A Conversation with Joel Telpner about Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC), Blockchain, Career Advice and More!
(Listed below is an edited transcript of Joel Telpner's conversation with Dan Carmody)
Dan Carmody: Hi. Welcome to another episode of FinTech Intellects in-depth interviews. My name is Dan Carmody and I'm the Executive Director of TreaSolution and I'm really pleased to be joined today with Joel Telpner, who is a senior partner with Sullivan & Worcester, which is a law firm based out of Boston. But I believe Joel works out of New York. So welcome, Joel. Thanks for joining me today.
Joel Teplner: Thank you. But I thought you were supposed to be talking to fintech intellects. So, I'm not sure I should be actually participating in this, but I'll do my best.
Dan Carmody: Well, I would beg to differ. You are in charge of the fintech and blockchain practice at the firm… so you qualify. So thrilled to have you on the line today and to talk with you. Joel, tell me a little bit about Sullivan & Worcester and specifically what you do for the fintech and blockchain practice.
Joel Teplner: We are a global law firm, a mid-sized law firm that started in Boston. We have offices besides Boston, New York, Washington, London and Tel Aviv. I run the FinTech and practice group for the firm and it is a corporate practice where the focus of the clients that we work with are primarily folks that are doing things in the fintech space. A lot of what I do involves a lot of startups or early stage companies that are looking at blockchain technologies and looking at how they can reinvent or change the world or do things differently using blockchain.
A lot of the activity or focus on blockchain happens to involve financial services and there's a strong correlation between financial technology or fintech and blockchain. The common denominator is looking at new technologies and how we can disrupt the way people do business right now using blockchain and related types of technologies.
Dan Carmody: That's great. Would you say that your clients are primarily financial institutions, startup services, a combination of all of the above?
Joel Teplner: Some of the clients are just early stage companies that are trying to come up with new technology products were blockchain may be playing some type of role. Some of the clients are private equity or venture capital firms that are looking at investing in the space or are looking at using what are called "Digitized Tokens" to actually go out into the market with their own fund interest, but in a new form. Some of the clients are what I would call intermediary service providers.
People are trying to create things like trading platforms or exchanges for the blockchain space. And then we have some government clients. So, it's really diverse because you've got a lot of different players looking at how they can use blockchain for all kinds of different reasons. So that makes it both fun and challenging because every day tends to be different from every other day.
Dan Carmody: You and I started talking a few months back. You submitted a presentation to be a speaker at the upcoming U.S. FinTech Symposium. For everyone that's new to FinTech Intellects, TreaSolution produces the U.S. FinTech Symposium. I'll put a link down below in the description for people who are interested in viewing that website. You and I started talking about speaking at the event and you were going to talk about Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) which is a really hot topic. Can you tell us a little bit more about what they are, what are their use cases and things along those lines?
Joel Teplner: Fundamentally, what a lot of governments are looking at is "Can we take our currency that was created on paper in coinage form, that was cutting edge technology and now take advantage of where the world is now and create it in a completely virtual form?" Why is this happening now?
Well, a couple of things. One, this is how blockchain technology ties into it, because blockchain technology allows us to create a way to manage, store and verify data in a verifiable, immutable fashion that creates this system that we didn't have before. If we're going to have money that exists in only digital form, we need to be able to figure out how we move it from one person to another, how we track who owns it, how we figure out who's entitled to that money. Blockchain technology creates a really interesting, and over time, efficient way to do all of that. So as a result, central banks and governments are starting to look at can we take advantage new blockchain technology and issue our currency in a digital form?
That means a couple of things, because right now governments and central banks are looking at different ways that we could do this. Without getting way too far into the weeds, let's talk just a little bit about a couple of different ways that this type of digital currency could exist. One way is that all of us could have direct accounts with a central bank. That could mean that instead of us having an account at Citibank or JP Morgan, we'd all have an account directly at the Fed (the US Federal Reserve). Our account at the Fed would hold our dollars in digital form and we'd be able to make deposits and withdrawals. We would transfer, for example, that virtual currency from our account at the Fed into our smartphone or into our smart card and then we'd go out and spend the money. Just like we always do now by just walking into a store or walking into a Starbucks and saying, "Here's my virtual money. Here's my phone." Not completely dissimilar to the way Apple Pay, for example, works, but we would be linking directly to the central bank.
Another way that we could potentially do this is for a central bank to create a digital currency, but still require us to access that digital currency through commercial banks the way we do now. We would still have deposits in accounts and checking accounts in commercial banks, but that in turn would be backed by the commercial bank having corresponding deposits in the central bank. So indirectly we still have the virtual currency from the central bank but we're doing it through the commercial bank, acting as an intermediary. Which way that goes will depend in part on a number of factors, including the extent to which we want to continue to be able to empower central and commercial banks to perform activities like lending activities and so on, that require these deposit accounts as a means to provide the capital for commercial banks to do the things that they do.
There's a third structure in which a central bank actually creates a representative value of the fiat currency. Instead of it being a direct issuance, for example, the Fed takes a bucket of dollars and puts the dollars into an account. Then (the Fed) issues a digital currency that is backed one-to-one by that bucket of dollars. What you've got now in this case is an obligation, a debt instrument of a central government that is backed by the underlying currency. So, right now, we're looking at different ways to create Central Bank Digital Currencies.
The other thing that governments and central banks are looking at is whether it gets rolled out only at a so-called wholesale level or at a retail level. Initially, it may be the technological complexities of creating Central Banks Digital Currency that (cause it to be) used at a wholesale level. Like the interbank payment mechanism. Because to get (CBDCs) into the hands of individuals we have to be able to not only create this digital currency that we can track on a blockchain, but we have to be able to integrate it with things like smartphones and smart cards. (We need to) create systems that addresses what happens if you lose your phone or if you lose your smart card. We have to have people be able to use it and access it without having certain level of technical expertise. We can't say to people, "Oh, by the way, you can have your money in digital form, but you have to learn how to create a private key and you have to learn how to store it and you have to learn cryptography." We can't expect people to adopt digital currency if we can't make it something to use as simple as turning on your smartphone.
We've got a long way to go. But that's what governments are looking at now. They're experimenting. The pandemic has really accelerated that process, for all kinds of reasons, that I think are fascinating too to look at and talk about.
Dan Carmody: I was reading recently that people are estimating that digital adoption of financial services has been accelerated by about five years primarily because of the pandemic.
Joel Teplner: Currency itself is a terrible carrier of bacteria and germs. If we can access money without having to leave your home or without having to go into public areas were social distancing becomes a concern. That's an important factor. Other factors are things like the CARES ACT. A lot of people in the United States got their $1200 checks. There were a number of cases where the checks didn't make it to the right person. The checks got lost, the checks got stolen, the checks were issued to people that were dead or weren't entitled to it. All of those problems could have been addressed so much better if we were using a digital means. Taking a Central Bank Digital Currency and directly giving it to individuals that were able to prove through blockchain technology ,1.) Who they were, and 2.) that they were actually entitled to that payment. We could have made that process so much more efficient.
There's a third factor, and this probably is less driven by the pandemic, but it is a really important driver especially when we go beyond advanced countries like the United States and the EU. We start to look at emerging market and developing countries. In those countries access to banking, things that we take for granted, is very hard. You may have situations where people live in locations that don't even have a bank within proximity to where they live. They literally would have to go hundreds of miles. They just want to be able to go into a bank and utilize bank services. On top of that a lot of emerging or developing market countries, banks are not interested in servicing a lot of poor or individuals within those markets. So, the access to banks and banking services are often limited to the wealthy within that country.
When you look at those two factors together and you go into the emerging market, developing market, part of the world, there are a lot of people that just don't have access to banks. Therefore (they) don't access to financial services into the global economy. We're sidelining millions and millions of people that that could be part of the global economic structure. Using digital currency over time allows us to, in effect, democratize access to money and to finance and to really empower people and to improve the global economic circumstances for everybody. On a long-term basis, it could completely change the economic profile of a lot of emerging markets, developing countries, or at least the citizens of those countries. That's really cool.
Dan Carmody: It sounds like there's a lot of potential, a lot of potential benefits with something like this. But with every benefit, there are always challenges and downsides. Are there any downsides to looking at a structure like this? Are there any challenges, (such as) internet access across the globe, things of that nature?
Joel Teplner: Let's talk about some of the challenges first then will come back and talk about downside. The challenges are we're talking about technology and so this can only work if people have access to the internet, have access to smartphones, and are in a place where there's Wi-Fi. If you can't bring the technology to people, then this does no good. That's why I say when you roll it out at the retail level part of it is an old fashioned hardware play as well where you've got to make sure people have access to laptops or to smartphones and Wi-Fi. While we're getting there, it's going to take a long time.
The best example as to how you do that is to look at some of the countries in Africa that didn't have the traditional landline telecommunication systems that we're used to. They were able to leapfrog that that issue by immediately going into cell phone technology.
Dan Carmody: Are you referring Kenya with M-Pesa?
Joel Teplner: Exactly. They were able to roll out a cell phone network as compared to wiring an entire country with landlines. It's cheaper and faster. They were able to do that. Once you start to do things like that, you can bring the technology down to the level of individuals in those locations that make it possible then to give them access to digital currency. But again, it's going to take a while. It's not going to happen overnight, but it's promising.
I also want to talk about one of the downsides or negatives, because money, if we look at traditional money, paper money, it's dumb. What I mean is that it doesn't do anything other than you can spend it because it is inert and it's just a physical piece of paper. If we don't want to track it, we don't have to. And so that creates problems. When we're talking about Central Bank Digital Currency, or similar types of things, we're talking about ultimately computer code. Computer code that exists on a blockchain, which sometimes you call smart contracts. The most important element is that because it's computer code, we can build things into it.
In other words, we can build into the virtual currency or the digital currency, not only the ability to look at where the transactions are going and what's being spent where and how. But we can tie an identity into it so that you can verify it's your money and not somebody else's. So, you could walk into a grocery store and, using Central Bank Digital Currency that's tied in your smartphone and tied to your identity, just walk up to the clerk and hold up the phone to pay. It would automatically, among other things, verify to the clerk, for example, that you're over 21 and you're entitled to buy beer.
Once we convert money from being dumb money to smart money, we can convert into it the ability to do other things like track and manage identity. Which makes it easier to transact. Makes it easier to protect yourself from losing your money. But it also means that if I choose the wrong way, it makes it easier for governments to kind of monitor what you're doing. How are you spending your money? Where you're spending your money? Who are you giving your money to? Are you buying things that you should be buying or are you buying things that maybe you shouldn't be buying? And so there is concern when countries like China, which are moving forward aggressively to create a Central Bank Digital Currency, are potentially looking at how they can embed within that Central Bank Digital Currency, the ability to monitor transactions, monitor activities of their citizens. Because if you monitor how people spend their money, that's one of the most significant ways you can monitor what people in your country are doing day in and day out.
So, the downside is that governments could use a Central Bank Digital Currency as a way to monitor their citizens in a way that most of us, at least I know, I wouldn't like. That's a potential negative if there are no controls imposed upon a government, if a government forces you to transact with digital currency. They get rid of all of their paper and coins and then they start to monitor what you're doing. That's a bad thing.
Dan Carmody: Do you think do you think cash will go away?
Joel Teplner: Someday, it probably will. I think we're a ways off, but it doesn't make sense. Cash is an old concept and we don't need it. It's costly to print. It's costly to protect. You know, it creates a relatively easy means for people engaging in money laundering or other illegal activities. And, as we've seen in the pandemic, it also has some health-related concerns as well.
The notion of having cash just makes no sense. It's really a question of the transition period. If you go back and look at the evolution of Internet in the mid-90s when it took 10 minutes for page to download with your dial-up modem. Where virtually nobody had laptops because laptops were either too heavy to carry around or too expensive. People weren't thinking that we could have a virtual universe the way we do now and conduct meetings over Zoom as we do. Nobody was thinking that because they'd say, "No, the internet's way too clunky, way too slow, way too expensive, way too inefficient. That's not going to happen."
We're kind of at that stage with blockchain technology. It's still pretty early in the world of blockchain and so we've got a long way to go to develop the technology, to get to the point where we can truly replace cash. But the technological developments, with respect to where blockchain is going, are happening at a much more rapid pace than how the Internet evolved. Everything is just much quicker now as far as how fast the technology moves forward. So, we're going to get there.
Dan Carmody: You're saying that blockchain now is like the Internet at a 5600 baud modem?
Joel Teplner: Yeah. There are different types of blockchains that use different types of technology to achieve the way they manage data and distribute data. Most blockchains suffer from similar problems, which is that the amount of data that can be added to the blockchain at a given time is fairly small. If you're looking at financial transactions and you can only process a few hundred transactions in a second, given, for example, Visa, that can process fifty thousand transactions per second, you've got to really be able to up your game in order to be able to create a robust system that's going to be used for payments among individuals and companies.
The second problem is that right now, blockchain technology requires a lot of energy to operate. The process of blockchain technology, which is taking a what's called a distributed ledger (a way of storing data on a distributed basis) is combined with a cryptology mechanism that creates the way that (blockchains) protect data and make sure that it can't be hacked, modified or tampered with.
The cryptology process right now that most blockchains use requires a huge amount of computer power and energy in order to create the cryptography mechanism that allows (blockchains) to continually add data. We've got to solve the energy problem. We've got to solve the amount of data that can be stored on the blockchain. We've got to solve the speed at which transactions can be processed in order for us to really make blockchain a feasible solution and for central banks to be able to utilize it to issue and track their digital currency.
Again, we're probably in the blockchain world where we were in the Internet world back in the mid-90s where the Internet would be too slow to do the types of things that we do with it now. If we fast forward 25 years, the things that we can do (today) using Internet technology, people would have thought it was crazy back in the mid-90s. So Blockchain will get there to.
Dan Carmody: Sure. Let's go back into the past now. You studied undergrad at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Went on to get a law degree from the same university. If I'm not mistaken?
Joel Teplner: That's right.
Dan Carmody: A handful of years later, an MBA from Wharton.
Joel Teplner: Right.
Dan Carmody: Can you tell us a little bit about your career path? How did it migrate, if you will, from Iowa City to New York City and everywhere in between?
Joel Teplner: Either I'm really good at it reinventing myself or I just can't hold a job. I'm from Iowa, which is why I went to both undergrad and law school in Iowa City. It's great school. But I mean, that was the reason I was there. I wanted to go to law school. I really wanted to come to some East Coast law schools. But I was paying for it myself and the difference between paying for in-state tuition at the University of Iowa College of Law and paying for a private school on the East Coast was way beyond my means.
I decided that notwithstanding the fact that I went to school in Iowa, I really wanted to come to the east coast to work. I figured in the worst-case scenario, I can work in New York for a couple of years. If I don't like it, I'll move back to somewhere in the Midwest. Once I got to New York, I kind of forgot to leave. There weren't many, as you can imagine, law firms from New York that actually came all the way out to Iowa to interview. But there were a few. I was fortunate enough to get one of those New York firms to actually take a chance and hire me.
I came to New York. Part of the motivation for because I wanted to do international law, whatever that means or whatever it was. I was at a firm called Sherman and Sterling. One of the reasons I went to Sherman was because they had this network of offices around the world. I thought, "Well, maybe if I get lucky enough, I can work overseas."
Two things I want to mention about that. 1.) Is that when I interviewed at Sherman, the first thing that the partner that I met with asked me was, "So why should we hire an unknown quantity from an unknown law school?" Iowa wasn't actually the most prevalent law school of choice for New York law firms. But again, somehow, I got hired. Once I was a Sherman, I really started lobbying to go overseas. I kept trying to tell the powers that be that I wanted to go to London. One day the Head of the M&A Group came up to me and said, "You know, we need a senior level associate who has both finance and M&A practice in Paris. Would you like to go to Paris?" And I said, "Sure, but I don't speak French." And he said, "Ah, you'll learn." So they sent me to Paris.
Dan Carmody: Minor technicality. Minor.
Joel Teplner: Yeah.
Dan Carmody: Yeah.
Joel Teplner: I got there and realized after my first week the heel of my shoe broke. I had no idea how to walk into a shoe store and say, "Hey, I need a new heel." So I had to point. I learned over time enough French to survive. Spent a couple of years there.
When I came back from Paris, I left Shearman Sterling to become the U.S. General Counsel of a global French investment bank that was building out their U.S. operations. They were looking for somebody that had this connection to France and could work with both, the felt, Americans and French and interact with the Home Office in Paris.
I had all the right qualifications after having spent a couple of years in Paris. For me, it was an opportunity to jump into a General Counsel role at a fairly young age without having to go through a number of intermediate steps. So I left Shearman became the General Counsel of what was called "Caisse de Depots" at the time. Now it's "Natixis" and I help them launch a lot of their capital markets on structured finance businesses. A lot of what they were doing involved all kinds of really complex structured finance and derivatives transactions.
As I grew the legal department and as the type of transactions continue to get more complex, I started to think about the need to better understand some of the business side of what I was doing. So, I approached the bank and said, "Hey, I'd like to go back and get an MBA at an executive MBA program and I'm going to need to take a lot of time off to do it. And by the way it's real expensive. Would you pay for it?" And somehow, they agreed to do it. So, while I was working full time in this general counsel job, I was going back and forth to Philadelphia from New York to do the Wharton MBA program. Which between a full time GC job and that was probably the hardest two years of my life but also the most rewarding.
This was in the late 90s. This was also during the time where we were having the real tech boom before the dotcom bubble boom. I took a venture capital class at Wharton and it was taught by a VC partner. He said, "Anybody that's interested in getting involved in venture capital come see me." I thought it was fascinating. So, I went talk to him. He said, "So what do you do?" And I said, "I'm a lawyer." He said, "Well, you'll never be a venture capitalist." So, you know, well… I said a few expletives.
Dan Carmody: Were you ever able to find out what was his motivation?
Joel Teplner: That lawyers can't be good businesspeople. (Lawyers) can never understand what you need to do as a businessperson to be VCs and to have to be creative and think on your feet, all of those things.
A lot of corporations, including my bank, were looking at potentially getting started in the VC space because, again, it was very hot. Captive venture capital firms were one of the things that were of interest and they asked me to look into it. So, I started looking around it. Who else had created, were creating or had created a venture capital firm?
I came across Koch Industries. The Koch brothers, infamous you know, either you love them or you think they're the evil empire. In any event, Koch Industries was looking at starting a captive venture capital arm and they had hired one person who was a Wharton grad. And I'm thinking, "Oh, well, that's interesting." Since I just finished my Wharton program and I reached out and talked to him and he put me in touch with the right people.
The position they were looking for was somebody who was going to be both a Managing Director on the business side, but also be responsible for the legal needs for the group. They wanted somebody that both had a JD and MBA. I'm clicking that box. They wanted somebody that had both in-house and law firm experience. I'm clicking that box. They wanted somebody that had spent time doing finance and corporate work. I was checking that box.
Here was the clincher. So, in addition to the fact that the first hire was a Wharton grad, there was a dotted line back to Koch Ventures the parent company, with respect to liaising on the legal side. The person that I would have I would have to liaise with on the legal side was the University of Iowa College of Law grad! So, at this point, I said, "Well, clearly this is my job! They actually wrote the job description for me!" I interviewed with them and six months after having completed the Wharton program, I was a Managing Director in a venture capital firm.
I left New York. We launched in Scottsdale, Arizona, of all places. There was a logic to that madness in that, again, the tech market was very hot at that point. We didn't think it would make sense to go directly to Silicon Valley and try to compete with the big boys like Kleiner Perkins. We looked at a map and we geographically drew a semicircle and that covered San Diego, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas, Houston. We looked at all of those markets that we felt were being underserved by Silicon Valley but had a lot of interesting things happening. Phoenix or Scottsdale was one of the points that was right there at the base of that semicircle. So, we set up there.
We were fairly technology agnostic, but we tried not to primarily focus on that geographic area, although we did have some investments outside of that. That was our primary focus. I spent a couple of years having the most fun I've ever had as a Managing Director. Helping to find businesses for us to invest in, making the investment decisions, sitting on boards and startups. It was great.
But then we had 9/11, the dotcom bubble burst, for a number of reasons Koch Industries decided to pull the plug on Koch Ventures and shut it down. They actually asked me to stay on for a while to help unwind everything. So, I did. You know we were going through a recession after 9/11. I'm sitting in Scottsdale, and I say, "Now what do I do?" So, I came back to New York and decided to go back into private practice.
I went back to the folks at CDC where I had been the general counsel, and, you know, I was nice enough to pay them back for spending all that money on my education by leaving them. But I came back to them and said, "Hey, I'm thinking about coming back to New York. I want to come back to a law firm as partner." The only way that I'm going to get into a law firm is if I can guarantee them a book of business. And I said to the CDC, "Would you guys be willing to give me business if I came back?" And they surprisingly said, "Yes." I said, "Do you think you'd be willing to guarantee at least seven figures of business my first year?" And they said, "Yes." So, I was able to come back to New York, join a law firm, because I had CDC saying that they would give me at least a million dollars worth of business my first year. I came back into private practice and was primarily doing structured finance derivatives because that's what I was doing before I had gone to Arizona. So, I kind of moved right back into that space. That takes me up now to 2014.
In 2014, I was at Jones Day, a huge law firm, 2400 people all over the world, and doing primarily structured finance and derivatives. A colleague of mine, a litigator, got a call from the company Overstock. And at Overstock, he knew a consultant working for them and the consultant said to him, "Hey, Overstock wants to issue a security on a blockchain. They're using another law firm. They're not happy with him. Can you guys do it?" And the litigators said to his friend, "Dude, I don't even know what the hell you're talking about!" Because, again, this is early 2014. So, he called me and he said, "Hey, Joel, can we do this?" And I said, "Let me get back to tomorrow." I kid you not, I went home and I'm sitting at home that night and Googling "What is blockchain?" At least now the Internet's fast. We've got Google. So 2014, I'm trying to figure out everything that I need to know about blockchain.
I go back to the next day and I said to the litigator, "Well, you know, I'm not sure if the Overstock people want to talk to us. Let's at least meet with them. What have we got to lose?" The (Overstock) executive team flew in from Salt Lake City, and I don't know, they hired us. I spent most of the next two years of my life working on this project because nobody had ever done something like issuing an equity security and a blockchain. We spent hours and hours and hours working with the SEC and FINRA, just trying to explain what it is we were trying to do and trying to figure out how issuing and trading the security on the blockchain would work within our existing regulatory framework that the security transactions. It was really complicated. Nobody had ever done this before. There were really no laws. There is no precedent. It took two years until this everything got approved by the regulators. We went to market in the fall of 2016.
By this time, I spent all of this time on this really cool stuff, blockchain technology. A lot of what I was doing wasn't really traditional legal work because there were no laws, there were no regulations, there are no precedents. This is kind of like going back to what I was doing on the VC side. It was so cool. It was so much fun. It was so fascinating. When that deal went to market, I left Jones Day and came to Sullivan.
By comparison, Sullivan's only got, I don't know, maybe two hundred twenty lawyers. We're a tiny speck compared to Jones Day. But the difference is that at Sullivan I can work with a lot of smaller, early stage tech companies, with startup companies, with players that are trying to do stuff in the space. It was a great opportunity for me to come in and launch Sullivan's fintech and watching practice. Get to work in this cool area and go down the rabbit hole wherever it takes me. But the one great thing about it is that no two days are like now. I've always got people knocking on my door, smart younger people typically younger than me that are really smart and have these great ideas. They're looking at how this technology is going to reinvent the world and I get to help them do that. And that's, you know, that's such a great thing.
Dan Carmody: Yeah, that's it sounds like it's an interesting story. You're making a lot of moves, both physically and within your career. Right? I'm wondering for the people that are listening, can you distill down maybe one or two bits of advice that have worked well for you throughout your career that that you might be willing to share?
Joel Teplner: Yeah, I think two things. But I mean, one is just personality (related). If I look at lawyers... A lot of lawyers like certainty. They're in their narrow field and that's what they do. They do that really well. So, if you don't like uncertainty and you don't like change, probably what I'm going to say is not that helpful.
The most important thing is to look at the world, not from the straight line, but sideways sometimes to be able to look around corners. Know that whatever you're doing now is probably not what you're going to be doing five years from now. None of what I'm doing now existed when I was in law school. The concept of derivative transactions, all the things that I was doing didn't exist. The structured finance I was doing... didn't exist. The tech things I was doing in the VC firm utilizing early Internet technology didn't exist. Blockchain didn't exist. So, if you planned a career based upon only doing what you know now, unless you're happy never ever changing, it doesn't work. You've just got to accept the notion that most of what you're going to do throughout your career are going to be things that you could have never contemplated. You didn't know were going to be there. Weren't happening at the time.
Look for what excites you. Look for what makes you happy and constantly be willing to look around that corner and say, "Hey, wait a minute, that's interesting! Maybe I should look more at that." If you happen to have a personality where you're comfortable with taking some risk and living with some level of uncertainty, then combine the two together and always see where that next adventure is going to take you.
Dan Carmody: Some of the things that I was able to extract from your stories are a comfort with pursuing innovation and ambiguity.
Joel Teplner: And by the by the way, I will be the first to admit that there are also financial risks. If perhaps if I had stayed at a law firm and been a partner, I'd never done these other things. I would have made more money throughout my career. Because when you start over and, for example, you’re at a venture capital firm and then the firm shuts down and then you have to start over again. That involves financial setbacks as well. You have to be willing and comfortable to recognize that a non-linear path may be non-linear as far as the financial renumeration. But over time, when you stick to it, I still think it all pays off in the end.
Dan Carmody: Yeah. I'm a big fan of defining your own success, and that doesn't necessarily always correlate to the amount of money that you make.
Joel Teplner: I totally agree with that. Obviously, everybody needs to be comfortable. But success is about passion and what makes you happy. It's not only money.
Dan Carmody: That's great. Thanks for sharing that. I know that you brought a very interesting back story to the table, so I wanted to explore that a bit.
Joel Teplner: The perfect example of somebody who can't hold down a job...
Dan Carmody: That it sounds like an example of someone who is diving into really interesting things. So at least for my two cents. But let's bring it back to the present. You end up at Sullivan & Worcester and what you're doing now is you speak with fintech and blockchain entrepreneurs all the time, it sounds like. I'd love to hear your opinions as to what you think is really interesting in the fintech space now. Is there anything, like you were mentioning “around the corner” that you have an eye on that you think might be innovative and worth discussion?
Joel Teplner: In any technology cycle, you've always got hype, boom and bust, and then what comes up after the crash... And we've seen that in Blockchain. We saw the so-called ICO boom and bust. All these people doing what we call the Initial Coin Offerings, issuing different types of cryptocurrency, a lot of which were nonsense. Some of which were fraudulent, some of which were just poorly thought out projects and ideas. What's emerged from that are a lot more interested in serious endeavors that utilize blockchain technology to see how we can move things forward. On the fintech side, as we talked about, Central Bank Digital Currencies is a great example. Doing other things to create payment systems and finance systems that may bypass banks to the extent that regulations permit. (These) are things that people are working on quite extensively in order to bring financial inclusion, especially to people in emerging developing markets that don't have traditional banking. It's not just Central Bank Digital Currency projects, but it's also people looking at, "Can we create other types of payment systems or access to financial services that bypass banks?" If banks aren't going to serve those people, can we do it without going around the banking system? We see a lot of that happening.
Dan Carmody: It seems like the future has a ton of opportunities available to it when you look at blockchain and the exponential growth of this technology over the next three years. Well, Joe, thank you. Thank you for your time. I very much appreciate you participating in this long form interview. I enjoy this because we're able to dive into the details and take tangents. That's always interesting. Really appreciate your thoughts, your opinions, your wisdom over the years and sharing it with us. Thanks so much for joining us.
Joel Teplner: My pleasure. Looking forward to seeing you in person one of these days.
Dan Carmody: Likewise. At the next U.S. FinTech Symposium?
Joel Teplner: Yes, exactly.
Dan Carmody: All right, Joel, thanks so much. Take care.
Joel Teplner: Thank you.
Connect with Dan on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danieljcarmody/
No hype... just intelligent conversations about financial technology.