Dr. Chris Brummer and Brian Brooks Discuss DC Fintech Week

Fintech Week DC, an annual financial tech conference designed to encourage dialogue between many major players in several areas of the industry, looked a little different in 2020.  Speakers and attendees from all over the globe met online to discuss all things fintech—including policy, current trends, and looking forward in the industry. 

One widely watched conversation was the interview of Acting Comptroller Brian Brooks by the event organizer, Chris Brummer of Georgetown University Law Center.  The conversation began with Dr. Chris Brummer asking Mr. Brooks to discuss some of the new recommendations and regulations coming from the OCC regarding cutting edge fintech issues like cryptocurrency. The discussion around this covered many of the finer points of policy, but the gist indicated that Brooks sees the role of regulators to be shifting. Rather than simply identifying new risks introduced by novel technologies, Brooks suggested that it was also incumbent on regulators to identify the new opportunities that accompanied them as well. 

Brooks first set the stage by acknowledging the inherent efficiencies of decentralized systems of banking (including cryptocurrencies and other kinds of digital financial systems). He observed that traditional banks have tended to avoid them due to risk aversion, and the fact that the technologies are new and often untested. After discussing and acknowledging some of these risks, including money laundering, compliance, and terrorism financing, he explained that as these decentralized networks are cheaper, faster, and more resilient, and over time there would likely be greater incentive for banks to participate in the new frontier, “so long as they can manage risk.”

The conversation continued with Brummer probing Brooks’s perspective. He nudged Comptroller Brooks to speak to the big picture and opine on where and how he felt cryptocurrencies might transform banking and financial services.  While Brooks was quick to point out that these technologies could be used in a variety of different ways (he compared the different technologies available to different communications apps on his phone — sometimes you want to use WhatsApp, sometimes Messages), Brooks went on to say that it might be helpful to consider how communications have evolved since the time when all messages had to be collected in a central location (a mail sorting facility) prior to arriving to their recipients. According to Brooks, banking is similarly tied by tradition to the notion that currency must come to a centralized location to be distributed, but that some elements of new financial technologies might make these traditional systems obsolete. 

Other panels in this year’s event spanned several different topic tracks including tracks focused on innovation, new technology, demonstrations, and diversity and equity within the fintech field. Speakers with a wide breadth of experience from around the world were able to come together to discuss these themes and challenge each other’s preconceived notions. Another exceptionally interesting panel probed whether or not “Stablecoins” were really stable, while on the final day of Fintech Week panels reckoned with what the industry looks like post-George Floyd protests and how the industry can better include and elevate women leaders. 

In all, whatever the challenges of COVID-19 and the obstacle of online participation, the conference in some ways outshined its earlier iterations.  For sure, key segments were no longer in person, either at Georgetown or on Capitol Hill.  That said, by going virtual, the DC Fintech Team could go global, and connect communities, speakers and leaders far beyond Washington.  Of the outcome of the event, Georgetown law professor and head event organizer, Dr. Chris Brummer, himself seemed please, and said “We were blown away by the thousands of participants worldwide, and delighted to push the conversation well beyond the beltway, and on a global scale.”

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