Departing Boston Fed Board chair reflects on presidential search, Bank’s work on real-time payments
Q&A with Board of Directors Chair and Brown University President Christina Hull Paxson
For two years, Brown University President Christina Hull Paxson has served as chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Board of Directors. But that term, and her seven years on the Board, concludes at year’s end.
Paxson – an economist – took some time last month to share her perspectives on her eventful tenure, including leading the search committee that recommended hiring new Bank President Susan M. Collins. She also discussed the Board’s key roles, and a Fed project that’s enabling financial institutions to deliver faster payment services to their customers. The conversation follows:
What, in your view, are the Board’s most important functions?
The Board plays two very different roles.
One role is to provide the Boston Fed’s president and team members with real-time information about what’s happening in our (Board members’) industries and the district in which we’re located. The Bank president, first vice president, and economists are hearing from people in a variety of sectors, including banking, insurance, real estate, retail, healthcare, technology, and higher education. I think our perspectives on what we’re seeing in our markets – in terms of employment trends, impacts of inflation, etc. – are valuable and a positive contribution to monetary policy.
Then, there are some more standard governance-related obligations and responsibilities that come with being on the Board: reviewing the Bank’s budget, getting updates on a number of projects the Boston Fed is involved in, and making sure the organization is on track to achieve its goals. The Board also makes a recommendation on hiring the Bank president, which happened this past year.
The search for a new president was a hallmark of your tenure. Can you talk about taking that on after former president Eric Rosengren retired earlier than expected? What were the challenges of the search itself, and what ended up being your priorities when it came down to choosing between the final candidates?
The search for a new president was fascinating and exciting, but also a huge responsibility. The president not only impacts monetary policy at the national level, but they also lead an organization that’s full of people working on many different things, from cash distribution, to economic policy, to leading technology.
The earlier-than-expected start didn’t bother me since I like to do fast-paced – but still careful – searches. And it turned out that Zoom was often an asset when it came to scheduling and logistics around interviews.
We met many interesting, well-qualified people during that period. When it comes down to choosing between final candidates, it becomes a question of who has the mix of skills, experiences, and perspectives that the organization needs at that time. In Susan Collins, we found a leader who is an outstanding economist … and who also has leadership experience within one of the most complex research universities in the U.S., the University of Michigan. And she has the values and personal qualities that the internal and external stakeholders we consulted with during the search said they wanted to see in the Bank’s next president.
As part of your position on the Board, you are briefed on all the work being done at the Bank. What do you think people need to better understand about what the Fed does? And what is one area of work being done by the Boston Fed that is of particular interest to you?
One of the things that surprised me after I joined the Board was the range of things that the Fed does. Most people may think of monetary policy, and they don’t appreciate its roles in financial stability, payments systems, community development, etc.
The FedNow build process has been fascinating. Here you have a System-wide project led by Boston, which can only be described as a tech startup to develop a method where all financial institutions can have instant payments, 24/7, 365 days a year. I learned a lot about how to think about managing through the development of a very complex product. From my perspective, the team has done a fantastic job moving the project forward.
On a personal note, you have a demanding job as a university president, and you did that while leading the Board. How did you balance these responsibilities and avoid feeling stretched too thin?
I think my work as a university president is enriched by having a small number of what I would call “extracurricular activities,” or things that complement the work I do but are more externally focused.
Because I am an economist, I love being able to keep a hand in an area that’s of such importance. I love economics and policy, and that is what this Bank does very well. So, I make time for it because it’s a great addition to the range of things I’m thinking about.
Learn more about the Boston Fed Board of Directors here.