The United States regulator, Commodities and Futures Trading Commission, announced the CFTC’s first science contest, Project Streetlamp, earlier this week. CryptoNewspeople had a chance to speak with Melissa Netram, who is the Chief Innovation Officer and Director of the commission’s fintech office, LabCFTC.

Netram took over the role from Daniel Gorfine in September. CryptoNewspeople was pleased to hear her thoughts on progress at LabCFTC since then, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and her plans for future development.

Financial regulation under COVID-19

The current pandemic has taken center stage for legislators and regulators in the U.S., with some calling to halt all work that doesn’t directly relate to the new coronavirus. The CFTC is no exception. “With the crisis, the commission overall has had to readjust priorities,” said Netram.

However, the particulars of the coronavirus have in some ways boosted financial technologies. Netram said:

“My official point of view I think now more than ever, in times of crisis you see how technology and innovation can help get us to the next stage.” 

Despite certain obvious limits to what the commission can do right now, “There’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes that can continue to happen. As we all know, regulation can take a long time,” Netram said. “Behind the scenes, LabCFTC is going to be focusing on some of its initiatives to promote responsible innovation.” 

Missions accomplished since joining

Netram stated that the goal of LabCFTC is “Promoting dialogue between innovators and the regulators at the CFTC.” She described the office as “A cross-commission door for investors to come in and talk to the commission.”

LabCFTC’s elevation to an independent office was a top priority when Netram came on and has, by her account, given the office more freedom to operate with all divisions of the CFTC. She was pleased with how this has enabled LabCFTC to keep the whole commission up to date on crypto:

“As an entity is coming through looking at, how do we do X? that maybe has to do with some digital asset or how they launch some sort of digital asset, we’ll have some of our colleagues reach out to us saying, ‘can you give us some background on digital assets?'”

Coming from working at a tech company in the private sector, Netram’s main concerns for LabCFTC have been making the office more accessible to people in industry. “At that tech company, I was on the other side of the table, talking with government officials.” A simple, yet somehow new solution? Office hours:

“One of the first things we did since I’ve been on board is say that there has to be more clarity in terms of how to reach us. So we set office hours.”

Plans for the next steps

In keeping with her concern that the right members of the CFTC are speaking with industry stakeholders when they reach out, Netram plans for a new intake form to accompany future meetings. She says, “The intake form will provide more clarity as to why they’re coming in.” 

“One other thing, behind the scenes, that we’re going to be trying to highlight in 2020, is education,” said Netram. That includes the Fintech Forward conference, though it may have to be “reimagined” to cope with the current quarantine measures.

And regarding primers? The series of educational briefs on LabCFTC’s site are handy, but limited and outdated. There are only three: on virtual currencies, smart contracts, and artificial intelligence in finance. CryptoNewspeople asked whether to expect updates and new primers, to which Netram’s reply was “Definitely.”