Financial Inclusion & Beyond Series Wrap-up

By Sean Creehan, Cindy Li, Paul Tierno, and Linda True

In the final episode of Financial Inclusion & Beyond, your series hosts take a look back at key themes and takeaways from our conversations.

Some of the key takeaways we review include:

  • The events of the pandemic left us all humbler at the scope of the challenge we face here in the United States to deliver full financial access to all citizens and promote their financial health.
  • Financial inclusion often conveys the notion of basic access, but true inclusion is about enabling individuals’ lives and letting them pursue their dreams.
  • Experts from a diverse range of disciplines like impact investing, behavioral economics, and community development are focused on designing new financial products and services to meet the needs of low-income populations historically treated as second class citizens in the financial system.
  • Regulators need to grapple with how to promote positive change through their engagement with innovative firms. A narrow focus on simply negating bad outcomes has not been sufficient to create real financial inclusion and racial equity, and a shift in mindset is necessary
  • The San Francisco Fed’s Framework for Change makes a persuasive case for the economic benefits of a more inclusive financial system. We are at a critical moment to reflect and take action, and both public and private stakeholders have a lot of work ahead of them to promote meaningful change.

Transcript

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Sean Creehan:

Welcome to Pacific Exchanges, a podcast from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. I’m Sean Creehan.

Linda True:

And I’m Linda True.

Cindy Li:

I’m Cindy Li.

Paul Tierno:

And I’m Paul Tierno. We are risk and policy advisors in the FinTech team, and our job is to promote responsible innovation. We just recorded a FinTech series on the role of public policy and FinTech on promoting financial inclusion.

Sean Creehan:

Yeah. And this is the first time that we’ve all really been together with you during the series. And really, we thought we would take a moment to just reflect on our takeaways from what’s been really a long journey through a global pandemic, recording from home, working from home, and really trying to tie a lot of conversations together that have taken place over the last year and a half. So, it’s really a special series for us. We’ve been covering financial technology in Asia and thinking about the interesting ways public policy and technology can come together to drive financial inclusion and give people access to the financial system in countries that are less developed than ours, that have less wealth, that just have fewer resources. And before we really started recording this, we were thinking there were some lessons that we could take from the rest of the world, but it was still something that was maybe a different sort of challenge in other countries.

And I think today we would still say that the challenges that a country like India or China face are distinct from those here in the U.S. But we probably all agree that the events of the pandemic in the last year plus have really made us all a little bit more humble about a lot of the work that we have to do here in the United States. So, what we just want to do with you today is share some of our takeaways for those in the audience that haven’t been able to listen to the whole series all along. Hopefully this episode will help you kind of hear some of the distilled points that we take away and a little bit of a conversation about where we go from here as a Fed, and as really the broader U.S. financial system, the work ahead of us.

So, Paul, I know you have done a lot of thinking about what we’ve learned from a number of the guests on how we even really would just define inclusion. So, I wonder if you could start and kind of kick us off with what you learned is kind of the core goal of inclusion and what we really mean by it, and some of the broader concepts that we talked about later in the series related to financial health.

Paul Tierno:

Yeah. It’s interesting because I think we tried to ask this question to just about all of the guests that we had on. And while they all had a slightly different definition, I think, taken together, they’re one robust sort of definition. So, I’ll just going to use three snippets from three of the different guests as a way of defining financial inclusion. First, I think, Greta Bull, the president CEO of CGAP, a World Bank affiliate, gave a pretty standard definition. Basically, it’s traditionally helping people from developing countries to be formally integrated into the formal financial system so that we show them or when they are financially included, they see that there’s a viable alternative to working in cash, and this alternative adds value to people’s lives. I really liked Matt Homer. He’s a regulator at the New York Department of Financial Services. What he said… And it makes it closer to home. Ultimately, people don’t go out and say, “Hey, I want a bank account or I want a digital ID.” But it was, “Hey, I want to continue to grow my online business or I want to continue to grow my retail business. But in order to do that effectively, I need to have a bank account that plugs me into the financial system.” And so, it’s not just about giving someone an account or an ID, but it’s about how you add value to their lives by providing some kind of service. And then finally, in our conversation with Mary Daly, the president here at the San Francisco Fed, the concept of inclusion was actually personal.

She told the story about how, when she was 16, she had a great experience with someone at a bank who helped her to open an account. And then she had another experience with someone who by helping her stretch out her money a little longer, helped her create an income smoothing device. And she used these anecdotes to show that this isn’t some esoteric topic that we just talk about in academic circles, but it’s really something that can help people. And she also talked about it in the context of the U.S. experience, especially over COVID, where individuals who didn’t have an account, it was harder for them to get assistance either through the PPP process or through stimulus.

So, financial inclusion isn’t just about one individual. But as those individuals don’t get access, or as they don’t get support, it can really hurt the community that they belong to. So, I just liked those three definitions as being really emblematic of the different sort of approaches to defining financial inclusion.

Sean Creehan:

I agree, Paul. And I think one of the things that I liked about the series of interviews that we conducted… And we go into this identifying a bunch of different subject matter experts who have their own story to tell, but really the way that they all connect… And when we got into the middle of this series, hearing from people like Arjuna Costa, impact investor in the space; José Quiñonez who’s a community organizer slash technologist slash non-bank financial institution guru who really just brings in a lot of different disciplines into the challenge; behavioral economist like Ting Jiang… It’s just interesting to hear all of these different people with different approaches, different disciplines, but really trying to meet people where they are and provide tangible solutions, connecting to those definitions that you’re talking about, the example of Matt Homer, pointing out what might be obvious, but people in the financial services space and in banking regulation may forget. We can talk about the percentage of people that are banked, but some people don’t even have a bank account in this country, not because they can’t access it.

Some people, that is a challenge. There’s a digital divide issue. Maybe there’s not a branch their community, in their neighborhood. But some people just don’t have a bank account because they don’t think the bank is out to help them. They don’t trust the bank, or maybe it just provides products that really aren’t meeting their needs. And so, I just found it really interesting in the middle of the series to hear the different approaches. We heard from José who really, really has a lot of compelling ways to think about it.

And he gets philosophical, but just that idea of meeting people where they are in the Silicon Valley parlance that I think Arjuna really gets to as an impact investor, that user centric design. And similarly, Ting Jiang, it’s behavioral economics and thinking about the patterns of human thinking and biases that we all have, and how do we use technology to help people overcome some of those challenges in the moment when they want to save but they don’t because of some stress or some sort of other thing going on in their life that gets in the way between their good intentions and their behavior. It was just a really interesting mix of folks.

Paul Tierno:

And, Sean, one point on that topic. We talk about how one of the important ways to promote financial inclusion is to take down structural barriers. But some of the things that you’re talking about, about meeting people where they are, about developing trust in the financial system or in financial institutions and even the behavioral side, that goes to something that Mary Daly said in her discussion too about intangible barriers. So, you have the more tangible, structural barriers like… And I know that in some of the episodes we referenced the Community Reinvestment Act and how it tries to take on redlining. But then there are these intangibles of the behavioral component or the trust component. And they might not be structural in nature, but they are barriers nonetheless.

Cindy Li:

Very well said, Paul. I think that also leads us to think about our role as FinTech researchers and policy advisors, but also as the supervisors of different regulatory and supervisory approaches to financial technology, and then, , how country governments really are seeing technological innovations as a way to tackle these inclusion challenges. So, my takeaway from this series is really that our guests have introduced a lot of good examples of how things would work as well as lessons learned for supervisors and regulators. So, some of this learning are very much connected to our day-to-day work at the FinTech team. For example, Tracy Basinger, the former head of supervision here at the San Francisco Fed reflected upon our team’s work on the Paycheck Protection Program in 2020. So, that process really gets everyone involved a closer look at the different kinds of lenders that were engaged and were able to reach small businesses.

Cindy Li:

So, regulators and supervisors are going to learn a lot as to why non-traditional lenders were better able to reach this communities and how the financial system as a whole can better serve small businesses. So, the answers to those questions obviously will have important implications for an inclusive recovery of our domestic economy. Then more generally, one question that comes to my mind is that how do we as policy makers and regulators improve and facilitate the learning process? So, one common theme that I’m learning from our podcast guests is that there is the need to up the game in communication efforts between innovators, regulators, and policy makers.

Cindy Li:

So, to this point, Chris Calabia at the Gates Foundation mentioned tech sprints in some countries as one example, and a pretty effective way to bring these different types of stakeholders together to solve problems. As Chris mentioned, the type of dialogues really creates an opportunity to learn from each other and an opportunity to identify some common denominators, to make financial services more effective and more inclusive. But the most important challenge is how to move beyond providing access to improving people’s lives. That in my mind is what financial inclusion is all about. And that’s also what connects value propositions of the FinTech community to more general public policy goals. I think, Sean, that connects to some of the points you were making earlier about product designs and meeting people where they are.

Sean Creehan:

Yeah. And it’s interesting, you mentioned the experience during the crisis for the Fed and other public sector stakeholders that were trying to enable a lot of different market participants to lend, for example, to small businesses, and the benefits of having non-bank lenders, but also the challenges of connecting them to some of the existing central bank responses during a crisis. And if you’re a non-bank and you don’t have access to a liquidity facility, how does that work? And it really is making us think more carefully about the role of banks and non-banks and what different strengths they bring. Are there ways that you can encourage some of those financial technology startups to maybe even consider becoming banks? Is there something different about them that they can bring to the table if they aren’t banks?

How do we think about all of these different challenges in our impact? By bringing them into the regulated system, what does that mean for the types of innovation that they’re currently performing? What is the role of a lot of our traditional activities around looking at the safety and soundness of a regulated depository institution? There’s a lot of risk management there, but what does that mean for FinTechs and other non-banks that are reaching hard-to-reach populations? And if they come into, what we would call the regulatory perimeter, what does that mean for them? Does it make it harder for them in some ways? Does that inhibit innovation that otherwise might bring more people into the financial system? So, a lot of really big questions. And there’s not necessarily easy answers. But I think that’s one question that I come away from the series.

I’m not sure we’ve resolved it. I’m not sure anyone has, but something for us to continue to think about. Because it’s one thing in some of the developing markets that someone like Chris Calabia was telling us about where maybe there is more low hanging fruit, a lot of people are not included just because of a lack of basic development infrastructure. But here in our country, where we do have that, there are still people that are being left behind. And why is that? And some of that may be due to our own activities.

Sean, to your point… when we first started this series, it was about financial inclusion policy and industry developments that were throughout the world. What could we learn from the rest of the world? And many of those episodes we recorded prior to the COVID pandemic. But I think that the pandemic really sharpened our focus on not just what we can learn from the rest of the world, but how we can reframe how we look at the experience in the U.S. And I think we knew going in that it’s a big enough topic prior and that there was a financial inclusion angle in the U.S. But I think that the pandemic and seeing the experience of what happened in the U.S. really sharpened the focus on the experience here.

Paul Tierno:

Some of the takeaways on what helped illuminate what’s going on here first, I think, is just how there was a big difference between those who had connections to banks and how being connected either to a bank as a small business or as an individual meant that you got support quicker. And it’s interesting because looking at this from an international angle, ease of access to stimulus or to support is something that we saw and that Greta Bull experienced in the international area. Countries that had done the work of improving the financial infrastructure also had easier at times of getting that stimulus out.

Paul Tierno:

So, I think there’s an interesting parallel there.

Paul Tierno:

Going forward, we’re going to see as a result of just improving the inclusion experience in this country is whether or not regulators take a different approach. And So, historically, according to Tracy the motto has always been make sure that entities aren’t doing anything harmful. She has talked about recalibrating that to sort of how can institutions actually be doing something beneficial. And I think that that’s an interesting way of melding the idea of both inclusion and health.

Linda True:

So, one of my main takeaways from the podcast series and the pandemic is about being human and living our best lives. And to live your best life, you need to be financially healthy. Nothing can make anything more human than a pandemic, all together, the whole entire world. And the solutions I’ve heard from all of our speakers in the podcast and that I’ve seen in the policy-making process… These fundamental building blocks that are just so elemental, just as simple as data, robust, accurate, complete data. Trust. Trust in your financial institutions, the relationships that Paul just mentioned. Trust within your community… It’s just inherent to having a solid financial relationship. And then there’s behavioral and user designed aspects of approachability and usability. Just having these little nudge points that Ting Jiang talked about. It really has this snowball effect that are very simple, something you wouldn’t think about in your daily life, but it has a snowball effect.

We record a lot of the podcasts before the pandemic. And then having the pandemic happen and see the financial inclusion impacts in the U.S., it was quite emotional for me. The Federal Reserve Board just released a survey of household economic and decision-making, and 5% are unbanked. Broken down by race, 13% of Blacks, 9% of Hispanics, 3% of Asians and 3% of Whites are unbanked. It’s quite well recognized that black followed by Hispanic businesses and communities were impacted more profoundly by the pandemic than the rest of the country, not only in physical health, but also in financial health.

Linda True:

It’s really heartening to see what regulators are doing especially from our interview with Grovetta. It’s very heartening to see OCC’s Project REACh in which they try to address financial access through the possibility of an expanded credit score using hard alternative data, but also affordable housing, which is to close the intergenerational wealth gap transfer that’s happened over the decades since most of generational wealth is stored in home ownership,; and funding through minority deposit institutions because there’s more trust. I feel like that trust is that magic piece.

Cindy Li:

I think Linda, both you and Paul mentioned tangible and intangible barriers to financial inclusion, which is what a lot of our guests have mentioned in their episodes as well. Grovetta. In her episode, she mentioned it really takes a village. And I think that’s an accurate description of the magnitude and just how general or universal this challenge really is for our society. And data really highlights one of the challenges for policy makers is that, do we have the data that are of high quality and that can support policy making in the financial regulation space?

I guess there is a lot of work to do. Even if we are not finding all the solutions in our podcast series, we are really touching upon a lot of important questions as to what’s next for policy and supervision in the financial inclusion space. What’s the role of supervision, what’s the role of a regulator? I guess one challenge is how to facilitate that dialogue or collaboration to move things forward. We want to engage different type of stakeholders. We want to engage traditional banks, technology firms, community advocacy groups. We want to engage academics who can help build that research and data analysis that can support some of the decision-making. And the goal here is actually to learn. I think we want to better understand technology itself. We want to better understand how technology works for financial inclusion in today’s economic and social context. And Grovetta’s episode is actually my favorite as it really connects a lot of these topics, which are universal challenges for policy makers around the world, but really ground the discussion in today’s context in the United States.

Sean Creehan:

Yeah. And I think one of the data points that Grovetta shared. And some of our listeners… And you all may have seen this reported elsewhere, but if you look at the last 50 years, the rate of home ownership among African-Americans has not changed at all. And so, we can think of all of the good intentions coming out of the 1960s Civil Rights movement and a lot of the changes in 1970s around the Community Reinvestment Act and a variety of other policies designed to promote inclusion and to promote access just from that high level indicator that, that, in the housing space, has failed.

And we can say that there’s a lot of other factors outside of the control of organizations like the Federal Reserve, structural racism, that impacts things like the appraisal value of real estate in primarily black neighborhoods, the role of educational funding in various local communities, just existing inequalities in income and wealth that make it harder to purchase a home.

Sean Creehan:

So, there’s a lot of other factors at play, of course, but we have to ask ourselves… : “Okay, if you want to paint with a broad brush and say the last several decades, a lot of effort has been about negating a negative, preventing discrimination,” we can say there’s been success there. But it seems indisputable to say that that hasn’t been enough. And so, it is really hard to think about how do you promote a positive. Some people might even say that that’s not really the role of a regulator or a central bank or a policymaker that may be you try to create a competition amongst private actors that are going to come up with those solutions. I come at this with my own bias. I think there is a role for us to play in providing incentives. But that maybe even requires a rethinking of just our overall approach.

I think there’s a lot of interesting ways technology can help. You’ve all mentioned Grovetta’s really interesting episode and her focus on the alternative data that can drive new types of credit scoring to give tens of millions of people in this country access to a credit score that enables them to move up the ladder of financial services and build their lives from there. And I think that’s great. I think there’s also just ways that technology can make small dollar loans more affordable for banks, because at the end of the day, one of the problems is lending to LMI communities, low and moderate income communities, may not be very profitable.

Sean Creehan:

And so, banks pull back from that, especially if they face constraints on their capital. To the extent that technology can help that and just lower costs, that’s a big deal. The way that we can measure risk, and that gets into the alternative data issue, the more we can improve the measurement of risk and return and figure out, “These are people that have never been credit scored before, but they pay their utility bill on time. They pay their rent on time. Why wouldn’t you lend to someone like that?”

Sean Creehan:

There’s an opportunity to help them and to help your own business and your bottom line. So, I’m hopeful that we’ll see more of that. And then, it really just comes back to what is our role? What’s the central bank’s what’s the regulator’s role in facilitating that sort of positive innovation? And there may be areas where, not only, we’re not doing something positive, but maybe that’s something that we’re doing now that’s holding that back. And so, there’s some tough conversations to be had going forward for sure.

Paul Tierno:

As we talk about the future, it’s interesting because lines seem to get blurred. I think while we were recording this series, there was a tendency, I think, to conflate the concept of financial inclusion and financial health. They’re both distinct topics. Inclusion, obviously about getting more people in the formal financial system, and then financial health really about providing the appropriate tools and ensuring that there’s a sort of a balanced relationship between those who provide the tools and those who use the tools. But it’s not surprising that they’re conflated because they both suggest an improvement on the status quo, and they’re both two concepts that are generally symbiotic. We probably all believe this, that in order for someone to be financially healthy, they likely need to be financially included. And if we’re going to have someone included financially, really the only way that that inclusion matters and provides results, both for the individual and for society, I think is if they’re healthy.

I think as we start to talk more and more about financial health, it’s another place where I find, and Sean, you mentioned them earlier, José Quiñonez at the Mission Asset Fund to be really prescient. One of José’s key points was that for so long, the financially excluded, whether they’re black and brown population or whether they’re lower and middle income populations, have been second, third and fourth tier users of existing products. And his point is we really need to make them first tier users. And so, I also think he does an interesting thing where he applies the traditional concept of the hierarchy of needs to a financial hierarchy of needs.

Paul Tierno:

And so, we don’t just want to exist. We want to flourish. But in order to do that, we need security and everything that goes with it. On the financial side, we need income, we need security for that income and for our ability to make that income. So, we need insurance. In order to move beyond that, e need to generate savings and then, as well, investment opportunities. when Linda asked him if there was any one tool that would be useful to really promote financial inclusion or financial health for that matter. And his response was, A, he wishes he had it.

But also really we need to be doing all of this at the same time because there are always going to be people at different phases of their economic life, whether they’re younger and are managing student loans or whether they’re older and managing retirement. And so, we need to find a way to ensure that the system provides the tools that they need to thrive at different phases of their financial life cycle. And so, I think that that’s a really nice way of looking at the relationship between inclusion and health and also a nice framework for thinking about health moving forward.

Cindy Li:

So, one thing that really excited me about this podcast series is that our guests are very good with sharing personal experience about how either traditional financial system have less things to be desired in terms of helping customers or financial technology or even policy elements help improve inclusion and improve financial health and improve economic opportunities in general for some of the underserved populations.

Cindy Li:

So, that I think is really the human element that cannot be captured just by one number, one statistics. But you really need to understand what really matters in terms of human beings having economic prosperity and having economic opportunity. And I think that would be the assumption and the hypothesis that underlying our working inclusion and health going forward.

Linda True:

We can’t change the past, but we can change the future. And that’s the great thing about financial inclusion. And with all the great tools that are coming up the FinTech, I think it’s really important to make sure that financial technology is inclusive. It’s everything from algorithms and data collection to even biometrics on whether cameras can recognize darker skins as well, which was mentioned by one of our colleagues, Kaitlin Asrow, as well on her blog on the Federal Reserve Bank website. And it comes back to… Well, as a central bank, as a financial regulator, why do we care about financial inclusion so much? Why do we care about racial equity? And personally, for me, I believe the whole is only as strong as its parts or a system is only as strong as its components. And for financial system stability, that ultimately means the people. The more financially healthy and resilient everyone is, how households are, how consumers are, the more healthy and resilient the financial system is. For me, that’s the linchpin to institution supervision and financial inclusion.

Linda True:

But why does the Fed actually care? Why would a central bank care? And it boils down to that a fully actualized economy is a fair and inclusive one. And so, if you look at the disparities from racial inequity in the U.S… It was $2.6 trillion in 2019 alone. And if you add that all up together, that’s approximately $71 trillion over the last 30 years.

Linda True:

And that’s in one of our reports, also available in the San Francisco website and blog. And so, that leads us to San Francisco Fed really saying it’s Framework for Change. And a lot of the points that you were talking about what we can do, what can be done… In that framework, there are four principles. One is evidence, second is a dialogue, third, practice, fourth, advocacy. Evidence is around data, research and analysis, which is what we talked about. Data integrity, data robustness, data completeness, and researching and understanding it. Dialogue, engaging in an open conversation. Practice, which is about implementing policies and practices. And advocacy is for speaking up. And that’s what we’re trying to do at the bank, but this is really a framework that anyone can do at a personal level in their daily life.

Sean Creehan:

Yeah. I like the San Francisco Fed’s Framework for Change a lot. And there’s some really interesting work out there. At an academic level, it has kind of translated to more a general audience for those that are curious on just the case for the gains to the economy from greater equity. And so, for even folks that maybe aren’t persuaded by more of a moral argument or just basic notions of fairness, just the essential argument that it’s good for the economy. And I think there’s a lot of good information out there in the Bank’s framework.

Sean Creehan:

I do think that connects to the focus that we’ve tried to bring to this topic on beyond inclusion and kind of thinking about financial health. As Paul talked about, they really are intertwined. Getting to that idea of designing products that are relevant to people, that they can see contribute to their economic lives and promote their financial health, that’s one good way to build trust and to get people that have been hesitant about becoming a customer of a bank to actually come and enter the formal financial system. And I know Grovetta talked a lot about that, emphasizing that it’s a safe system, that it’s powerful for a lot of people, it can do them a lot of good, but that there’s people that are very hesitant to even engage with it because of the legacy of racism or a number of other factors. So, I think that connects to a lot of what you were just talking about, Linda.

Sean Creehan:

But, for me, we’re based in the San Francisco Bay Area, not far from the Silicon Valley. And if you think about the last 10 or 20 years, or even longer, innovation around here… There’s amazing amounts of technological innovation that have changed the world and changed everyone’s life for the better, but there’s also a lot of chasing after what we would call first world problems, and not just first of all problems, but I would say, the problems of the affluent in a first world country like the United States. And maybe there are interesting approaches to some everyday problems of a low-income American, but I’d say most of the money doesn’t chase after those problems.

Sean Creehan:

And so, what I think is exciting about the idea of really focusing on concepts like inclusion, equity, financial health, is that we are really talking about basic everyday problems that everyone faces. And if we can focus the attention of so many smart and talented people, resourceful organizations in our country and around the world to tackle these challenges, we can do a lot of great things. And so, I think part of it is finding a way for this activity to be profitable. But I don’t think there’s any doubt, particularly as more resources are applied, that it can be, and maybe that it’s relatively low profit margin, but high volume. Okay. But that’s worthwhile. And so, thinking about that, and again, in our role as central bankers, as regulators, kind of, we encourage that. I think that’s huge. And for me, that’s an area of our focus moving forward.

Sean Creehan:

But to me, the series has really been the start of the conversation in many ways. For some listeners in the audience, maybe some of these topics were familiar, maybe others weren’t. But I think it laid a lot of interesting groundwork and kind of left us with things to think about. But now, there’s a lot of work to be done both in the private sector and here at the fed and amongst our colleagues at places like the OCC where Grovetta Gardineer works and other parts of kind of federal, state, local governments. So, I guess for us, as we start to wrap up, maybe everyone could leave a parting thought on what they think is kind of the work ahead and what they’re excited about, what they maybe think we need to pay more attention to or do a little more work on.

Cindy Li:

So, maybe, I’ll chime in because I think my comments connect to what Sean just said about the private sector’s pursuit of financial inclusion purposes. I do think there is a good business case there as the many success examples in the FinTech space have build upon or value propositions that are directly connected to inclusion. So, there are too many examples. One thing that, FinTech companies, we know that they do very well is… They design products that address specific needs of customers that traditional financial system has previously failed to provide. So, I see this trend accelerating as the digitalization takes place around us, but I also see more traditional financial services firms including commercial banks are now putting more strategic focus on inclusion related objectives. So, technology’s impact on innovation is even broader than just the FinTech industry. And that’s a trend that I would love to see in the future.

Paul Tierno:

Yeah. And I guess I would reiterate something I said earlier, just in terms of sort of hoping to reframe the conversation to look at both financial inclusion, but financial health as well. And then I think one last point that I would make… And, Sean and Cindy, since you both touched on sort of the role of technology, since it’s one of the key themes that we looked at throughout the series, I think I would say that in addition to there being a profit motivation to sort of entice some of these tech companies, whether they’re in Silicon Valley or elsewhere, into working in this space, there’s obviously the profit motive. I think one of the other key things to think about, and someone at our live events referenced it, is that it’s easier to perhaps make another chat app or another app that is, as Sean said, first world problems, as opposed to one that is in the banking or FinTech space that sort of helps lower income or the sort of traditionally excluded.

Paul Tierno:

So, I think a role that we can play moving forward is sort of continuing a dialogue about the regulatory approach and how we can facilitate models that reach the excluded to become viable from a regulatory perspective as well and not just the sort of financial one.

Linda True:

Just to jump on Cindy’s point on FinTech… One of the things that’s been great to see is… I think a lot of the FinTech services that we’re seeing out there try to solve a life problem. They don’t try to solve the money problem. The money problem is secondary even though it is central, if that makes sense. And I think for me, that’s putting the services back into financial services. That’s what it means to serve your customer. That’s what it means to serve the people. It’s solving people’s life problems. And you can’t live without money. But life is messy. Money helps.

Sean Creehan:

Linda, on that point… José Quiñonez had an interesting concept at our live virtual event where he said tech and finance, for the purposes of a shiny new object, that shouldn’t be the role, but it should be sort of in the advance of solving some kind of higher problem. And I just think that that’s sort of kind of what you’re getting at, that it’s not about bells and whistles on an app, but it’s about sort of solving someone’s day-to-day problem.

Linda True:

The bells and whistles do help make it sticky though.

Sean Creehan:

Yeah. I really love that point, Linda. Money is such a tough thing for so many people. It’s tied into lots of emotions depending on how you were raised, how much money you had, what your life looks like, what your goals are. And I think one of the challenges a lot of people have with money… It’s such an abstract thing. You’re maybe borrowing against the future or you’re saving. You’re trying to give yourself money in the future. The act of saving is like just deferring some kind of present activity that could be… You might want to buy that nice pair of shoes, but instead you’re going to save money so you can send your kid to college, whatever it is. It’s hard for our human brain to kind of grasp all of these challenges.

Sean Creehan:

And so, to me, any sort of FinTech focus on those life problems to help people really kind of connect their money decisions to their lives is going to help them meet whatever goal that they have. And that is the other challenge with financial health, is that some of this is in the eye of the beholder. But I think just by having the conversation and starting to ask these questions, all of us, whether in the public sector or the private sector or just the customers out there that are using these products, will I think improve the delivery of financial services. So, again, maybe we’re all optimistic, but come at this with a little bit of skepticism as well, and then kind of ask hard questions. But I think that’s the positive view of the future. And so, I’m just glad that we’re able to kind of go on this journey and this kind of voyage of discovery together. And definitely more to come, more work to be done. But thank you all for an awesome series. And that’s it for now. Stay tuned for more. And thanks to everyone in the audience for listening.

Cindy Li:

For more episodes like this, you can find us on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and Spotify. And if you like what you hear, please leave a review—feedback from listeners like you will help more people find us. And for even more content, look up our Pacific Exchange Blog, available at FRBSF.org. Thanks for joining us.


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