities, collective investments schemes.

Wai Lum also spearheads FSRA’s strategy and efforts to support the supervision of innovation in Financial Technology (FinTech) and development of the FinTech ecosystem in ADGM.

Wai Lum has more than 10 years of supervisory experience.  Prior to ADGM, Wai Lum served as the Director of the Capital Markets Intermediaries Division of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.  Wai Lum graduated from Imperial College, London with an M.Eng in Electrical Engineering and holds an M.Sc in Applied Finance from the National University of Singapore.  He is a CFA charterholder.

More links

More for our listeners

Please remember to review Barefoot Innovation on ITunes, and sign up to get email notifications for new podcasts, the newsletter, and blog posts at  

Also go to to send in your “buck a show” to keep Barefoot Innovation going, and join my facebook fan page. I hope you’ll also follow me on twitter.

Support our Podcast

Meanwhile, watch for a summer of amazing shows, including CFTC Acting Chairman Christopher Giancarlo; John Ryan of the Conference of State Bank Supervisors; and breakfast in London with the one-and-only Brett King. And watch for our special show that I recorded at the ABA’s Regulatory Compliance Conference in Orlando, including a talk with Andy Sandler and one with Gene Ludwig and Allistair Renee of Watson Financial.

Here’s my perhaps counter-intuitive takeaway from the ABA conference:  #ComplianceIsCool!


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.

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,, 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.

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

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Regulation Innovation: A conversation with Comptroller of the Currency Thomas J. Curry

Jo Ann Barefoot

I’m delighted to be able to share with you this very special episode of Barefoot Innovation, because my guest is the 30th Comptroller of the Currency, Thomas J. Curry.

Our conversation is a particular treat for me, because I myself am a proud alum of the OCC. Many years ago I was the first women Deputy Comptroller of the Currency and also the youngest to serve in that role. My worldview has always been shaped by that experience – by the agency’s tradition of excellence, the weight of its mission, and the talent of its people, including, now, its far-flung diaspora.

At the Comptroller’s office in southwest Washington, I think everyone probably notices the interesting juxtaposition of its modern architecture and bright, open work space on the one hand, with its prominent display of the historical portraits of former comptrollers on the other. Those portraits embody a legacy that dates back to the Civil War. Congress passed the National Currency Act of 1863 to replace the existing, unstable system of bank notes – hence the agency’s non-descriptive, rather archaic name. For listeners who are not steeped in bank regulation, this is the primary regulator of all national banks. It’s an independent bureau of the Treasury Department, and is called, for short, the “OCC,” for Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. It is our oldest bank supervisory agency.

The OCC has 4,000 employees, in 91 locations (including London). It oversees more than 1,600 national banks and federal savings associations and 50 federal branches and agencies of foreign banks. It charters federal financial institutions, supervises them for safety and soundness, and retains some consumer protection responsibilities even after most of that role transferred to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It also retains regulatory power under the Community Reinvestment Act.

The blending of old and new reflected in the oil paintings is a metaphor for the thing that prompted me reach out to Tom Curry. Last summer, he established an OCC task force on Responsible Innovation, asking a team of his senior leaders to undertake a focused examination of how technology is reshaping financial services, and how best to regulate the huge changes ahead – the kinds of issues we talk about in this series.  The team is exploring this inflection point in finance. How is technology likely to disrupt the traditional banking industry? Will banks – especially community banks – lose market share  to innovators, including those with simple, mono-line strategies and relatively low regulation? How should regulation protect consumers? And remember, this is a prudential regulator, and so they are especially grappling with the question of how best to protect the financial system itself.

As you will hear, Tom Curry has many preliminary thoughts on those questions. He cautions against getting swept up in innovation fads, some of which end badly, as recent history has shown. He also talks candidly about the fact that regulators are not wired to look at the upside opportunity of change – they are culturally primed to see the risk in things, to say “no.” Shifting that mindset will be a challenge.

He believes the future lies in collaboration – that traditional institutions and innovators together can lead the industry toward a future of responsible innovation, one that works for customers and communities and for providers. He said, “We’re still early in the process, so I can’t tell you exactly where we’ll end up,” but he has made a priority of understanding these new trends, including positioning the OCC to “quickly evaluate those products that require regulatory approval and identify any risks associated with them.”

Before joining the OCC in 2012, Mr. Curry served as a director of the FDIC beginning in January 2004 and as Chairman of the NeighborWorks® America Board of Directors. He previously served five Massachusetts Governors as the Commonwealth's Commissioner of Banks and as First Deputy Commissioner and Assistant General Counsel within the Massachusetts Division of Banks. He entered state government in 1982 as an attorney with the Massachusetts’ Secretary of State’s Office. A veteran of the dual-banking system, Mr. Curry also chaired the Conference of State Bank Supervisors and served on the State Liaison Committee of the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC), including as chairman.

Even back in my days at the OCC, we saw ourselves as innovating in a time of rapid change in technology and industry structure. My own unit was an innovation – I led the establishment of the initial OCC consumer protection function. The OCC itself was old then, and is older now. It was and is a learning organization, about the evolving financial system and about how to regulate it. I’ve been able to talk with most of the members of the new innovation task force, and I’m extremely impressed with what they’re doing. Even the bitcoin blogosphere is excited to see what they have in store.

So please enjoy this unique opportunity to hear from one of our preeminent financial regulators, Thomas Curry.

And, as mentioned in the episode, click below to find:

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