As leaders at Shearman & Sterling began to recognize the growing significance of financial technology—both for the Wall Street firm’s traditional banking clients and the startups it’s increasingly targeting—partner Donna Parisi organized a dinner where associates helped explain concepts like blockchain to senior lawyers.
New York-based Parisi, who heads the firm’s derivatives group and is also responsible for its financial institutions’ client base, recognized the value in merging the veterans’ legal expertise with the perspectives of the young attorneys.
“It’s their college and law school roommates who are starting these companies,” she said.
Discussing the legal implications of distributed ledgers—the underlying technology for blockchain—participants turned to the question of where they are actually located, and what law applies.
Then attorney Reade Ryan, in his sixth decade at the firm, chimed in: “We’ve dealt with this in the past.” The issue had emerged years ago, when Shearman was involved in the financing of the first satellites.
“That was enlightening,” Parisi recalled. “Everything is new, but everything old is new again.”
It’s in that spirit of enlightenment that the firm is launching its new “FinTech Foundry”—a program that aims to marshal its expertise in the area for clients ranging from traditional financial institutions, to startups, and even to corporations that see applications for technologies like blockchain in their supply chain and in registering securities.
“I think we have something to offer all of those clients,” Parisi said.
The program encompasses three related initiatives: community support, thought leadership and advice.
The firm aims to get at the first of these with an event series, or salon, where upstarts in the fintech community and established clients can network together. On the schedule already is a kickoff event Monday, an October collaboration with the firm’s women’s initiative and a November summit looking at investment opportunities for family offices in fintech.
The thought leadership component centers on an “insights” platform on the firm’s website, while the advisory component takes the form of a mentorship program for fintech startups.
Parisi also emphasized the firm’s recently opened Austin, Texas, office is another example of its commitment to fintech startups.
Ultimately, all those playing in the space will have to navigate an evolving regulatory system involving federal and state authorities.
“If you look at different public statements from regulators, there’s a tension between the desire to foster innovation while also protecting consumers and avoiding systemic risk,” Parisi said. “It will be a continuing dialogue as regulators figure out how to address innovation and bring these important technologies to the finance community in a way that protects the safety and stability of the financial system.”