How has your background as the head of Financial Services at Shearman & Sterling lent itself to the firm’s FinTech Foundry program?
I’ve been practicing law in the financial services industry for over 25 years, and in order to remain relevant and add value, you need to be able to adapt to and anticipate changing needs of clients.
The FinTech Foundry embodies this principle. The core proposition of the FinTech Foundry is to support and serve the FinTech-related activities of our clients and the global FinTech ecosystem in a rapidly changing environment.
While technology today is evolving like never before, many of these new products and services are regulated under legacy legal frameworks. There are nuances for each product and service, but overall I have found that my background has enabled me to contextualize the legal implications of these technologies. Yes, the technologies are new, but the legal issues they raise are hardly ever truly novel. Rather, the existing frameworks need to be stretched or reworked to accommodate new ways of delivering financial services to expanded markets. Understanding the promise and practicalities of the new technologies is where the real fun starts!
FinTech Foundry was officially established September 2018 to be a platform for community support through networking, thought leadership, and mentorship and advice; how has the program grown over the past year and where do you foresee the program heading in the future?
Over the past year, we have really placed an emphasis on raising our profile within the FinTech industry through events, thought leadership and partnerships with some of the top ecosystem builders, including Empire Startups, NYC FinTech Women, Rise by Barclays, Innovate Finance and the U.K. Department for International Trade, among others.
We have well-established and deep relationships with the financial services industry. Next year, we want to continue building our brand as a trusted advisor to early-stage FinTech companies through our FinTech Advisory program and Emerging Growth practice and building relationships with the FinTech venture capital and investor communities. We also have one of the world’s top global regulatory advisory practices, so we hope to continue seeing work helping FinTechs navigate global regulatory frameworks as they continue to scale.
What type of FinTech companies have you worked with as part of the FinTech Foundry program? Is Shearman & Sterling looking for certain types of companies to join their community?
We have worked with a number of companies touching almost every vertical within the FinTech industry, including those with products focused on payments, remittance, digital assets, AI, big data and RegTech, to name a few. Our attorneys’ diverse wealth of knowledge gives us the ability to take on companies in all verticals within the FinTech space, and our FinTech Advisory program allows us to create custom pricing packages for early-stage companies, in addition to our work with later-stage high growth companies. What is great about our firm is that we have the ability to work with FinTech companies from inception, when they are forming their company, all the way through a potential exit strategy.
How has regulation affected the FinTech space, and how do you navigate FinTech companies through these regulatory landscapes?
Regulation can be a significant burden for a growing FinTech. Not only is navigating this landscape complicated in large part due to the number of federal regulators and dual state-federal regulatory system, but it can also impose significant costs on FinTechs that are trying to conserve their runway. However, regulatory compliance can also be a differentiator for emerging FinTech companies. Those that dedicate the resources early-on-set themselves up for smoother discussions with investors and a more robust sales process or IPO.
When advising companies, I recommend engaging with regulators as early as possible in order to understand any compliance issues that may arise, both now and as part of the company’s future plans. This allows companies to be proactive and to get ahead of any potential issues that could prove stumbling blocks down the road if unaddressed.
How has FinTech changed the landscape of traditional banking, and how do you think it will further change these sectors?
For the banks, FinTech is both an opportunity and a challenge. FinTech represents an opportunity for banks to improve processes and upgrade legacy systems through licensing, partnerships and strategic acquisitions. However, a number of FinTechs are trying to disrupt the banking sector, meaning the incumbents must act quickly and continue to adapt in order to maintain their market share against the challenger banks.
In 2018 you made the Innovate Finance’s Women in FinTech Powerlist; what did this award mean for you?
I think it really speaks to the work the firm has done in this space. While I head the initiative, it has been great to see the excitement and interest that we have been able to drum up with attorneys across the entire firm.
As the head of Shearman Women, our women’s initiative at the firm, it is also great to see the impact that so many amazing women have had on an industry that has traditionally been dominated by men.
Being recognized for initiatives that are so important to me was a great honor, and I can’t wait to continue working on these initiatives for the years to come!
Reach out to Donna on LinkedIn.