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Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Dec 23, 2015

My conversation with Chuck Harris, President of NetSpend, is our final episode for 2015. Thinking back on the brief eight months since we launched Barefoot Innovation, I’m struck by the enormous terrain we’ve covered. As we start into the new year, I’ll be sharing my own thoughts on what I’ve been learning from these discussions.  

For now, though, enjoy listening to Chuck Harris, who touched on many of the major themes we have explored so far: the rise of fintech, prepaid cards, mobile platforms, mission-oriented companies, non-bank providers, partnerships, financial inclusion the underserved and underestimated consumers, regulatory challenges, uncertainty, and most of all excitement. Like some of our other guests, Chuck Harris leads a young company in a field, prepaid cards, that didn’t even exist until well into his career.  He says he feels lucky to have “stumbled” into a role that combines good business with doing good, a mix that is both challenging and rewarding (a sentiment expressed by many previous guests).

It’s interesting that this episode follows on the heels of my discussion with the Comptroller of the Currency, Tom Curry, as it shares a common emphasis on the need for a new kind of collaboration as the financial sector undergoes disruption, including between industry and regulators. I think this kind of new dialogue is starting to emerge – a topic we’ll spend time on in 2016.

NetSpend was established in 1999 as a way for “college kids to spend money,” and has since grown into a leading provider of reloadable prepaid cards and related financial services. It focuses on consumers that Chuck calls “self-banked” – the people often referred to as un- or under-banked. NetSpend seeks to empower the self-banked with FDIC-insured offerings through its network of over 70,000 distribution locations and 130,000 reload points. They have helped more than 10 million consumers make purchases, pay bills and manage their money without needing a checking account or credit history. In addition to prepaid cards, NetSpend offers a range of services including P2P and standard bank transfers, online and mobile apps, and budgeting tools. You can learn more about them at

Chuck joined the company 2010 after serving as general manager of the payment solutions division of Intuit. He previously held multiple positions for Electronic Clearing House, including President and CEO, President and COO, and as a director. He has also held leadership roles with Chase Paymentech, including as President and CEO of Merchant Link, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chase Paymentech.  He holds a B.B.A. in finance from the University of Texas at Austin.

We recorded this conversation at the Money 20/20 Conference in Las Vegas, where Chuck and I both were speakers. That fact prompts me to suggest a new year’s resolution for our listeners, especially those in traditional financial fields: attend a fintech conference in 2016. Money 20/20 is the biggest, absolutely packed with energy and ideas and about 10,000 people. And I always recommend CFSI’s Emerge conference, which uniquely explores how new technology can benefit both providers and consumers.   (remember that I serve on CFSI’s board of directors). People often ask me how to learn quickly about innovation. For most, the best first step is to immerse in in the excitement of a tech conference.

2016 preview….and please consider donating:

Barefoot Innovation will return in the New Year with a widening dialogue and extremely interesting guests. The early lineup will include one of the architects of Dodd-Frank; a primary author of America’s consumer financial protection regulations; a credit counseling leader; a top bank’s chief innovation officer; our first talk with a company built around Bitcoin, the founder of one of my very favorite startups; and a large bank’s compliance officer with detailed suggestions on how to design a “regulatory sandbox.” The sandbox concept -- the idea that fostering financial innovation will sometimes require a regulatory safe space for experimentation – is generating increasing dialogue among both industry and regulators (in fact, I’m heading today for London for a round table with the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority on a sandbox proposal they issued this fall.) We’ll explore it in the coming months.

The above list of early 2016 guests includes only the episodes we’ve already recorded! They are full of insights and surprises (I’m even rating one of them PG-13). We have many more people set to talk with us, including leading regulators, bankers, non-bank executives, tech experts, compliance experts, policymakers, and many, many startups and other innovators.

The robustness of the schedule reflects the fact that Barefoot Innovation has been growing far faster than I expected, and has in fact evolved into a major undertaking for me and the two young people who help me produce it.  If you’re enjoying the series and want to keep more episodes coming, let me encourage you to provide support for it, in any amount you like. 

Meanwhile, I wish you all a holiday season filled with peace and joy, and will look forward to connecting in the New Year.

If you enjoy our work to bring together thought provoking ideas and people please consider a contribution to support the site.


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