August 01, 2023

As technology has transformed financial services in recent years, I think it’s fair to say that most consumer advocacy groups have focused on its downside risks, almost to the exclusion of upside opportunity. Today, there is of course continued concern about dangers, but there is also an emerging generation of advocates who think that some of these new technologies actually have the potential to help financial consumers.

One of the most thoughtful leaders in this regard is today’s guest. He is Jesse Van Tol, President and CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

NCRC has a venerable history. I’ve known them for decades, as they have shaped policy on issues like the Community Reinvestment Act and creating a federal requirement for tracking patterns in small business lending. Today, NCRC is one of a handful of advocacy organizations that is looking with sophistication at how technology is changing consumer finance, for both good and bad. They are reaching out to tech innovators, learning deeply, and bringing a new lens to the old, intractable challenge of getting high quality, affordable financial services to flow to lower income people and communities.

In our conversation, Jesse describes how he thinks about both the upside and downside of the new technologies that are transforming consumer finance, including the trends that worry him the most. He talks about the importance of focusing not just tactically on the availability of services, but also strategically, on the underlying goal of helping more people, and especially people of color, build wealth. Jesse argues that opening better access to homeownership and small business capital can reverse the structural disadvantages faced by so many people across their financial lives, because lack of wealth – assets – compounds every other problem. 

He also discusses the evolving relationship between advocates and industry, including industry innovators. He has an interesting take on the trend toward banks dropping the practice of charging overdraft fees. And he has thoughts for policymakers and regulators on how to get the rules and enforcement right.

I had the pleasure of speaking at NCRC’s Just Economy conference this year and then, last month, I was also at a small roundtable where Jesse shared his insights. One theme that has stayed in my mind is his argument that if we want to be a society that has widespread financial health, we will need systemic change. There is an inherent tension between advocacy groups and the industries that they are seeking to change – always has been, always will be. But in financial services, I do think that technology is creating a new range of opportunities for win/win scenarios, in which it is increasingly possible to find ways to reduce costs, boost affordability, widen access, and assess risk with more robust and more finely-tuned data and analysis. It’s creating the chance for the industry to bring millions of valuable new customers into the system and to improve pricing and terms for millions more.


More on Jesse Van Tol

Jesse Van Tol is President and CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. He has been with NCRC since 2006 and has held a variety of leadership positions during that time. His work championing fair and responsible banking has resulted in almost $500 billion in new investments in low- and moderate-income communities through Community Benefits Agreements with over 20 banking institutions. He is a popular speaker and lecturer, and has appeared on NPR and in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and many other outlets.

Jesse is a former member of the Federal Reserve Board’s Consumer Advisory Council, and a current member of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s Affordable Housing Advisory Councils as well as the OCC’s Project REACh National Working Group. He is a member of the consumer advisory councils of a number of financial institutions including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Huntington National Bank, JP Morgan Chase, PNC, Quicken Loans, Santander, TRUIST and U.S. Bank.

Jesse received his bachelor’s degree in History and International Studies from the
University of Wisconsin-Madison and holds an Executive Education certificate from
Harvard. He lives in Takoma Park, MD with wife Lauren and his son Emerson.

More for our Listeners

If you enjoy Barefoot Innovation, it’s important to take a moment to leave us a five-star rating on your favorite podcast platform to help us reach more people. Also please find me on social media to continue the conversation.

Our podcast queue is bursting with great new shows. We have an episode coming up with Jessica Rusu, Chief Data, Information & Intelligence Officer of the Financial Conduct Authority in the U.K, and her chief of staff Nathalie Lowe. We will have Lisa Rice from the National Fair Housing Alliance, and Jason Cave from the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency, talking about the recent TechSprint that FHFA hosted on how to improve the mortgage process. If you missed hearing our 200th episode, please do listen to it, and watch for a follow up show that will dig more deeply into the key themes our guests have raised over these last hundred shows.

Our AIR team has multiple TechSprints in the works. We just kicked off a July sprint, cohosting with the Cambridge Center for Alternative Finance on how financial regulators can use AI-enabled chatbots to gather and analyze consumer complaints. And we have more sprints in development, including one on generative AI and a second in our series with the U.S. Department of State on anti-corruption. Exciting times!

In September, I will be participating in a Q&A session at #HOUSINGDC23 with Jason Cave of FHFA, and Faith Schwartz, CEO & Founder of Housing Finance Strategies. I will also be in Philadelphia speaking at EMERGE Insights 2023.

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