April 05, 2023

Listeners know I’m an optimist about the potential of Web3 and decentralized finance — also known as DeFi — to enable a better financial system. Still, I’ll be the first to say that the whole space suffers from a lot of high-flying rhetoric and not much concreteness. That’s why I am excited to talk with today’s guest, Tomicah Tillemann, Chief Policy Officer of Haun Ventures. I often encounter Tomicah in forums in Washington and around the world, and I very often find that he is the clearest and most cogent person in the room when it comes to painting a clear picture of where we are headed — or at least where we’re trying to go. He has a gift for this, and I’m delighted that today he’s sharing it with us.


Our conversation starts with a quick recap of his extraordinary background, which includes long-ago work with people whose names today are household words, including one Joe Biden. He tells us about joining Katie Haun when she left Andreesen Horowitz to launch her own venture firm. It’s exciting to hear about how this woman-led VC is setting its priorities from scratch in today’s tumultuous tech world, and making bets on privacy, infrastructure, and interoperability (which happen to be three of my favorite subjects).


We cover so much ground! 


Tomicah shares his views on the crypto winter (“crypto winter can be quite useful”) and the meltdown of FTX. He defines Web3 and offers a vivid metaphor of Web2 that compares today’s environment to feudal times. He suggests that we’re all workers serving the feudal lords of Big Tech or, if we’re in China, of Beijing. He explains how the confluence of blockchain, open-source code and digital tokens could solve stubborn problems, and gives examples of where this is already happening. And he suggests that these technologies could, maybe, make the vision of “stakeholder capitalism” a real thing — a practical possibility. He offers a tantalizing thought on how life might be different in a few years if you’re, say, a carpenter.


Tomicah also offers a whole raft of shocking statistics. Here’s one: He says the world is paying $20 trillion, every year, to run our current financial intermediary infrastructure. Think about it for a moment. What if new technologies could change that? How much could we expand financial inclusion, if we reduced the weight of these expenses on the system?


As you would expect, Tomicah has strong views on regulatory challenges, including that other major countries are doing better than the U.S. and in what ways.


We ran out of time. I wanted to ask him about the mechanics of the privacy possibilities in Web3 and DeFi — about how they actually would work. I wanted to ask him what he thinks of Chat GPT.  I wanted to ask him to say more about the role of open source in our future financial system and in financial regulation, too.


I told him we're just going to have to have him come back again. For now, I know you're going to be fascinated by my conversation with Tomicah Tillemann.


More on Tomicah

Tomicah Tillemann is the Chief Policy Officer of Haun Ventures. Previously he served as Global Head of Policy at Andreesen Horowitz’ a16z Crypto, where he was responsible for the firm’s policy engagement on digital assets and web3. Tomicah has led various initiatives at New America, including the Digital Impact and Governance Initiative, the Responsible Asset Allocator Initiative, and the Blockchain Trust Accelerator. Prior to New America, he served as an advisor to Joe Biden and two secretaries of state. 


Tomicah began his career in Washington on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He holds a B.A. magna cum laude from Yale University and a Ph.D. with distinction from the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

More for our Listeners


We have great shows coming up. Watch for our 200th show, and a special show for AIR’s 4th birthday, and another special show with our own Nick Cook on the lessons he has learned building an innovation department at a financial regulatory agency and helping other agencies do the same.

I just got back from a week in Europe, participating in the BIS Innovation Summit in Basel and then visiting in London with the Financial Conduct Authority. We’ll have a show coming up with Cecilia Skingsley, who leads the BIS Innovation Hub and will talk about their impressive initiatives in areas like CBDC, climate protection, and suptech. We’ll also have an episode with Jessica Rusu, the FCA’s Chief Data, Information and Intelligence Officer. I was lucky enough to be at the FCA as they were celebrating their 10th anniversary, and I was really astonished to hear about all their progress – including the fact that the agency is now fully in the cloud. A huge milestone. Both BIS and the FCA are doing world-leading innovation. 

In April I’ll participate in the Blockchain Foundation’s Inaugural Digital Assets & Decentralization Conference – that, too, is in Washington. I’ll of course be speaking at Fintech Nexus (formerly known as LendIt) later this spring in New York City. And in June, I’ll be at the American Bankers Association compliance conference, which is merged this year with their risk conference. We have some very special programming in the works at the ABA.

Our AIR team has multiple TechSprints on the drawing board so far this year. One is on mortgage technology, with the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency. One is with the National Credit Regulator of South Africa, on last mile lending technology to connect rural and township borrowers to the mainstream financial system. We are also planning our second TechSprint with the U.S. Department of State, on anti-corruption. And we are working on a second TechSprint with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this time focused on consumer protection in digital financial services, in Africa.

Don’t forget to follow AIR on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you enjoy the show, it’s important to take a moment to leave us a five-star rating on your favorite podcast platform. And please follow me personally on Twitter @JoAnnBarefoot.

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