Jo Lang

Jo Lang

Director, Platform & Research at R3CEV LLC

New York City, New York

@ProofofJo & @R3CEV  |  LinkedIn Profile

What makes R3 unique in the FinTech space in your opinion?Notes

Founded and led by noted creative thought leader in financial markets innovation, David Rutter, R3 is composed of a highly specialized team of financial services industry veterans, technologists, financial markets experts and new tech entrepreneurs. We leverage our members’ decades of experience and deep networks within financial services and technology communities to empower innovators, promote industry collaboration and affect positive market transformation on a global scale. Currently we are focused on building industry partnerships globally on the premise that these technologies could positively transform the current industry-operating model across many lines of business. This effort has the potential to deliver improved security, controlled transparency and accessibility to both regulators and customers globally – while also substantially reducing costs and complexity for participating banks.

R3 has been in the FinTech news cycle quite a bit due to the partnerships with multiple global banks. Can you expand on this partnership approach and the type of use cases that will be included?

The level of interest our initiative has generated over the past two months has been tremendous, and the addition of so many new banks has allowed us to expand our reach both geographically and in terms of business expertise. Our membership includes banks from around the globe with business lines that span sales & trading, custody, corporate banking, trade finance, investment banking and retail. While it’s too soon to discuss the specifics of our use case work, we intend it to have a broad impact on the full range of our proposed architecture and technology.

Tell us a little bit about your role at R3.

Fittingly – given my love of research and information – I am leading our Research and Platform efforts. My research focuses primarily on crypto-technologies, global and regulatory standards and their applicability across the financial eco-system in both developed and emerging markets. I also work very closely with leading developers to perform security and system reviews, which take a non-biased view of these technologies and frame them within the context of a global financial institution and their requirements. In addition to research, I focus on developing tools and resources for our partners, both financial institutions and innovative fintech companies, so they can collaborate effectively and building analogous consensus!

You have a consulting background.  What sparked your interest in cryptocurrency?

My path into the world of crypto has been unconventional – even for a field that prides itself on being unconventional. Upon graduating from Swarthmore in 2011 with an honors degree in History and German, I believed that I wanted to get my PhD – or failing that, go to law school. I had spent summers teaching writing to elementary school students at the Harlem Children’s Zone and prior to that I had spent a summer writing horoscopes for a teen digital media company. My interest in technology was limited to my Blackberry, BBM, and whether or not I would make the switch to the Apple lifestyle. Ultimately, I decided to take a job as a business analyst at a boutique consulting firm which focused on services and technology for financial institutions and major insurance firms. I reapplied my love of learning and research to this new position. I found any opportunity to build subject matter expertise within the realm of wealth management and capital markets businesses, regulations and technology.

Then, about 18 months ago, I discovered blockchain and a love affair was born. I was already acutely aware of the challenges faced by major institutional firms trying to adapt to a stricter regulatory environment and the near constant fines. I may not have known how it would be done, but immediately I saw the potential for the application of blockchains and smart contracts to achieve more efficient and transparent collateral management – and that’s only the beginning. Six months later I left my job to pursue to the life of a crypto-nerd full time. During this time, I have had the privilege of meeting, debating and working with some of the most intelligent, passionate and creative individuals – both men and women. I am incredibly fortunate to have the support of my family – primarily my mother, who has not only provided guidance (whether solicited or not), but also has served as the ultimate role model of the high-powered career woman who makes things happen in a predominantly male industry. And she always makes sure I have the proper wardrobe for any occasion.

What do you believe will be the dominating business model for cryptocurrency companies and, in particular, those who look to potentially partner with larger-scale global banks?

Whether Bitcoin, blockchains, distributed ledgers or some as-yet-unknown technological innovation which will ‘win’ is besides the point. It’s just too early. What’s important at this stage is that major institutions are taking their heads out of the sand and not just watching these developments unfold, but actively engaging with the community as they take stock of their current operating models. Blockchains, like any market technology, require the network effect to have true impact. As a result, any real success will require active and tight collaboration among major institutions. At the same time, companies in the space should not underestimate the level of expertise and experience that banks have in-house. Keep in mind that we are dealing with people’s money and the procurement process is supposed to weed you out. You need to figure out how to use these innovations to your advantage, rather than try to work around them.

What advice would you provide to women who are seeking a career in Financial Services? What about the cryptocurrency space?

There is no silver bullet. There is a myriad of ways to get connected to the industry. However, I do my best to abide by two main principles that are equally applicable to men,  and woman and particularly critical because oftentimes as the minority, you are on display. This is especially true for millennials, as we have had a bit of a PR problem since entering the workforce.

My first principle is to put yourself out there – but always make sure you are prepared. This means taking the time to study, ask questions and build your knowledge base and your network. You would be surprised how often the ‘fun facts’ that I have gleaned over the years have come in handy. I have been known to go as far as to read a client’s annual report (although that may be overkill).  All joking aside, being prepared will help you to build confidence and seize opportunities to shine that may not be initially obvious. It also shows managers, peers and clients that you are engaged and willing to put in the time and effort.

My second principle is ‘always aim to behave in a way that won’t embarrass you later.’ I learned early on that the best way to take control of a situation is to take it in stride. Oftentimes this means accepting all feedback gracefully – even if you think it is dumb, mean-spirited or just plain wrong. You will have time to get angry later.  At worst, you will gain some kind of insight from the feedback (while throwing them off their game).  At best, you will get some meaningful and helpful advice from a trusted source, which you can use to guide yourself in the future. In all cases, you know that you can hold your head up high!

An April 2015 Fusion article focused on the lack of women in the Bitcoin community.  The article noted a study that claims the Bitcoin community is 96% male.  Do you agree with the article’s premise that crypto-currency, and in particular Bitcoin, is highly male-dominated and that this is holding back its broader consumer adoption?  

Personally, I think all of this is beside the point. My female friends that don’t hold Bitcoin aren’t rejecting it because it’s made by men. They are ignoring it because, for the most part, it has no bearing on how they live their life – and it certainly doesn’t simplify it! The same could be said for many of my male friends as well.

The real issue is how do we foster collaboration within organizations and communities and across geographies and demographics. Teams are now spread out globally; at R3 we currently have team members across five cities and three countries. We also have a team comprised of young entrepreneurs, academics and seasoned Wall Street veterans. Each of us brings a different perspective that is valid in its own right. But too often perspectives and opinions are sidelined because they do not align with the rest of the group – or even worse, they happen to come from the ‘wrong’ person. The key to R3’s success is the ability to integrate perspectives and points of view creatively. This is largely a credit to our leadership team and our CEO David Rutter.

What other areas of interest related to financial inclusion are you focused on?

Earlier this year I decided to found The Value Project, a (very!) new research initiative on the premise that the true potential of blockchains is not ‘to bank the unbanked’ but rather to digitize, secure, and automate existing banking practices and traditions in the developing world. The concept of value is fluid and we should better understand what other cultures see as valuable before building solutions that don’t deliver true value to the end-users. Uber, AirBnB, Instacart and a myriad of others have become wildly successful by seamlessly integrating and enhancing our existing lifestyles – because we value convenience so highly. Rather than build solutions which emulate familiar banking models, such as we see in the developed world, blockchains, mobile phones, and other new technologies presents the opportunity to build an entirely new, open eco-system of financial services that promotes security, convenience, and flexibility on a global scale.

 

About R3 CEV:

R3 is an innovation firm focused on building and empowering the next generation of global financial services technology.

We leverage our members’ decades of experience and deep networks within the financial services community to empower innovators, promote industry collaboration and affect positive market transformation on a global scale.

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