Michael Barr, the rumored nominee to be Joe Biden’s Comptroller of the Currency, has a history of consulting work for the fintech industry which has drawn great scrutiny (including from us). Barr has worked closely with the controversial firms Ripple and LendingClub and advises a pro-fintech think tank funded largely by the industry.
Under-appreciated in the Michael Barr press blitz (again, including by us) is Barr’s current listed work as an advisor to the venture capital firm NYCA Partners, which exclusively invests in fintech startups, including e-lender Affirm, financial tracking app Brigit, and corporate banking software suite Finlync. NYCA names Barr as an “LP Advisor” alongside individuals linked to some of the best-known and most powerful financial firms in the world, like Morgan Stanley’s Ed Moriarty, Goldman Sachs’ John Willian, Citadel’s Daniel Dufresne, and BlackRock’s Chris Jones.
So what’s Barr’s listed qualification to get into this elite mix? It’s not his current job running the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy — Barr’s qualification is listed as “US Treasury,” referring to his time as Timothy Geithner’s right-hand man during the Great Recession.
NYCA Partners’ extensive connections across the upper echelons of the financial world are crucial to its value pitch to potential investors and portfolio firms. The homepage of the firm’s website reads: “We leverage our connectivity to entrepreneurs, VCs, and our strategic Limited Partner base to support our portfolio companies.” The firm’s leaders are veteran executives of traditional financial conglomerates: Managing Partner Hans Morris is the former president of Visa Inc. (and, relevant to Barr, the current chairman of the board of LendingClub), and Chief Operations Officer Ravi Mohan “spent 25 years in global leadership roles at Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase,” according to his NYCA bio. Other NYCA leads come from Affirm, Uber, and Goldman Sachs.
NYCA also lists four “investment partners” in its network, who appear to have some direct influence over the firm’s investment decisions. They are former Google executive Osama Bedier, former Citadel executive Tom Miglis, former Credit Suisse executive Brian Finn, and former Microsoft executive Charles Songhurst. Max Levchin, a Paypal founder who now runs the NYCA portfolio company Affirm, was listed as an additional investment partner in a 2017 press release.
Barr’s continued association with NYCA Partners, which holds wide investments in the fintech space and emphasizes its extensive network of well-connected allies, shows that his ties to the fintech industry are more than historical. Indeed, the very fact that NYCA emphasizes Barr’s Treasury experience over his current academic credentials shows how the firm (and Barr) want potential investors to see him: as a connection who can help them with regulatory problems.
As NYCA’s portfolio companies either sink, swim, or (most likely in today’s tech economy) merge with larger existing players, having an old friend like Barr to call in order to help clear a regulatory hurdle can make a tremendous difference. Biden and Congress should both consider whether they trust Barr to act wholly independently, and thus, whether he is best suited for the Comptroller position.