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Jo Ann Barefoot: ‘If regulators can tilt fintech, they’ll be able to tilt all of finance’

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For Jo Ann Barefoot, regulation can be sexy. The CEO of Barefoot Innovation Group, which advises firms on tech and regulatory issues, says she has “set the task for myself of trying to help adjust the regulatory world to fintech.”

Barefoot, who is also Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Business & Government and was the first female Deputy Comptroller of the Currency, also hosts Barefoot Innovation podcast.

“I feel our regulatory systems aren’t built to optimize the opportunities and manage the evolving risks. To do that, you have to connect people and pull them out of their silos. A podcast is a great way to go across a great big wide ecosystem and get people listening to people they might not ever be in the same room with,” she said on this week’s Tearsheet podcast.

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Below are highlights, edited for clarity, from the episode.

 

The role of startups in the financial ecosystem
“I have no doubt that fintech startups are changing the banking industry. What shape that will take long term, no one really knows. Most of these startups won’t replace banks — there will be much more of a merging and mixing of the startup technology with incumbents. Banks that don’t change, though, will be facing tremendous competitive risk. Startups bring a much better user experience and many are geared to millennials, which is now the largest generation in the U.S. They’re using data differently. AI and big data are transforming finance. Banks have a lot of data that’s locked up because of their old IT systems.”

The career trajectory of a former regulator
“I went to Washington D.C. straight out of college. I was 20 years old. I had a couple of boring government jobs. I got started in finance after working briefly in HUDD when I went to the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which doesn’t exist now but was the savings and loan regulator. That got me started on technology issues. I was recruited from there to the National Association of Realtors and then to the Senate Banking Committee where I thought a lot about public policy.

I then started the first of my companies and sold it to KPMG, becoming a partner and managing director. I’ve worked for many years in these regulatory issues and had my own hand in crafting public policy on consumer protection and inclusion. I don’t mean to criticize the past but we’ve built a huge edifice of organizations but they’re not working very well. Look at the financial crisis — people were not well protected even after they received all the required disclosures. They didn’t understand what they were getting. There are 80 to 100 million people in the U.S. who don’t have access to mainstream financial services. It doesn’t matter whether we did the best we could in 1969. We know we can do better today with new technology.”

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