September 30, 2022

I remember hearing the news that the Federal Reserve had appointed its first ever Chief Innovation Officer. They not only appointed one – they hired her from outside. Obviously the Fed works constantly with technology and innovation, but still, this was a striking move. I was surprised.

And much more surprised when I actually got to know the new CINO. She is my guest today – Sunayna Tuteja – and she is not what you might expect. Every now and then, we record a show that becomes one of my own instant favorites, and this is one of them. It is absolutely packed with information, insight, and fresh thinking. I think the regulators in the audience will study the transcript. One is tempted to call Sunayna a breath of fresh air.

Our talk covers a lot of ground. She explains why the Fed decided it needs a CINO, what she’s doing, how she’s doing it, what stands in the way, what is difficult, and what is working. On the last, her secret sauce for getting big things done in a conservative body like the Fed is to create the perfect blend of what she calls “the bold and the boring.”

Plus, of course – we talk about crypto.

Sunayna has her work cut out. Her remit differs from that of most of the other agency innovation offices, which focus largely on understanding the tech change in the industry they oversee. Their work is mainly outward facing. Sunayna’s, in contrast, is internal. It’s about modernizing the technology of the agency itself. It’s somewhat aligned with the “suptech” initiatives underway at many agencies, but even broader. Her goal is to bring the whole agency’s technology into the 21st century, and then to keep it up to date as change continues to accelerate.

We did a show recently with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, the MSRB, on its successful conversion to a modern digital platform. They talked about the comparative ease of taking a small regulatory agency like theirs into the cloud and then fully redesigning its tech architecture. The Fed is at the opposite end of the spectrum – it’s the most complex financial agency we have. Sunayna calls the Federal Reserve System the “13 planets” – a solar system with 12 district Federal Reserve Banks across the United States, plus the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington DC. The system has a long tradition of specialized roles and complex relationships among the Reserve Banks, and also a structure that gives them significant autonomy. When she joined the Fed, Sunayna herself wrote an op-ed for the Financial Times and joked that “central bank” and “innovation” sound like an oxymoron. She had friends who predicted she wouldn’t last a year in the job. And yet, here she is, making things happen.

Let me put it this way – I’m pretty sure we have never had a regulator on the show who has used any of the following words and phrases – much less all of them: doing regulations in “beta mode,” using AR, VR and MR, doing a “fork,” killing off “zombie projects,” or taking lessons from "Snow Crash".

Furthermore, she calls cash the “OG of payments.”

To paraphrase the old car commercial, this is not your grandfather’s Federal Reserve.

More on Sunayna

Sunayna Tuteja is the first person to fill the newly created role of Chief Innovation Officer of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board. She has more than ten years of global experience leading change and innovation at the nexus of finance, technology and policy. Most recently, Sunayna was the Global Head of Emerging Tech & Strategic Partnerships at TD Ameritrade. Her work there included commercializing frontier tech and building and investing in the next generation of products and experiences in collaboration with partners in big tech, fintech, start-up and the VC ecosystem in North America and Asia.

More for Our Listeners

We have great shows in the pipeline. Up next is Deborah Young, CEO of The Australia-based but global Regtech Association. We’ll have Jai Ramaswami, from Andreesen Horowitz. We’re going to talk with the one and only Simon Taylor, on all things crypto and DeFi. And we’ll have a fourth visit with Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire back again, along with Tomicah Tomilson of Haun Ventures.

This month I spoke virtually for the Board Risk Committee. Nick Cook and I also spoke at the wonderful Toronto Centre, on regulatory innovation. Nick was on a virtual panel for the Global Fintech Festival in Mumbai, focusing on green finance. David Ehrich spoke at #HousingDC22. And of course I’ll be at Money 20/20 in October, and at the Singapore Fintech Festival in November – all back in person again!

AIR continues to grow! We’re hiring for multiple roles to join our small but mighty, mission-driven team. We need a lead crypto person, a TechSprint project manager, an events manager, and two roles for our new program on Minority Depository Institutions. In the near future we’ll also be recruiting for an executive to lead delivery of our TechSprints and educational offerings. Visit our careers page to learn more and apply.

Don’t forget to follow AIR on LinkedIn and Twitter. Be sure to leave us a five-star rating on your favorite podcast platform. And please follow me personally on Twitter @JoAnnBarefoot.

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