EMERGE Everywhere

Jelena McWilliams: Banking with Empathy

For Jelena McWilliams, the mission of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) – to maintain stability and public confidence in the nation’s financial system – is a personal one. After immigrating to the U.S. with only $500, she put herself through undergraduate and law school to become one of the leading voices for financial inclusion. In this episode, Jelena shares with Jennifer what it’s like to head the FDIC during a time of such extreme economic hardship and uncertainty, revealing her keen sense of empathy for the challenges currently facing the most financially vulnerable Americans.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020


Jelena Mcwilliams

Jelena Mcwilliams

As the 21st Chairman of the FDIC, Jelena McWilliams oversees one of the largest independent regulatory agencies in the country. Before becoming Chairman in 2018, Jelena served as Executive Vice President, Chief Legal Officer, and Corporate Secretary for Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati, Ohio. Prior to joining Fifth Third Bank, she worked in the U.S. Senate for six years, most recently as Chief Counsel and Deputy Staff Director with the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and previously, as Assistant Chief Counsel with the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship.

Learn more about the FDIC and check out more episodes of EMERGE Everywhere.

Episode Transcript

Jennifer Tescher:
Welcome to Emerge Everywhere. I’m Jennifer Tescher, journalist turned financial health champion. As founder and CEO of the Financial Health Network, I’ve spent my career breaking down silos by engaging with innovators across industries. And now I’m sharing those conversations with you. Meet the forward-thinking leaders challenging the status quo, and unleashing creative new ways of improving financial health by seeing their customers, employees, and communities in 3D.

My guest today, Jelena McWilliams, brings a unique understanding of financial fragility to her role as the chairman of the FDIC. She’s an immigrant who arrived in this country alone with only $500 in her pocket. She watched as her family back in the former Yugoslavia lost everything. She knows what it’s like to be denied credit. Her story is one of resilience that instilled in her a capacity for empathy, and a willingness to lead with compassion at a time when we need it more than ever. Among the financial regulators, the FDIC has been at the forefront of financial inclusion efforts for well over a decade. And chairman McWilliams is equally committed. Chairman McWilliams, Jelena, welcome to Emerge Everywhere.

Jelena McWilliams:
Thank you so much.

Jennifer Tescher:
I often find that the most empathic leaders are the ones who have had a personal experience that affects the way they see the world. And that certainly seems to be the case with you. Your family lived through the civil war in what was then Yugoslavia, and they lost everything as a result, from what I understand. Tell me more about your experiences, your family’s experiences, and how that impacts how you lead.

Jelena McWilliams:
Sure, sure. And it’s a good question. And as people are currently going through the pandemic and wars, I don’t want to take away from anybody’s experience, my family ends up being fine in the end. And I have been able subsequently to help my parents out. But back in the early 90s, as you mentioned, Yugoslavia was going through a pretty brutal civil war. And I left Yugoslavia in 1991 as an exchange student, and my parents borrowed money to send me to the United States. Because I firmly believe that my destiny was here, that if I can make it anywhere, I should try in the United States. And I just had this, I would say, I felt a strong calling to be in the United States and try my luck in this country. And so my parents borrowed money to send me to the United States on a high school exchange student program as a senior in high school.

And so they borrowed, I want to say close to $5,000. They paid for the exchange program. They paid, are you ready for this? PanAm $2,000 for the round trip ticket. And whatever was leftover, we bought a couple of pants and suitcases, and $500 was left. And with that, they put me on the plane. They didn’t want me to leave. But I, again, just had this urge. And so I landed in the United States in central rural California in 1991 in July on my 18th birthday. And then lo and behold, the civil war had already begun in the former Yugoslavia, but it was kind of regionally sporadic, and ad hoc. There were some events here and there, but not a full-scale war. And then by the time I was in the United States for about two months, there was a full-blown war in Bosnia and Croatia.

So I observed that from the United States, and my parents were back there. And as you can imagine with wars come economic issues when the industry collapses, banking system collapsed. And the very meager savings my father had in the bank, and I want to say it was no more than probably between a thousand and $2,000 in today’s money, but something that he worked very hard to save, the system collapsed. And he waited all night in front of a bank to get his money out. And by the time his turn came in the morning and the bank opened up, there was no money left at the bank. And so he went to work as a day laborer at the age of 68, for what was an equivalent of today $5 a day. So you would see this old man, by all means at 68.

He wasn’t exactly a young lad, waiting for a bus at a bus station for an hour or two hours, because the buses were overcrowded with a lack of fuel and maintenance during the war. And then taking the bus, if he could, or walking for two hours to the construction site. Working 10 hours for $5 a day, and then walking back home. And so when you think about that, and when you think about would that 1,000 or $1,500 that he had been saving have helped him back then, it probably would have. And so when I took this job as the FDIC chairman, I couldn’t help but have that image of my dad waiting in front of bank all night in a three piece suit. Because that’s how you’re supposed to go to a bank, to present yourself well. And then having his turn come to the teller window, and money not being left in the bank.

And there was no deposit insurance at the time in the form of Yugoslavia. And as a consequence of that, combined with the civil war and the collapse of the economy, him working as a day laborer. So that, I would say, affected me and shaped my experience when I think about what the system needs or the people need. And when I talk to people about deposit insurance internationally, I even actually brought my dad to the stage at one of the conferences. Because I wanted to put the face to deposit insurance. Because quite often we talk about deposit insurance in amorphous, nebulous terms. Like it’s something that, oh, you may need it someday. But I wanted them to see the face of that, and that was my father who had that experience.

Jennifer Tescher:
Wow, that’s an incredible story. Let’s bring it present now. Unlike the 2008 financial crisis, the stability of the banking system through the pandemic and the economic downturn appears sound. But still, the pandemic has taken a huge toll on the financial health of Americans, which in turn challenges the financial health of the banks that they do business with. Tell us what you’re seeing in terms of the fallout. And given that you, at the FDIC, supervises many small rurally located banks, do you think that the pandemic uniquely threatens those institutions?

Jelena McWilliams:
Those are great questions, Jen. And so I will say this, and you mentioned this. Unlike 2008, this is not a crisis that began in the financial sector. It is a crisis that banks are trying to help their customers navigate as a result of the pandemic, that then led to local economies and business closures. And so as you look at that, we look at the health of banks going into the crisis, and fortunately, they were well-capitalized, there was a lot of liquidity in the system. And the underwriting standards for safe and sound, strong underwriting standards overall for large banks and small banks. So that gave us a cushion going into this crisis. Because, frankly, how quickly the business closures came upon us. I don’t know how the banks would have fared if they didn’t have such good standing going into the crisis. And so the biggest challenge I had for banks is that we do not know when and how this will end.

When are we going to have the vaccine? When can the economy go back to being operational? When are we going to increase the number of employed individuals who lost their jobs during the pandemic? Sectors like tourism and hospitality have been especially hard hit. And our staff is closely monitoring banks concentrations to those areas that we believe have had early hits and will take some time to recover. And with respect to community banks in particular, they do have unique challenges, especially with weathering the storm. And especially if it goes on for much longer. They were very well positioned going through the crisis, as did the large banks, but the economies of scale simply don’t work to their advantage. And in some cases they may have heavy portfolio concentrations to some of the industries that have been hit the hardest.

So we’re looking at all of that and making sure that we can work with those community banks that are experiencing hardship, to make sure that they can sustain themselves through the crisis. Especially if they have had good capital and liquidity levels going into the crisis, and they have a good management team. And so we have been, I would say, more flexible than not with our approach to how we are regulating banks. We’re recognizing that nothing could have prepared us for the suddenness of the business closures and the related impact on the banks.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that community banks also have unique advantages, because they have personal relationships with their clients. They know their client’s strengths and weaknesses, and they can at times mobilize more quickly than their larger peers. And we have certainly seen that in March and April, when I personally made calls to some of the banks. And I said, “Are you talking to your customers? Are you modifying the loans?” They said, “Done. We already did that.” And so what they needed from us was basically an opportunity to weather the storm and have an appropriate regulatory response, which is what we have tried to do in the last few months.

Jennifer Tescher:
Oh, that’s great to hear. Let’s talk a little bit bigger picture now. I’d like to explore the idea of financial health and what you see as the role of banks in helping their customers, their employees, their communities improve their financial health. Do you see it as a responsibility or a regulatory requirement? Do you see it as a smart business strategy? And what would you like to see banks doing to support the financial health of their customers?

Jelena McWilliams:
I would say all of the above. And here’s why. I think quite often we talk about the financial sector as fragmented. There’s the consumer, there are businesses, there are small banks, big banks, non-banks. In the end, it’s an ecosystem, and everything is connected. The better your customers do, more likely you are to do well. And so it is important that we recognize these unique circumstances that are before us, and not on an ad hoc basis. Thinking, it’s just affecting banks, or it’s just affecting somebody in Minnesota or Georgia. Frankly, everything is connected. And so as we look at financial inclusion and how far have banks gone to help their customers modify loans, reach out to their customers. We basically have seen that most of the bankers, I would say community bankers in particular, are keenly aware that if their communities don’t do well, neither will they.

And if the businesses on main street America started closing down, that small community bank in that town is unlikely to survive. Unless it has a very, very diversified portfolio, and a lot of these banks do not necessarily. So the issues you mention on financial health, on the communities, I would say it is a responsibility. It is a regulatory requirement, mainly it’s with the Community Reinvestment Act. But also smart business strategy. If those businesses can maintain their presence in the community, so can the bank. And so as we look at all of this, I can’t help but think about the need for technological innovation, especially for banks that are looking to reach new customers and also obtain and retain existing customers. And so two areas that have stood out most with respect to technology is the ability of individuals to receive economic impact payments via direct deposit.

And some of the customers who didn’t have an account ended up being delayed. And in some cases, a cost of getting the cash from a check cashing place ended up being more than they would have had to pay if they had a checking account. And then also in the area of small dollar lending, those products, before we issued our joint guidance with the other regulatory agencies, they were seldomly available to banks. And I would like to say that we were presentient and we knew the crisis was coming, but this effort really started almost two years ago when I basically reached out to OCC and the Fed. And I said, “We have got to do something in the small dollar space for consumers, because right now we have three different sets of guidance, documents, and bulletins.” And the CFPB had its own thing going on in the small dollar area.

And as a result of so much fragmentation in our approaches, banks are reluctant to issue this. So we were able to come up with a joint guidance, luckily, and fortunately, before the crisis really developed fully. So the banks can develop this product and offer them to customers. We’re talking about 400, 500 to $600 loan. And we have seen some of the large banks in the last few days actually announce that they are going to be offering such products. So I would say that those are all areas we’re looking at and making sure that banks and bankers understand how important that it is that they are accessible to their communities, and also serving those communities at full capacity.

Jennifer Tescher:
Right. You’re exactly right on the small dollar credit front. Just earlier this week Bank of America announced that they’re going to be rolling out a new product at the end of the year. That by everything we have seen looks like it’s going to be a very good product for customers. And I think it’s terrific to see one of the largest banks in the country get back into a business that they all sort of walked away from. Particularly once credit card lending got up and running. I think it’s going to make a big difference.

But the first point you made was really about payments, ultimately. Do you see a scenario in which, given the experience that people had in getting their stimulus payments, particularly if they didn’t a bank account, that there’s a need here for the federal government to provide some kind of account of last resort, if you will, when payments need to be made? Or do you think that we just need to be doubling down and getting banks to really reach out and help open accounts for those who don’t have one?

Jelena McWilliams:
Great question. I would say that, in particular, with respect to the payment accounts and checking accounts for consumers. Consumers who do not have an account with a bank currently, or do not have an account with one of the FinTechs that are in the banking space, but not necessarily banks per se, the reason that they are not banks would be that they’re probably either disenfranchised and not feeling a part of the banking system. Or they have had a bad experience with a bank and decided that they’re better off outside of the banking system and being in a cash economy. Which in the end ends up being by far more expensive. I always say, and I have these discussions with my daughter quite often, given my humble beginning in the United States with $500. It is expensive to be poor in America because everything is going to cost you more.

And you do not have the power as a consumer if you’re not as fully banked. Because there’s no credit history, you’re not going to be inundated with good credit card offers. And most of the places that you go to avail yourself of cash and other banking products are going to look at you with some form of suspicion because they have to comply with Bank Secrecy Act. They have to comply with anti-money laundering efforts. They have to know their customers. And so there are a lot of things that are built into your existence as a customer and a consumer, that if you’re not a part of the banking system, kind of makes you a little bit on the fringe. And so what we would like to see is more people being brought inside the banking system, being a part of the banking system. Frankly, in the long run, it’s going to work out better for them.

And in the longterm, it’s also going to work out better for banks because they’re all struggling to attract new customers. And so there are two primary ways in which they can do that. One is they can attract the currently unbanked or formerly banked customers who are no longer a part of the banking system. Or they can try to take those customers away from other banks. And that second option is more expensive. So if they can offer good products and bring people into the fold, maybe, just maybe that customer that comes in for a $400 loan, unsecured loan, then realizes the benefit of having a checking account. And if the bank sees them well, they will certainly explore other options. And all of a sudden, before you know it, you have a banked consumer.

Jennifer Tescher:
So we’ve been talking about the role of banks as it relates to financial health. But if I changed the question and I asked you about the role of banks in promoting racial equity, how would your answer be different, if at all? And what would you like to see banks doing to help close the racial wealth gap?

Jelena McWilliams:
Again, great question. And a difficult question, frankly. I don’t know if my answer would be any different, and here’s why. I hope we come to a place in the United States where we do not have to talk about racial equity and equality anymore, because it is just a given, and nobody feels like they are not a part of the system. And I gave a speech a few weeks ago at the University of Chicago Law School, where I talked about building a system, a banking system of inclusion and belonging. And I used my personal story where I mentioned the $500. And when I first came to the United States I opened up a checking account. And then I realized everybody’s using a credit card in the United States, and so I wanted to look like everybody else. So I applied for a credit card, and lo and behold I was denied. No income, no job, no assets. Perfect Ninja, not in a good way.

And nobody would give me a credit card. But there was a bank that offered me a secured card. So of my $500, I sent $300 in, I ended up getting a secured credit card. And after 12 on time monthly payments, they released my deposit and security and I was given an unsecured credit card. And you know what, my limit was $500 dollars. And I thought I won the lottery. I was like, I got $500 on credit card to spend. And certainly with a car breaking down, or at the end of the month trying to buy groceries when I had so little money, it helped hugely move me forward. I handled that credit responsibly. That’s how I was taught by my father. He never believed in credit, we never had a credit card in Serbia, in Yugoslavia.

But I did take it very, very seriously and very responsibly. And later on, because I built good credit history, I was able to qualify for an auto loan. And I remember, it was when my daughter was born. I decided to, when I was pregnant, to buy a brand new car. My first brand new car in my life, because I wanted a safe vehicle that wouldn’t break down when I bring my baby from the hospital. And you know what? Being able to qualify for a favorable car loan meant the world to an expecting mother. Then came the student loans and the house purchase, and all of those things were financed. And I was able to leverage what I have, so basically come on top of things and become a bank consumer that now has banks vying for my business. Right? So now I look at the credit card offers and I’m like, well, what are you going to do for me?

And so you want… You absolutely, you want customers, consumers to come to the point of becoming sophisticated, being able to use the system to their advantage. And in the long run that involves making sure that no one feels excluded. I would be remiss if I didn’t say it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, and other protective categories. And so I would hope that the unconscious biases that people may have, and the bad experiences that people have had over the years will be eradicated. And banks have a role to play here. And I’ve seen that many of the banks have offered additional commitments to help Black businesses, Black entrepreneurs, Black communities.

But the issue is not just Black communities, we have low and moderate-income communities of many races and ethnic groups that just for decades have not been able to move on up in the society. So we have a lot of work to do, and banks being on the forefront of our economy, I think, need to be good stewards of the economy and do what they can to promote racial equality. And to make sure that folks from all walks of life and of all races and ethnic groups have an opportunity to prosper in the system.

Jennifer Tescher:
So you and I have both talked to lots of bankers over the years, and I suspect that much of the time we were often the only woman in those conference rooms. But two arguments that I hear most frequently from bankers about why they can’t be more inclusive are, one, it’s not profitable. And two, regulation gets in the way. I’m sure you’ve heard these exact same arguments. You have talked a little bit about why it actually can be profitable, or certainly at least less expensive from a customer acquisition perspective. But as it relates to these arguments, what’s your rebuttal?

Jelena McWilliams:
Well, first I’ll chuckle, because you’re right. Quite often I do find myself as being the only woman in the room. And to tell you the truth, I have come to the point that I don’t even notice if I’m the only woman in the room. And other people tell me, “You know you were the only woman in there.” “Oh, I was. Okay, great. You know what, because I showed them how the business of banking is done. And regulating.” And so I would say that the two arguments that it is non-profitable and regulation gets in the way, I would like to distinguish between those. The not being profitable argument, I think it fails, and here’s why. In the long run, banks are going to benefit by having more customers inside the banking fold. Because that customer, just like this young immigrant 30 years ago, will essentially go from having an unsecured credit card…

I’m sorry, a secured credit card to unsecured credit card, to a home loan, a student loan potentially, a car loan. Maybe they’ll ask their children to be a part of that bank, be a customer of that bank as well, as I have done. And so when you look at that, I think if you have a short horizon view of being inclusive, yes, it may not be profitable. But the long view should be that, absolutely it’s going to be profitable in the long run if you treat these customers well. And they’re going to refer you to others in their community. And so there is an overall benefit that folks should not be too short-sighted and fail to recognize. With respect to the second argument that regulation gets in the way, it is true. Sometimes our regulatory system and the framework we have established does not always follow the ability of banks to serve their communities in creative ways.

And so I would say, this is the area where some of the alternative data can be really helpful. If you think about a common in longstanding credit underwriting criteria, a lot of the communities of low and moderate-income means, they may be mistrustful like my father of credit, right? So they may not have your traditional credit card. Or if they have a credit card, they may not utilize it. They may have it just as an emergency, right? If they qualified for one. So there’s no credit utilization score. And there are many, many instances in which minorities and people of color, and low and moderate-income communities have not availed themselves of products and services because they were either mistrustful of the system, or nobody told them. Believe it or not, there is a system.

When I talk to people and they’re like, “Well, nobody told me about that.” And the problem is that if on the regulatory side we’re not willing to think of innovation and technology as a great equalizer in our society, we’re going to leave these people behind. Because the bank, the chief credit officer, the chief lending officer at the bank, the chief risk officer at the bank is going to say, “You know what, the easiest thing I can do, and the safest would be to follow the rules to the letter.” And those rules, if they’re not creatively positioning banks to be able to avail themselves of the new technology, data, and trends in how consumers bank, are going to be in the way of inclusion.

And the system I hope we can build of belonging. And so I would say that, profitable argument, yes. It’s not profitable short-term. Yes, it’s very profitable long-term. And on the regulatory side, you have seen a lot of initiatives from the FDIC in the last year or so, and other regulatory agencies as well. Where we’re trying to think of technology and innovation as a plus, and not as a minus. Not as risk, but as an opportunity.

Jennifer Tescher:
Say a little bit more about what the FDIC, in particular, has been doing on this issue of leveraging technology to maybe ease the regulatory burden, and to make sure that banks can use technology effectively and not have regulatory concerns get in the way.

Jelena McWilliams:
Sure, sure. And I would say that early on in my tenure at the FDIC, I have made an effort to go talk to a number of community banks and talk to a few FinTechs that are partnering with the banks, and third parties that are partnering with the banks. Asking them, how are you creating these partnerships? What are you taking into consideration when you decide who you’re going to partner with? And then what obstacles are you encountering in the way of those partnerships? And the two things that I have heard as the primary barrier to innovation, especially for community banks that have smaller economies of scales than the larger banks, is cost and regulatory uncertainty. Because the cost of innovation is often prohibitively high for community banks, partnerships with FinTech companies are critical in the community bank’s ability to offer innovative products and services to customers.

So we started exploring ways in which we can foster these partnerships and create a blueprint and a path that community banks would be comfortable with, with respect to the second thing, which is the regulatory uncertainty. If a bank doesn’t know how their regulator is going to react to this partnership, and they have all the reasons to believe that we’re going to be suspicious. Because as a regulator, we’re risk averse. Then they’re not going to partner up. So there goes the missed opportunity for the bank, not only to have new products and offerings and be more on par with the larger banks that have the resources but also they lost customers. And the United States lost overall, because now that the folks that we were talking about, the unbanked. The disillusioned with the banking services who once were a part of the banking system, but no longer want to be a part of the banking system.

And the folks who, say, come from different countries where they didn’t trust the banking system, they love it. Because now they don’t have products and offerings that will attract the unbanked and underbanked into default. And so, from my perspective as the FDIC chairman, I’m cognitive of this target because of my personal story. And I believe that our regulatory framework must evolve in a way that encourages and enables this partnership. It’s not a question of if we should, it’s a question of how quickly can we make sure that there’s a path for these partnerships. And in this way, we need to modernize our regulatory approach. Is imperative for us to do so, because the survival of our community banks depends on it? And frankly, the issues of inclusion and equity in the system are also going to depend on it.

And so we created an FDI tech initiative, which is our innovation lab at the FDIC. And we have taken several steps to lay the foundation. One is, we realized that when these FinTechs that have really, really interesting and innovative approach to attracting customers and analyzing creditworthiness of a potential consumer, they basically engage with a bank and realize that for bank A, they’ve got to go through 50 items on the checklist that are basic kind of a question as you onboard third party. For bank B, they also have to go through the same 50. And so when I was talking to the FinTechs and community banks, it dawned on me that, why not create a good housekeeping seal of approval through some certification program? It doesn’t have to be done by the FDIC, it can be a public-private partnership.

So we have issued a request for information on how best to do that. And we have received a number of really, really interesting comments thus far, and I encourage people to send us their comments as well. And the second thing we did to release some of the burden on community banks from regulatory reporting requirement, is to think anew about how we collect call report data every quarter from the bank. We collect about 2,600 data points from large banks, for smaller banks it’s slightly over 1,000. And that process is largely automated, but it does require a number of human resource hours involved in the data collection and verification. And so say for Q1 of any given year, the data is due by the end of April. So a month after the end of the quarter. We will spent about a month analyzing that data, and then another month or a couple of weeks to release the data in the aggregate to the public.

And so when you really think about it, huge burden on banks. A lot of burden, frankly, on the FDIC staff and our analysis. And yet we still don’t get the data in anything close to real time. At best, that data is only two months outdated. As worse, it could be almost five months out of date. And so I juxtapose that, if you go to a doctor’s visit and they do blood work. You don’t want to wait four months for your blood results, blood test results. If you have diabetes or if you have any ailment in your blood, blood test is going to show that. You want the results now so you can fix it.

So there’s also a problem here that, frankly, should be of concern to us on the systemic risk basis. And that is that if we’re looking at the data, we’re going to see these trends with a delay. So we have engaged in rapid prototyping, and have invited technology companies to help us brainstorm to ways of getting this data more instantaneously. With the goal of eliminating call reports in exchange for, I would hope at some point, real-time data. But I’ll settle for more instantaneous data than what we get now.

Jennifer Tescher:
Fantastic. I’m so excited hearing about these modernization efforts. So gosh, so much has changed in the world of banking over the last 20 years. We’ve talked a lot about technology during our conversation, and yet in some ways I feel like things haven’t changed at all. Banking is in many ways very similar to the way it was 20 years ago, and 20 years ago before that, and so on. This is clearly an impossible time to make predictions about what lies ahead in the next quarter or the next year. But I wonder if you would think further ahead, like maybe another 20 years ahead. And paint a picture of what you would hope the world of banking would look like.

Jelena McWilliams:
Now there’s a challenging question. I would say that 20 years from now, I can’t even fathom what kind of technology we will have. I think I will just think about, I need, if there’s cash still around. I may think I need $100 and it will just appear in front of me, because some machine someplace has read my thought process. And, get this in my account, and sends me 100 bucks. And I joke from time to time that I don’t know what the world of banking will look like in the future, but I certainly hope that an ATM will dispense cash, and a latte, and process my dry cleaning. And be kind of a full-service stop. I will say that we need to be careful on the regulatory side that we do not stifle innovation. And we quite often talk about risk in the banking system.

And I would like to juxtapose risk in the banking system with a risk in the financial system. One of the issues we discussed today on this podcast was the issue of consumer protection, and how are consumers protected? And what has happened since the 2008 crisis, we have shifted a lot of risk outside of the banks. And that’s a good thing, right? As a regulator, you’re like, well, there’s less risk at my bank. I can sleep better at night. But what that did as collateral damage, I would say, to really good intentions again. Is that we did not reduce the risk in the system overall, it just went from banks to some non-banks, and companies that have not previously engaged in financial services. And so if you ask me, what does the system of the future look like?

While I can’t paint exactly what that latte at the ATM will look like, or how it will be dispensed, I can tell you this. As a regulator, I think about this often, and I want to make sure that we can appropriately manage the consumer expectations with respect to technology innovation, with a risk in the banking system. I would hold it if we wouldn’t create a regulatory framework that discourages innovation in banks, so that the innovation is only happening outside of the banks. Or is so delayed at the bank, the banks end up losing customers, or not be able to attract customers. And I will say partly, because there is still that consumer protection lawyer lurking inside of me, and I don’t think that person will ever go away. I would hope that we create a system where we’re adequately able to protect consumers because they are using banks for their banking services.

End up going outside to areas within the financial services sector that are not regulated as heavily as banks. So on the one hand, I don’t want to disadvantage banks versus other players in the same space by putting such onerous restrictions on innovation and entrepreneurship, and these ideas that can truly change the world of banking as we know it. And I also don’t want to disadvantage the customers and consumers of those banks, and the consumers in general. So I would hope that banking system 20 years from now is a system of inclusion where innovation prospers, where everybody has access to financial services. And where we’re able to, in real-time, get access to banking data and consumer data from banks in terms of consumer protection, so that we can prevent abuses in real-time. We can prevent systemic risk issues in real-time.

And we have more of a give and take with the banks on a daily basis, versus when we examine banks every 12 months or every 18 months, depending on the examination cycle. Or when we get the call report data every three or four months and look at the health of the banking sector. And so we’re on a path, and we’ll see how far we can get before I’m done with my tenure at the FDIC. And I certainly hope that the future chairman will take the reins and continue down this path of encouraging innovation and creating a framework that will remove barriers to banks to innovate and include more people into the banking fold.

Jennifer Tescher:
That’s a great way to end what’s been a really fascinating conversation. Chairman McWilliams, thanks so much for joining me on Emerge Everywhere.

Jelena McWilliams:
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. And thank you for all the work you’re doing to inform the public and policymakers on the right path forward to get us there.

Jennifer Tescher:
This has been EMERGE Everywhere, a financial health network production. I’m Jennifer Tescher and I’d love to hear your ideas for future guests and your reactions to the show. You can connect with me on Twitter @jentescher. If you liked this episode, please review the show and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. To learn more about the work and research we do, please visit emerge.finhealthnetwork.org. See you next time.