Jennifer Shasky Calvery has been outspoken about the promise of new technology, and in her job as director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, she has played a pivotal role in making the U.S. a welcoming place for innovators who might otherwise view regulators as roadblocks.
On March 18, 2013, Fincen issued guidance on how to operate a virtual currency business under U.S. regulation, ending speculation over whether the U.S. government would accept or shun Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
"Part of my job is to keep track of the dizzying world of virtual currency, which is much broader than just Bitcoin, and to try to stay ahead of the potential criminal abuse of these new payments systems," says Shasky Calvery. "One of the opportunities we're working on here that won't be missed is allowing what we do to mitigate money laundering and terrorist financing not to get in the way of innovation in the payments space."
Last year, under Shasky Calvery's leadership, Fincen was reorganized "to keep pace with the rapidly evolving financial services industry, to understand how it functions, regulate it appropriately and enforce those regulations against those outliers who are not playing by the rules," she says.
Shasky Calvery has taken on an interesting list of topics since she was hired to the position a year and a half ago. In addition to her work on the controversial currency Bitcoin, she has had to deal with the equally controversial issue of legal marijuana sales.
In February, Fincen issued guidance meant to clarify its position on bringing legal marijuana businesses out of the shadows. The guidance was meant to assure financial institutions that doing business with legal marijuana shops will not land them in hot water, which will likely help dispensaries find banking relationships and get access to a wider array of payments options.
Fincen "is focused on trying to get the cash off the street and the dangers that that could bring," Shasky Calvery says.
"The most interesting thing happening in the regulatory space is the realization that existing rules and laws can almost always be adapted and applied to these new technologies," she says. "The end result hasn't changed; moving money from point A to point B."
To handle tough issues and stay calm under pressure, she draws inspiration from one of her first mentors, her high school basketball coach. "She was a screamer," Shasky Calvery says. "She taught me how to take criticism and turn it into a positive, to listen to a message and not the tone."
Shasky Calvery has spent more than 16 years "combatting illicit finance." She started her career after law school at the Department of Justice where she's held various roles. The last position she held at the Justice Department was chief of the asset forfeiture and money laundering sector.
"My decision to pursue a career as a Justice Department lawyer, rather than an FBI agent, really set my trajectory to this job at Fincen," she says.
Shasky Calvery, who grew up outside of Detroit, Mich., originally attempted to get a position with the FBI before her work with the Justice Department. She says her grandfather was a big influence in her choice to pursue the FBI, since he had been a part of the FBI National Academy and then became the chief police in Minneapolis, Minn.
But after her first trial with the Justice Departmentover a shank fight between prisoners at the Lorton Correctional Complex in Fairfax County, Va., which she calls "small potatoes" compared to the organized crime cases she oversees nowShasky Calvery was hooked as a prosecutor.
While Shasky Calvery hasn't held a position directly in the payments industry, the legal, regulatory and enforcement field has also been a sector dominated by men.
But she's encouraged to see more women entering the industry and being promoted to top executive positions. Within the federal government and her department specifically, Shasky Calvery says the composition is nearly half and half.
"I can speak to the progress Ive seen within the legal, regulatory and enforcement fields and I think that has been pretty spectacular considering the world that our parents grew up in," she says. "However, as I look across the rooms at the conferences I attend, I can tell you that the financial world can still embrace a lot more diversity, in gender and otherwise."
See the full list of honorees for this year's Most Influential Women in Payments.