Peter High and Cathy Bessant. (Photo: Melanie Waddell/ALM)

Editor’s note: This interview first appeared in Human Capital, a newsletter by Washington Bureau Chief Melanie Waddell about the people who shape the financial regulatory space.

Fintech policy was the big debate in Washington recently during the Financial Services Roundtable’s FinTech Ideas Festival, with former Google Chief Information Officer Douglas Merrill supporting more regulation and Cathy Bessant, chief tech guru for Bank of America, citing a notable tidbit for all of us parents with kids headed (eventually) to college.

“By 2020, in cyber disciplines alone, we’ll be deficit 1.5 million jobs — i.e., where we’ve got jobs and no workers,” Bessant said on May 1. The message for college-bound kids: “Go into cyber!”

This week’s Human Capital highlights key takeaways from Merrill and Bessant during the fintech event, which included a lot of talk about artificial intelligence. But I also checked in with Joe Ziemer, vice president of policy at Betterment, later in the week to get his view on where fintech regulation is heading.

(Brief mentions of the looming European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) were also made at the FSR fintech event.)

Fintech companies, Ziemer said, “are generally working to make financial products and services more accessible, more efficient and available at a lower cost,” so fintech “is too broad of a term to state whether or not more regulation is needed.”

In Ziemer’s mind, firms “should be regulated based on what they specifically do.” Digital advisory firm Betterment, for instance, is “appropriately regulated like any standard advisory firm.”

Where the interest lies in new regulation for fintech companies, Ziemer argued, is “in areas where there are currently gaps in the regulatory structure, such as cryptocurrency.”

But former Google CIO Merrill, who’s now CEO of ZestFinance, believes the fintech space is “woefully short of regulation.” Fintech companies participating on the panel with him, he said, can’t “agree about what the core goals are [in the fintech space], which tells us that we have a regulatory framework to get done.”

Added Merrill: “It’s been a tough first quarter for Facebook and for some prominent financial services organizations; having a good regulatory framework maybe would have helped.”

While the financial services space has seen “our share” of regulation “for a lot of good reasons,” BofA’s Bessant said, her preference is “self-regulation or standards that are set by the technical part of the industry or by businesses” themselves.

“I’m worried less about a public policy role than I am about getting all of the stakeholders together, because I think that the task is monumental and the urgency really has to be there.”

As to AI, Bessant sees its benefit as making financial services firms “faster and cheaper at what we do.” A little-talked-about fact, she noted, is that AI is “incredibly relevant … in stress testing or capital management in risk management — the power to use data predictively and the power to use data at scale is, in fact, a key component of world-class risk management.”

— More Human Capital: