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Q&A with Shonda Clay, the Federal Reserve’s New Payments Improvement Director

Shonda Clay assumed leadership of the Federal Reserve’s payments improvement initiatives upon the retirement of Dave Sapenaro, first vice president and chief operating officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Clay’s expanded role builds on her longstanding responsibilities as executive vice president and product manager of the Customer Relations and Support Office. In a recent sit-down, she shared her thoughts on this important role for the Fed’s continued payments improvement efforts.

Tell us about your payments improvement professional journey.
I’ve been involved with the Federal Reserve’s payments improvement initiatives from the get-go, including our early work to better understand the payments marketplace and enhancement opportunities. In turn, this led to our 2015 Strategies for Improving the U.S. Payment System white paper. Since then, the Fed has engaged with the industry to advance the five desired outcomes of speed, security, efficiency, international and industry collaboration. I’m thrilled with the opportunity be more engaged in this work. I find industry engagement on payments improvement to be hugely rewarding.

What excites you the most about the program in 2021?
The industry has been repositioning for a fundamental shift in how we do business – and this repositioning has accelerated in recent months, particularly in the need for faster and contactless payments due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. And this year, I see these ongoing changes as an opportunity to sharpen our focus on payments improvement, especially as the Federal Reserve advances the reach and acceptance of instant payments. I’m also excited about the industry’s growing interest in greater collaboration and coordination to address fraud risks, and our increased understanding of the pain points and opportunities to address business and cross-border payments challenges.

How will you work with industry stakeholders to achieve the desired outcomes?
We have a longstanding belief about the importance of transparency and collaboration with the industry in our Federal Reserve Financial Services (Off-site) payments business. This is true of our payments improvement work, as well. The Fed won’t go it alone. Industry engagements, the FedPayments Improvement Community and work groups are among the ways we catalyze broad ecosystem collaboration. As I think about our work efforts, instant payments implementation and adoption are top of mind as we develop the FedNowSM Service (Off-site). Last year’s introduction of the FraudClassifierSM model was a big step forward in facilitating a common language about fraud within and across organizations. Standards such as ISO® 20022 are highly important to improve payments efficiency – and to enable financial institutions and third parties to innovate on top of payment systems to deliver better experiences for businesses and consumers. The Fed’s work to advance cross-border payments is largely in the research phase, but we continue to see much we can do to move forward in the future.

What else should members of the payments ecosystem know about the Federal Reserve’s work to improve the U.S. payment system?
The Federal Reserve remains committed to this work. It’s supported at the highest levels of our organization. As the Fed enters its eighth year of focus on payments improvement, we pledge to continue working with the industry to lead, catalyze and advance the U.S. payment system.

As product manager of the Customer Relations and Support Office, Clay has responsibility for leading the business strategy, development and management of customer relations, marketing, industry relations and FedLine access solutions for the Federal Reserve Banks. As payments improvement director, she is responsible for advancing payment speed, security, efficiency and cross border leader-catalyst strategies through industry collaboration. Clay is also a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Executive Committee.

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