As The Fintech Times in September celebrates the Women in Fintech we take a moment to hear more from some of the leading females. One of them is Robin Nunn, is an innovative thought leader in the fintech industry who has served as trusted in-house and outside counsel to some of the world’s top financial institutions and enterprising startups, including Capital One and American Express.
Robin is now a partner at global law firm Morgan Lewis and advises clients on novel issues in new communication technologies, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, payments, artificial intelligence, and big data in matters of complex civil litigation, enforcement litigation, white-collar defence, transactional due diligence, creation and review of corporate compliance programs, and investigations.
Describe your career journey so far…
As the daughter of two lawyers who began their legal careers as civil rights attorneys in the southern state of Arkansas, I always wanted to pursue a career that would help those most in need. I joined the US State Department after college, spending time in Kenya, and later worked for a variety of public interest organizations in Chicago and New York City, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. (NAACP LDF). I ultimately decided to attend The University of Chicago Law School, where I had the opportunity to study under former US President Barack Obama because I believed I could make a greater impact in the world as a lawyer. After graduating, I clerked for the Honorable Barrington Parker, Jr. of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
It was during my initial experience in private practice, following my clerkship, that I became interested in financial services work. It was an exciting time, when technology and financial services were starting to intersect and new tools such as cryptocurrency and blockchain were being developed and introduced.
I eventually transitioned to an in-house counsel position at American Express and then Capital One, whereas in-house counsel I established and executed legal strategies for both the Fortune 500 companies’ legal departments, including on lawsuits and enforcement matters. I also counselled internal clients on legal issues across the business, including on cybersecurity, breach response, product design and launch, regulatory compliance, corporate governance, credit, operations, underwriting, and risk in a broad range of products including financial services, credit card, mortgage, auto, broker-dealer, and banking. As legal counsel for American Express and Capital One, I got the opportunity to work with strong brands with loyal followings in the ever-evolving mobile payments market and wallet adoption revolution, like ApplePay, Samsung Pay and Jawbone Pay. I also got to advise on facial recognition and wearable technology that formed the foundation for new mobile-payment and security features.
With the experience I gained at both companies, I returned to private practice for the opportunity to once again interface with a larger portfolio of clients in the fintech space. I served in leadership roles, including as chair of the consumer financial services group, at the two firms where I was a partner before joining Morgan Lewis earlier this month.
As a recognised thought leader and a female, what difficulties have you faced in your career?
Being a black woman in society brings distinct challenges due to structural discrimination and racism. Additionally, law is among the least diverse professions in the United States, and the fintech industry, in particular, has been dominated by white males historically.
As my career has progressed, I’ve come to realise that being black and a woman has both posed challenges and provided benefits to me. I strongly believe that many of my attributes, like strength and perseverance, which are often characterized as black female attributes, make me a more effective attorney and advocate.
Decades after entering the legal field as a young associate, I continue to be the only black woman involved in conversations on the majority of the fintech and legal issues I work on. My identity, unique in both the legal and financial services industries, brings unique approaches to solving complex problems. I am committed to ensuring that one day my voice will be one of many diverse voices moving the fintech industry forward.
One of the reasons I was attracted to Morgan Lewis is its well-established promotion and platforming of women. Earlier this year, the firm launched ML Women in Tech with the mission of promoting and supporting a community of women in technology, both within and outside of the firm. The initiative is just one way we harness the strength of our lawyers through partnerships with our clients to create new opportunities for growth and innovation and help them stay on top of developments and trends in technology.
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in the US related to your work in fintech?
I’m monitoring a number of developments critical to our clients in the US fintech space at the moment, including California’s new legislation that converts the state’s primary financial regulator, the Department of Business Oversight (DBO), into the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI). Through this legislation, Governor Gavin Newsom has weaponized a new agency with an enhanced prosecution tool in the form of a statute mirroring the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s authority under the Dodd-Frank Act and created a second consumer protection agency with respect to financial institutions, alongside the state’s already active attorney general. This increases the risks for both bank and non-bank financial institutions doing business in California — not only large commercial banks but also startup fintech platforms that must now contend with yet another threat to innovation.
Additionally, as we are seeing across most industries, innovation and fairness when dealing with consumers have become meaningful priorities for fintech and technology companies in general in the United States. Also in California, the home of many fintech companies, proposed legislation that would mandate diverse individuals be part of the boards of the largest companies is soon expected to be signed into law. We saw similar legislation in the state mandating that women have equal representation on corporate boards pass in 2018 on the heels of the #MeToo movement.
What career advice and recommendations do you want to give future female entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are based in the United States?
I would encourage female entrepreneurs and thought leaders to support and promote other women. Not every woman is in a position to do this, but those who can, should. I see Morgan Lewis Chair Jami McKeon as an excellent example.
Throughout her tenure as chair of the largest law firm in the world led by a woman, Jami has promoted women to leadership roles from advisory board members to practice group leaders and spearheaded the creation of our ML Women and ML Women in Tech initiatives. She served as a mentor to me for many years, and our relationship has had a real impact on my life, including most recently by bringing me to the firm.
I would also encourage young women to be their authentic selves at work, especially black women. I spent the early part of my career avoiding form-fitting clothes and pulling my hair back in an effort to appear more androgynous and look less like a black woman. However, I’ve come to recognize that diversity helps forward-thinking companies develop and position themselves as thought leaders. Young women should be proud to bring their authentic selves and their individual ideas and experiences to the table.