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Treasury & Tech: Former U.S. CTO to Keynote CTC Forum

  • By Andrew Deichler
  • Published: 4/30/2015
To stay ahead of the game, today’s treasurers must keep pace with the latest developments in treasury management systems, payments, cybersecurity and more. That’s why the theme of the upcoming CTC Corporate Treasurers Forum, May 27-29 at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, is “Treasury in the Information Age.” And who better to keynote such an event than Aneesh Chopra, the first Chief Technology Officer of the United States?

In his former role as CTO, Chopra led the Obama Administration’s initiatives for a more innovative, technology-friendly government. He developed an “open innovation” strategy that encouraged public and private sector collaboration on data, standards and staffing “lean government startups.”

Chopra, who stepped down as U.S. CTO in 2012, recently spoke with AFP to discuss his upcoming session and his past experiences.

AFP: You were the first U.S. Chief Technology Officer. Can you tell us what that role was like? What did you focus on?

Aneesh Chopra:
There were three things that I did. I focused on opening up more government data to the private sector so people can collaborate. I advised the president on, basically, broadband infrastructure; since we had the [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009], we looked at how to allocate about $100 million to modernize the economy. And perhaps most relevant to your treasury folks, I was pretty active on cybersecurity; I helped write the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and was responsible for a lot of our cybersecurity agenda.

AFP: Cybersecurity is clearly a top priority for treasury and finance professionals today. As someone who has seen cyberattacks waged at the government firsthand, is there any advice you can give corporate treasurers about what they should do to mitigate some of the threats they are seeing today?

You can’t do it alone. What I mean by that is, sharing the threat information, sharing your own experiences and benefiting from other experiences is the central idea to solve the issue going forward. The House just passed a cybersecurity bill, the president has spoken on it—but there’s still a longstanding discussion about how to share information without violating privacy.   

AFP: Treasury processes are going through an evolution, particularly when it comes to payments. Accounts payable and accounts receivable are going electronic, the Federal Reserve is working on a faster payments system, NACHA is pursuing same day settlement, retailers are exploring mobile payments, countries are moving to the ISO 20022 standard, etc. During your time as U.S. CTO, did you see this evolution begin to take shape?

I had spoken at [the NACHA Payments Conference] when I was White House CTO, and one of the points I made at the time was how we, ourselves, in the government were trying to modernize our payment systems through open data and open standards. We spend a lot of money on financial transactions in the government, and I challenged the NACHA community to build a payments system that could help us lower the transaction costs and expand the quality of the transactions to reduce fraud and increase productivity.  

When I worked as the Secretary of Technology for Virginia, one of the challenges on payments was, as people were moving more and more of their transactions to the web, the fees were pretty high. That was a barrier for a lot of folks. Some localities found a way to get to a no-fee system to make it happen. So I issued the challenge at NACHA to say, ‘Can you standardize and improve upon low-cost ways to do cashless transactions?’ Cashless transactions have been the objective for everybody, but these transaction costs were the barrier. There continue to be ongoing efforts in the government through the e-payments initiative—but it’s all playing catch-up to the private sector.

AFP: One of the recurring themes we continue to hear about as we talk with treasurers is, after the Great Recession, many businesses didn’t immediately begin hiring again and instead looked at technology as a solution to help them deal with the slow turnaround. But the other side of that is, how do you assess the decisions on bringing in more technology with the internal and external risks that they present?  

Chopra: This was the center of the discussion when we tried to modernize [the government’s] operations. We had to grapple with these same judgments. You cannot do the digital part of the business unless you answer two fundamental questions: how you protect the data, and how you open it to maximize the additional value beyond just the obligation. Automation is one thing, but now there are more strategic questions you should ask, such as how it will help us get a better understanding of the health of the organization, what we’re spending money on, etc. That information is often captured as metadata in the additional systems.

Register for the CTC Corporate Treasurers Forum here.

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