Mentorship

As I write this post, the International Studies Association just wrapped up its annual conference.  I usually attend, but I could not do so because of my commitments as a Fulbright-Schuman Scholar.  This year I had the honor and pleasure of serving as Chair of the International Political Economy  (IPE) section award for Mentorship.  The Society for Women in International Political Economy (SWIPE) Mentor Award goes to an individual who has “who have invested in the professional success of women in the IPE field”.  I had a great committee with enthusiastic members, and I got to virtually (through email) meet some really interesting people – which is the point of this academic thing, eh?

The committee was important to me because my career, and my life, have been influenced by a few individuals who have helped me along because they believed in me.  Earning a PhD is daunting for a number of reasons, and the profession is not easy or glamorous. You need to be a strong person on your own, and you need a good sherpa.

Patricia Weitsman, one of my strongest sherpas, changed my life.   In her first semester at Ohio University Patty pulled me aside, a history MA student, and said “you should be doing International Relations Theory.”  I was the only person to get an A in her class, and it was the first IR theory course I’d ever taken.  She got me funded in the department.  When I insisted on completing my history MA alongside the political science MA, she cut through red tape like a Highland warrior wielding a clamor (an analogy of which she cheerfully approved).  From there I went to Texas A&M and met others who became mentors and friends like Bill Brands.  Patty continued to be there – writing letters, a visiting position at OU, my first tenure-track job, and too many pieces of advice to count regarding publishing, writing, and life.  I was her first graduate student to finish the PhD and she was fiercely protective, and proud, of me.

Over those years, the relationship shifted from one of teacher-student to colleagues.  I was happy to be there for her too and offer perspectives when she needed it.   And, in a sign of how close that friendship had become – we could also argue and challenge each other.  There was that kind of honesty.

Mentors do more than show you how to get through the system or cultivate your abilities, they show you that success, failure, and perseverance is about character.  Mentors give you the tools to overcome obstacles (either made in your own head or roadblocks put there by others) and find that courage to make things happen.  Patty led by example.  My teaching was influenced by her, a woman who had such a rocky start her first year in the classroom that she worked to become a two-time winner of OU’s presidential teaching award.   Anything she did she had to “own” she told me once.  She worked out 6 times a week and taught kickboxing.  When she was diagnosed with leukemia and was in for her bone marrow transplant she had a treadmill in the hospital ward.  During her two year remission she wrote a book on war and alliances, chaired the largest section of ISA, the International Security Studies group, was the director of the War and Peace Studies Institute at OU, campaigned for bone marrow donation, and raised two kids with her loving husband.  All of this she did with tenacity, strength, and love.

Patty’s battle with leukemia ended today.  We began and closed every conversation we had in the past few years with “I love you.”

I had been working on this blog post about mentorship for over a week but now it’s something more.  In these early hours of learning this news, I have been trying to come to grips with what has happened.   A friend of mine said there is “no point to get out of it all.  Someone dies and they are un-replacable.”  There’s nothing to understand.  And she cannot be replaced, no.  Because I cannot get her back to feel better, the only thing I can do is to maintain Patty in my life with what she has always given me – love.

“Sending love. xoxo”

The Problem of Trust

I’ve been examining the politics of money for over 10 years.  Most of those efforts have gone into understanding how executive-level politicians make decisions that affect the governance of the international monetary system.  In the past few years I’ve gotten more into the financial services side of things, which requires a different kind of thinking.

When you want to know how an industry ticks you have to interact with them.  I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but some academic research lacks that touch.  The only way to understand a group is to mingle, learn the jargon, ask a lot of questions, and play devil’s advocate, nicely.  You can’t do that with a survey and you certainly aren’t going to gain their trust to get them talking and eventually understand their perspectives without showing you are interested in establishing a professional relationship.  This is true when you do research with politicians or really anyone in a decision-making capacity.  You are asking them to describe the challenges they face and frustrations and they have to know that you do not have an agenda – you want to ‘get it right.’

So as building trust underlies the research process, the same principles apply to the business of finance.  Bankers make money for their clients so it is profit driven, and by default this means it is also relationship driven.  The trust between client and financial representative is at the heart of the industry wealth and money is personal.  And, the lack of trust among finance and regulators is, in my mind, problematically related.

Last week I went to London to attend the Future of Financial Standards conference sponsored by the SWIFT Institute and the LSE Standards Forum Team.   It brought together most of the major players, former regulators (a current regulator in the form of the keynote speaker Commissioner O’Malia of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)), bankers, statisticians, academics and a few technology experts (coding, database operations and design).  The mind mapping boards below illustrate an outline of discussions.

To summarize: Regulations are often written by politicians and lawyers who do not have a working understanding of how financial markets operate or how their databases are structured.  Each national regulator wants different types of information, which pose problems for financial institutions that operate in many states.  Standards in financial language are notoriously difficult to establish because products are classified in different ways across firms, markets, and within regulations.  This makes it very difficult to collect and report accurate data and comply with these regulations.  Data taken from one type of database cannot easily be transferred to another database (it might show errors in one and not another) because of coding issues, so there’s an inconsistency in the IT as well.

The general consensus was that regulators, bankers, and tech people all see the problem from different angles; they blame each other for reporting shortcomings, but they agree they should talk more to each other too.

And yet, most participants saw a solution that involved the industry setting the standard on its own and then presenting it to regulators.  You can see the disconnect from the process and the solution, right?  They are all mutually dependent, yet still thinking sectorally.  Unfortunately, this attitude also pervades regulatory and legal thinking.

One panelist hit the nail on the head though – trust.  Regulators aren’t going to listen to the industry because they do not trust it.

Does the industry know its business better than regulators? Yes.  Does it have more resources? Yes. Do regulators and banks have different objectives? Not really, no.  (They both like stability and manageable risk, but yes they do have different roles in promoting these aims.) Do they have different opinions about what this is and how to do this? Yes.

As one participant told me, “Every suggestion is not an attempt to hijack the process and assert corporate interests.  There are international standards that have been in place for a while now, like the ISO, which are a good starting point.”

The (not new) lesson here is that the financial services has a reputation problem with officials (and some of their clients) that requires a change in its culture.  Building trust with regulators means that a relationship must be cultivated, just like they do with their clients.  But, have we come too far off the track to mend it?  I don’t think so.

Data is the foundation for the financial services industry.  I argue that record keeping and reporting is good for business because it helps banks take stock of what they have, what their employees are doing, and highlights areas where they can offer their clients better services. Accurate record keeping costs less in the long run and means that officials are less apt to come knocking on their doors for miss-behaviors.  The more that the industry does on its own the more that they will make money and by default improve that regulatory relationship.

Similarly, regulatory officials might get more bees to the honey if they understood how financial  IT networks worked, how these companies recorded their data (or not) and began to talk a little in terms of profits.  Governments have to learn to speak in terms that finance understands rather than dictate terms or make threats.  This tactic does not mean that regulators will get what they want – it just causes confusion and produces complaints about costs.  The data they end up getting is not the quality they expect either.

The forum did an excellent job of presenting the problem of banks faced complying with regulation – it is a technical problem; a language problem; a communication problem; and ultimately a cultural problem.  The culture problem, which exists on both sides of the coin (If we add the technologists then we need a 3 sided die) is more difficult.

There are some trying to bridge the divide and emphasize Corporate Responsibility, or Corporate Social Responsibility. (i.e. Ruggie, and Abbott and Snidal)., but I think we need to examine the regulatory mindset too.  It starts with the realization that the effort is worthwhile both for profit and for the whole of society, and that the time invested to build that trust produces a system in which we all can live and prosper.

 

Notes from the Field

Just a few observations-

The Long View in Leadership – From time to time I am engaged in conversations with individuals, who possess what I call ‘a long view’ of issues and events.   On one hand, they can place complex issues in short term contexts, but the value is how they can see these evolve from long term perspectives.  That’s important because you can’t know where are are unless you know where you’ve been and how you got there.  Those who study the historical evolution of processes (no matter what their form) are at an advantage here, but those who lived through it also share these traits (although one must also push through first person biases).  I think that we are losing a generation of policy-makers who have a long view and producing persons who play to immediate contexts instead.

Now, yes there are those who will challenge this and I’ll readily admit that politicians as a rule have had to ‘live in the short run’ because their survival depends on it.  They always have to insure that their electorate is happy, or their leadership depends on support for their positions from other entities.  However, (and I have seen this in academia too, there are blinders everywhere) without the long view you cannot hope to see subtle deviations or catastrophic events on the horizon. Nor can you see interconnections.

This is related to;

Being a Boss & Having a Boss:  Those who have always served in the public or private sector under someone’s direction are at a certain disadvantage when they are suddenly elevated to positions of leadership.  Their mindset is one of taking orders rather than giving them.  This does not mean that leaders should be resolute in their convictions and shun compromise, far from it.  It means that a leader is one who understands his/her role in that institution and has a duty to act in accordance with its mandate.  ‘No’ is not a dirty word.

And finally;

Transparency, Democracy, and Knowledge – An open information society is fundamentally important for democracy.  A populace must be aware of what its government leaders are doing to know that they are faithfully following the law and representing constituent interests.  This is a two way street though – citizens have to educate themselves and demand facts over senseless pandering sensationalism (I’m looking at you US media).

However, there are appropriate degrees of transparency depending on each situation.

While at a talk  in Brussels, an official advocated for total transparency in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP negotiations – “Why can’t these discussions be public?”

This was right after they admitted that MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) could not be expected to know everything about the issues that landed on their desk.  They depend on experts to tell them what the texts meant so they could act on them and represent their constituents.  I’m sympathetic to this as it is a common problem with executive  leadership.  Where a Parliamentarian, Congressperson, President, or Prime Minister and so on, is elected or appointed to make decisions on a host of issues, there is no way that they can be experts in all of them.  Public officials do not have time to carefully scrutinize every detail – that is the job of their immediate advisers, other government bureaucracies, and NGOs, and sometimes – lobbyists (And in the opinion of some, lobbyists are a bit too involved, but due to time and money these voices are pretty loud and they do get access to decision-makers). It is for that reason that I have always maintained that it is the advisers who hold the most influence – the decision will reflect the information that the leader receives, or to whom he chooses to listen.

Transparency not only requires MEPs to understand the texts, it requires the populace to be very responsible in educating itself on issues too.  So, how, may I ask, do those advocates to total transparency expect the populace to do what they themselves find impossible?

The fact is that negotiations such as these are incredible complex and technical.  The circles that understand them are small and specialized.  If this process was done in the open people would be pointing to a host of false starts and statements that really have no chance of making it into a final agreement.  That’s why they call them drafts.  There’s a lot of posturing, poking, feeling the other side out, demands that go nowhere, and if it finally manages to make it through to the end-  it will look nothing like what is being discussed today. (The US has wanted some sort of trade agreement with the EU since Nixon so it’s telling that they are even sitting down now.)  In the US Congress, there are about 10,000 bills introduced into each session and less than 400 on average make it through.  If I had a dime for every alarmist saying “Look what they are doing!” on a bill that was introduced but never made it through the first committee, I’d be a millionaire.  (Spoiler: I’m not.)

Please understand that I’m not advocating secrecy here.   I’m saying that understanding the processes of decision-making at these levels is just as important as having the expertise to comment on those issues.  So I wonder, great you get all that transparency – would most people understand what they were reading or read it at all?  Debate, I love it – bring it on!  But only if it’s going to add value.  I doubt total openness would achieve that end.

The subject matter of this blog is taking directions that I did not anticipate, but I’m not complaining.  If anything it’s been a reminder to come to careful reflection, and not cling to expectations.  Going to London next week where I’ll be in the company of the finance community and it promises to be a total paradigm shift.

SMART Surveillance Conference

I just returned from a conference on SMART Surveillance, which stands for Scalable Measure for Automated Recognition Technologies.  It is an effort sponsored by the European Commission that involves several university and researchers to draft an EU Directive.  You can read the particulars here, but essentially its an effort to outline a legal and operational toolkit for police and security personnel for the use of technologies that collect and process data in an automated manner.

The project is headed by the University of Malta’s Department of Information Policy and Governance, one of my Fulbright-Schumann hosts, which works with many partner groups.

The discussions were enlightening for a number of reasons, but as someone who has always been fascinated by the process by which decisions are made, it was especially interesting to watch.   The majority of my work in monetary relations has been at the executive level.  These are, for the most part, political decisions since many of these persons are not experts, but they do set the agenda for things to go forward – meaning they tell the experts to make it happen.  There are, of course exceptions, sometimes the executives come from one of these expert areas.  This was the case with Helmut Schmidt and Valery Giscard d’Estaing who served in their respective government finance and banking offices, became Chancellor and President, and then pushed through the European Monetary System, which was the precursor to the Euro.

For two days, I sat with these experts and watched them offer different perspectives to influence the wording of one draft Directive. Think of an EU Directive as a standard set of rules for Europe – it is then up to the national governments to pass laws that reflect these principles in their home countries.  So, sometimes (OK, all the time) you get variations.  In some states they’ll do the minimum; in others they’ll go above that, or they will already have stronger laws on the books and make sure the Directive doesn’t water them down.  By contrast, a Regulation sets down ONE law for everyone. Regulations are not easy to make.

You can begin to see the complexities of the past two days I’m getting at here, and this project began in 2011.

Ladies and gentlemen, the project’s aims are immense, and this process is daunting because of the groups immediately  involved. Lawyers, Human Rights activists, academics from sociology, informatics, engineering (and more), members representing the private sector, the European Commission, the European Parliament, national intelligence services, police ,  data protection authorities,  and INTERPOL – and more.

After they revise the draft, it will go on to be scrutinized by several European institutions, and change there as well.  Many of us Americans understand the difficulties of getting the US Congress to agree on just about anything these days, but the process of policy-making in the European Union is more complicated.  There are the groups I mentioned above, who all have interests at stake, but there are also 503 million inhabitants, with and 28 sovereign governments which will also have a say in the matter and be impacted by the introduction of this draft.

The general lesson here that I wish to impress is that the EU is very diverse.  Many Americans (and some of my fellow academics) have a tendency to think of Europe as a homogeneous entity.  It is not.  The European Union as an organization is complex, and the national identities, interests, and historical experiences are still very much alive to affect the process.

And then there are the laws.  As I said, we were discussing an EU measure that will impact all the member states, should it be adopted.  Time and time again we were reminded of the legal differences among them that had to be taken into consideration.  Then there were the conflicting interests (and terminologies) among the groups present.  Police and intelligence officials felt that they didn’t have enough tools to do their jobs, and this would make it harder for them to protect citizens, or that it didn’t apply to them because these technologies were being used by criminal enterprises more than the police.  (Criminals don’t have to pay attention to laws and warrants, we do.)  Believe me there were very good cases made for that.  Privacy advocates countered with the frequency of data abuses and the rights of citizens to be protected from not just the state but from private corporations.

And yes, there was Snowden.  As the only American in the room, I was asked, “Isn’t it good that there has been more debate in the US?”  Yes and no, I responded. People are talking about surveillance, but they are too focused on the government and I don’t believe there will be reform.  Oversight will still be handled internally and officials will still be in control unfortunately.  Americans seem totally ignorant of the threat from private companies.  This was the big difference I saw between US and European views.  Many, not all, Europeans are more suspicious of Google than their governments.  My guess is that it’s probably because they have protections and rights guaranteed in law to check government abuses.

For many EU politicians Snowden was a ‘wake-up’ call that Europe needed to forge ahead on its own to maintain and protect its beliefs in privacy and Human Rights – away from US based technologies.  That political will seems to be present in some circles now but it remains to be seen if we will see it implemented or if Europeans will simply wait for the next ‘revelations’ to act.

Layers, many layers, all trying to answer the question – How do we balance security and privacy?

One of my interviewees last  week observed that governments “think about the problem horizontally” meaning that there was little consideration for how  businesses operated – the groups that officials depend on to make that policy happen.  The SMART teams have tried to look at the problem both vertically and horizontally.  However, I fear some of the groups involved in the conference did not follow this example.  It’s something I have to be cognascent of as I approach the transatlantic divide too.

Next: Bruges is coming, I promise.