Finance and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Tim Pawlenty, CEO of Financial Services Roundtable

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Today’s guest is a familiar name and face for everyone who follows U.S. politics. He is Tim Pawlenty, CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable. Tim was previously Governor of Minnesota and became well-known to most of us when he ran for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. He’s been a prominent voice on public policy for many years.

He was also a speaker on a panel I moderated last fall at Money 2020 on financial innovation and regulation. We decided to continue that conversation back in Washington at his office at the Roundtable, which is the trade association representing the largest U.S. banks and financial companies.

Tim is one of the most thoughtful people we’ve had on the show, with perspective on all the issues and strong opinions, clearly expressed. He shared his predictions for how fintech will, and won’t, change banking, including its competitive structure, and including the likelihood of rising competition for the customer’s trust. He talks about the big tech companies competing with banks not in terms of whether it will happen -- he thinks that’s a given -- but rather when and how, and how that will ultimately be regulated. He has thoughts on the respective strengths and weaknesses of banks versus companies like Amazon or Apple.

He thinks cybersecurity is the top challenge and talks about the foundational, structural difficulty of taking the internet -- which was designed to be open and distributed -- and trying to plug its security gaps with patches (he cites a Roundtable event where Steve Wozniak offered somewhat discouraging advice on this).

Tim is an optimist that technology will make financial services vastly better for most people. He’s also an optimist about banks and fintechs finding synergies and increasingly partnering. He thinks a few -- a very few -- fintechs, will change the world.

He’s less optimistic about U.S. financial regulators getting good at truly coordinating as technology changes finance. As he puts it, the regulatory structure is horizontal, not vertical. That will make it hard to develop the harmonized thinking, and actual standards, that could help the system move forward.

Big banks will play an enormous role in shaping the digital transformation of finance. More than small banks, they have the resources to be innovation leaders. More than fintechs, they have both resources and also expertise in how to be regulated companies, which takes some learning. More than either, they’ll be going head-to-head with big tech entrants into finance. At the same time, more than any of these other players, big banks are hard to change, by virtue of sheer size and history and also the legacy of being, in some ways, creatures of regulation. They are often on the defense on regulatory and political and public concerns about banking.

Tim Pawlenty says banking is the “plumbing” of the economy, and therefore needs to work. I would add that big banks are the main pipes. When they do innovation well, their many millions of customers will benefit -- most financial consumers today are served by these large institutions. If they do innovation badly, or if the regulatory process impedes the move to modernize them, the future will be a whole lot more complicated. As he says, the plumbing has to work.

Here are other episodes we’ve done with innovation leaders at large banks -- Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and US Bank.

More on Tim Pawlenty

Tim Pawlenty is President and CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, which

represents the leading financial service companies in the United States. He previously served as Governor of the State of Minnesota (2003-2011), overseeing a $50 billion biennial budget, 30,000 employees and over 20 agencies and departments. As governor, he was also responsible for disaster preparedness and response, appointment of judges, and serving as Commander-In- Chief of Minnesota’s National Guard. His work as governor included promoting international business opportunities through trade missions to nine countries. He chaired the

State Board of Investment, which addressed more than $60 billion in investments. His education, health care and energy initiatives were widely cited as among the most innovative in the nation.

Mr. Pawlenty served as Chair of the National Governors Association (2007-2008), Chair of the Education Commission of the States (2008-2010), and Chair of the Midwest Governors Association (2006-2007). From 1986 to 2000, Mr. Pawlenty practiced law in the areas of criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appeals. He was also Vice President of Corporate Development for Wizmo, an early stage technology services company. He has been a board member of numerous companies.

Mr. Pawlenty served in the Minnesota House of Representatives (1993-2003) where he was elected Majority Leader by his colleagues (1999-2003). He received a B.A. from the University of Minnesota with Phi Beta Kappa and PhiKappa Phi honors. He received his J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.

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More for our listeners

In case you missed it...be sure to listen to our recent show with Nick Cook of the UK Financial Conduct Authority on The Future of Regulation. Especially if you’re a regulator, or know some regulators, this one is recommended listening on how we can move to digitally-native regulation.

We have wonderful shows coming up. One is with Cross River Bank CEO Gilles Gade, talking about the “sponsor bank” model for fintechs working with banking partners. We’ll have two in London, with the CEO of Starling Bank, Anne Boden and another with Innovate Finance CEO Charlotte Crosswell. We also have conversations with Michael Wiegand, who heads the Gates Foundation’s work on financial services for the poor and Nerd Wallet CEO Tim Chen.

I hope to see you at upcoming events including:

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