Central Banking Adventures from the United States to Australia and Back Again
Rema Oxandaboure loves world travel and the adrenaline rush that comes from being in uncharted territory. She also has an affinity for central banking, a field known for stability more than dynamism. Sometimes it surprises her, too.
“I would never have thought that I would have spent a decade in central banking. I am so grateful for the brilliant people who have supported and mentored me along the way. The only way forward I know is to say yes to new experiences—and, at times, figuring out how to do it later,” Oxandaboure shares.
She’s said “yes” to new experiences at the Fed, once in Washington D.C. and twice in San Francisco, and at the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). She currently manages the Fed Ambassador program at the San Francisco Fed.
The Fed Ambassador program coaches employees on how to explain the work of the Fed, whether they’re having a casual conversation, leading a public tour, or speaking in a formal capacity. It also helps employees understand the broader mission of the Fed, and how their business lines and specific jobs support public service.
Flexible thinking comes second nature to Oxandaboure who grew up as a third culture kid. That is, in a culture other than her parents’ or of the country listed on her passport.
Her mother is Chinese. Her father, an international educator, is Danish. Their family moved every two to four years for her dad’s job. They bounced around the United States, had extended stints in Denmark and Hong Kong, and lived in various regions of Japan.
Pausing to add up how many places she’s called home, Oxandaboure counts fifteen. So far.
In rural Japan, the international family was a major curiosity. In other places, Oxandaboure felt different, but not as drastically. She got used to it.
“People have a hard time trying to figure me out. In the States, people usually call me Asian. In Baton Rouge, I’m Californian. On the West Coast, people will comment on a bit of the South that sometimes pops out. In Japan or Hong Kong, I’m American,” she says.
The family settled back in California by the time Oxandaboure was a young adult. She decided to pursue her passion for education, trying her hand at teaching, but quickly realized that spending a day in front of a classroom didn’t feel right.
Next, she got into restaurant management.
Oxandaboure had a lot of fun with the level of social interaction in the industry. But she wasn’t fulfilled by the job.
Then a friend tipped her off to an opportunity with the Economic Education team at the San Francisco Fed. Oxandaboure jumped at the chance to work with teachers and students outside of a classroom as program manager for the International Economic Summit (IES).
IES helped high school students learn economics through the lens of international trade. Students would role-play as economic advisors tasked with improving the standard of living for a country. Seeing them not just learn but understand, and relate concepts to real-world scenarios, was a dream come true for Oxandaboure.
Then the financial crisis hit.
People developed a greater thirst for information about what was going on in the economy and how it related to their own lives.
“IES was high touch. We could only reach so many students and teachers,” says Oxandaboure.
The Economic Education team pivoted to help even more people by developing a suite of online resources in a self-serve model. A new challenge arose: how to get the word out about these new resources?
Oxandaboure buckled her seatbelt and dove in, building her public outreach and social media skills.
“My boss calls it ‘baptism by fire’, which I fully agree with,” she says with a smile. “But how exhilarating to get these kinds of opportunities to grow!”
A few years later, Oxandaboure made her next move, to a leadership exchange position with the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington, D.C. Her job was to help prepare the world for the new $100 note, which was redesigned with upgraded security features in 2013.
With her international background, working with U.S. embassies and consulates to educate overseas communities was a natural fit.
“The $100 is one of the most commonly used notes abroad. You can imagine that if a new hundred showed up suddenly in any community, there would be confusion and problems in terms of financial transactions,” she explains. “It was the ultimate challenge for an educator/communicator: ‘Make sure everyone in the world knows about this!’ A daunting task for sure, but my parents have always said that when you’re uncomfortable, you’re growing.”
By the time the $100 project wrapped up, Oxandaboure had just spent one of the longest stints of her life living in the United States. She’d married her college sweetheart who embraced her wanderlust and enthusiastically joined her on international trips but only for vacations. Now, the couple began seeking an opportunity to live and work abroad.
They found it when Oxandaboure landed a position helping the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) introduce its new currency.
The couple settled in Sydney. Oxandaboure delved into the nitty-gritty of her new job, interacting with businesses and stakeholders as she had never done before.
“When you launch a new banknote, you have to change every machine in the country that handles it. Vending machines. Parking kiosks. Bill counters at mom-and-pop stores. The machines that check for counterfeits. Everything that touches a note needs to be reprogrammed and might even need a redesign. For example, the new Australian banknote series has a clear top-to-bottom panel running down the center. The old machines saw that as a torn note, so every currency machine had to be rebuilt and reprogrammed. They needed new software design. Staff needed new training,” Oxandaboure explains.
“Of course, the general public also needed to understand the changes that were coming and why they were being made. Our work encompassed everything from public education ad campaigns to interviews with the press to retail store staff training to social media. It really was an amazing project to be a part of. I learned so incredibly much,” she says.
As the first phase of the new Australian currency campaign wrapped, Oxandaboure found a new role at the RBA that made use of her education background. She helped to stand up a new Public Access and Education department, working to help educators better teach economics and revitalize the country’s pipeline of new economics talent.
“It came full circle so beautifully. I was able to apply much of what I’d picked up at the San Francisco Fed to another central bank, and contribute to economic education at a global level,” she says.
In the midst of learning the landscape of the Australian economy and education system, Oxandaboure (and her husband) launched into yet another new adventure: parenthood. She was delighted that their son would start off life as an international kid like she once was.
However, living on the other side of the world proved difficult for the new baby’s grandparents. They convinced the new little family to return stateside, at least for a while.
The San Francisco Fed welcomed Oxandaboure back with open arms in the summer of 2018. She was gratified to find that the organization’s culture had shifted to increase employee empowerment and be more open.
“There’s been a lot of lip service to openness everywhere I’ve worked. Management will say, ‘My door is always open,’ but you get a different vibe when you show up. There was a bit of that here before, but it’s completely gone now. Everyone’s input is truly valued, and that’s tremendous,” she says.
Oxandaboure finds herself more willing to make suggestions and propose blue sky ideas that foster innovation, exploring practical constraints later.
“It’s a culture of experimentation. If you have an idea, voice it. Maybe we’ll give it a go,” she says. “What’s the harm in asking and exploring an idea’s potential?”
She and her family will continue their adventures. Their son got his passport before he was eight weeks old, has been to three countries already, and they have more trips on the horizon.
“The more you travel and experience different places, the more you realize we’re all working towards the same things,” she says. “Family. Stability. Upward mobility. Agency. It’s how we approach and express things that are different. We’ve enrolled our son in a Mandarin immersion preschool. I want different to be normal for him. I want him to seek out things that are new and different from himself because that holds so much value and potential for growth. No, neither my husband nor I speak Mandarin, but I expect we’ll learn!”
Oxandaboure sums it up: “In work and life, it’s important to stay open to possibilities and learn from everyone around you.”