Skip to main content


2021 Annual Conference: Robert Cook and Eileen Murray Fireside Chat

June 01, 2021

The 2021 FINRA Annual Conference was like no other with the event held entirely online. Nonetheless, like in any other year, the event provided the opportunity for practitioners, peers and regulators to connect and exchange ideas.

On this episode, we’re taking you behind the scenes of this year’s event to listen in on the fireside chat between FINRA CEO Robert Cook and FINRA Board Chair Eileen Murray as they talk about everything from return to the office and the future of the workforce to the work of FINRA Board of Governors and diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Episode 12: How the Cloud has Revolutionized FINRA Technology

Episode 68: Augmenting the Exam and Risk Monitoring Program with Data Analytics and Technology

2021 Virtual Technology Conference

2022 FINRA Annual Conference  

McKinsey Study: Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained

Statement of the FINRA Board of Governors: June 11, 2020

Listen and subscribe to our podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySpotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Below is a transcript of the episode. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human editors and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. 


00:00 – 00:24

Kaitlyn Kiernan: The 2021 FINRA Annual Conference was like no other, with the event held entirely online. Nonetheless, like in any other year, the event provided the opportunity for practitioners, peers and regulators to connect and exchange ideas. On this episode, we're taking you behind the scenes of this year's event to listen in to the fireside chat between FINRA CEO Robert Cook and FINRA board chair Eileen Murray.

00:24 – 00:33

Intro Music

00:33 - 01:36

Robert Cook: I'm really delighted to be joined this morning by Eileen Murray, who serves as chair of FINRA's Board of Governors, among many other positions. A little bit of background about Eileen: Eileen joined the board in 2016, really just a couple of months after I joined the board and took on the role of CEO. So I feel like she's been in it with me from the beginning.

She's the former co-chief executive officer of Bridgewater Associates and she's held senior positions in technology and operations at a number of large firms, including serving on management and executive boards. And we've benefited so much from her experience and insights throughout her tenure on the board. And since she moved into the role of chair about a year ago, she's been a tremendous source of guidance and advice and support for me personally, as well as for the rest of the senior management team. And she's been a terrific leader of the board as well.

So, I'm really looking forward to speaking with her today about her perspective on a number of topics. Eileen, welcome. Thank you so much for being here.

01:37 - 01:54

Eileen Murray: Thank you, Robert. It's a pleasure and honestly an honor to be here today. And I just want to say that working with you over the last four or five years has been incredible for me. And I've certainly learned a lot from you in terms of your leadership style and how you're moving FINRA forward. So, thank you for that.

01:55 - 02:12

Robert Cook: Well, thanks so much for that, Eileen. So maybe to kick us off, you've been at the helm of FINRA's board for a little over a year now. But for those who have not had the chance to meet you, maybe you could tell us a little bit about your background, anything that might be relevant to where you are today in your thinking today?

02:12 - 04:01

Eileen Murray: Robert, I was fortunate, I grew up in a housing project in upper Manhattan, in New York City, and it's interesting, some people look at that and say, wow, it must have been rough growing up in a housing project. But I found it incredibly delightful, quite candidly, and it gave me an opportunity to grow up in the American melting pot.

I come from a family of nine children, five brothers, three sisters. And growing up in a housing project, there were people just on the floor I lived on from Estonia, there were Holocaust victims, there were people from Nigeria. I could go on. People from Cuba. And so, it was wonderful to live in a place where diversity was basically the way of being. And so, I think that's really helped me a lot in my career because I benefited throughout my career by working with people from diverse backgrounds and really harnessing the creativity and innovation that comes from diverse perspectives. And I really attribute that level of comfortability to growing up where I grew up.

I was laughing to myself when I was thinking about this question. I guess it was about... God, it must be 20 years ago... I was at a charity benefit and they threw up a Dyckman Street housing projects where I grew up. And I was sitting next to someone who said, oh my gosh, can you imagine growing up in that place? And I said, Well, actually, yes, I did. And I wouldn't trade that experience for anything in the world.

My entire education is in Catholic school and I enjoyed that as well. And then I went into public accounting at Peat Mawrick and then on to Morgan Stanley, where I was the comptroller and treasurer, and then tech and ops. And I went to Bridgewater and then I came on to the board here at FINRA, which I really, really enjoy. It's one of my favorite groups of people to deal with.

04:03 - 04:42

Robert Cook: Well, thanks for sharing that, Eileen. It is such a compelling background story and so many elements of it that relate to the conversation we're about to have, both about FINRA and some of its projects. And we are a public service organization. And your background, I think, helps explain your interest in FINRA and also your interest in diversity and inclusion, which I want to talk to you about in a little bit.

But before we get there, maybe we could start with some of the work of the board. You know, the board's very engaged on a lot of the projects and initiatives that we have underway at FINRA. And I'd love to hear from your perspective, what are some of the main areas of focus? What are the projects that you're most excited about that are going on now at FINRA?

04:43 - 06:19

Eileen Murray: Well, I'm incredible excited about the work that you guys are doing in data and analytics, Robert. One of the things that was a surprise to me when I came on the FINRA board was the leadership position and the forward thinking on technology that you and your team, Steve Randich, et cetera, have demonstrated. I mean, you guys were looking at cloud technology as early as 2013 and were one of the early adopters, which has really benefitted FINRA significantly as volumes have increased, with CAT and so on and so forth. And now you're continuing that leadership position, I believe, in terms of looking at data and analytics across the entire complex, marrying it with business processes and people. So, I'm very excited to see how that continues to unfold.

And the other three pieces that I'm pretty excited about is the whole talent management space, the work Rainia and you are doing there, as well as the entire management team on DNI, succession planning, integrating data and analytics to understand more about what your peoples' skill sets and capabilities are so that you can continue to retrain them is also another exciting area from my perspective.

And then succession planning from the shop floor to the boardroom is always a very interesting topic from my perspective, and one that is about the future of where we go. So, we all focus on that pretty extensively.

I could go on about the projects in terms of some of the work you're doing in transforming the organization and using technology more. But those three come to the surface with technology, DNI, talent, succession and the transformative way that you're approaching this.

06:20 - 08:06

Robert Cook: Eileen, I really appreciate your raising those because I think it helps give folks a perspective on the board's role in the governance of FINRA and how, from management's perspective, we get the support of the board and really the board asking us to think about how we run the organization in an effective way.

And you mentioned the technology, the migration to cloud. Steve Randich, he's our chief information officer for those who may not have heard of him before. We have a conference coming up on technology and the work that FINRA does in a technology space. I really encourage people are interested in knowing more about that to keep an eye open and attend that conference.

You mentioned data analytics and we're just so appreciative of the board's support, your support Eileen, for our effort here. After our March board meeting, we announced that the board had approved an investment in more work in the analytics space over the next few years, looking at technology processes and people. So, again, just tremendous to have the support of the board on those initiatives.

And, first, you mentioned, I want to shout out Rainia Washington, who's our chief human resources officer. Yes. Eileen also chairs the committee that oversees management and people side of FINRA and works closely with Rainia on those issues and really excited about that as well. So thank you for flagging those.

Speaking of people, I know an interest you have is workforce development training and so much happening in the financial services space, so much change happening so quickly. And people talk a lot about upskilling and reskilling as priorities. What's your perspective on this? What do you think about in this space? Why is it important to you? Why do you think it's something that we should be focused on, not just at FINRA, but throughout the industry?

08:27 - 10:32

Eileen Murray: This is an incredibly important topic from my perspective. And one is, you know, that I spend a lot of time thinking about. And there's a couple of different things that I consider when thinking about this. When you look at what's going on with technology, be it artificial intelligence, be it machine learning, be it the cloud and simplification of the infrastructure, people moving a lot of business models to mobile, electronic cars, I could go on and on about technology and the advances we're making in it. And that's very exciting and it creates tremendous opportunity. 

But with most opportunities, if one doesn't focus on the second and third order consequences, you could find yourself having some problems. And what I worry most about and I can cite a bunch of statistics, but let me just give you one. There was a McKinsey study that showed that somewhere from nine to 54 million jobs will be gone by 2030 with the current pace of automation. And 54 million jobs in the American workforce is a pretty darn big number. And so I think we really have a great opportunity to avoid the pandemic that's coming of the unskilled worker by focusing on retraining and reskilling.

I'll mention one other thing. It cost six times the amount of money to hire a new person than retrain someone. So what you folks are doing, speaking of Steve Randich, your CIO, as he migrated to the cloud, he put a program in place to retrain and reskill people, which meant that they had jobs after your cloud implementation. And I know that you're looking at that more broadly. And I think companies in general need to look very closely at retraining and reskilling people, because even though in the short term there might be economic benefits to becoming more efficient through the use of technology, et cetera, to the extent that we don't retrain and reskill our workforce, we'll have unemployment that we don't want to deal with and that will inevitably end in taxes and so on and so forth. So the second and third order consequences, I think, are pretty important.

The great news is we have an opportunity to avoid this problem by focusing on it. Now, I will tell you on the other side of the coin, people say to me, oh, come on Eileen, there's plenty of new jobs that are going to be created as we employ these new technologies, lots of engineering jobs and so on and so forth. And I think people are right, there will be a lot of jobs that will be created. But if we don't retrain and reskill people, we're going to wind up leaving them behind. So, my great hope is that a lot of firms are as focused on this, Robert, as you and your team are.

10:34 - 11:36

Robert Cook: We've just so much appreciate your focus on this Eileen, because as we've been looking at it over the last few years, we've realized it's not a choice and the workplace is changing so quickly. Technology is changing so quickly.

And it's really a journey we all have to go on. If my kids are watching, they'd say I need to do a little upskilling on technology rather than ask them for help all the time. But all of our jobs will look different in a few years, and we all need to be able to evolve and take advantage of new opportunities.

Speaking of sort of change in the workplace, Eileen, we all know that COVID has been a major disruption in workplaces all around the world. And, of course, vaccination efforts are proceeding in this country. I'm sure many of the people watching this are part of firms who either are finalizing their plans to return to the office or trying to figure what those plans will be.

And so how do you think about balancing employees desire for flexibility and maybe continuing some of the benefits of a remote work environment with the desire to maintain a strong culture of innovation and collaboration within an organization?

11:37 - 14:15

Eileen Murray: I've always been a big proponent of flexible work arrangements as early as mid-80s and as a young manager, I actually allowed flexible work arrangements on my team only to find out that it was against firm policy. But the good news is the firm policy changed. So I'm a big believer in flexibility, particularly for work {unintelligible}.

Just two years ago, people were looking at offices as a strategic attraction for talent, particularly younger people. And then we have the pandemic. And I think that thinking has to be really rethought and work needs to be reimagined. So now we're in a position where CEOs are in a very, very difficult position.

I think it's been fantastic how firms have performed from a resiliency perspective during this COVID situation. Overnight, everybody had to go back home and work from home. That said, I think that there's a lot that we lose by not being together.

And so, I think there needs to be a balance, I will call it a hybrid situation where we allow flexibility, I don't know, two to three days a week and the other days people come into the office. Now, I know there's a lot of people that don't agree with that. There was a survey that was done that 73% of employees would like to work from home. And it varies, there is 55% of employers are OK with that today.

So, when you step back and look at it, I think we need to reimagine the workplace. I do think we need a hybrid approach. And I think that hybrid approach is necessary to ensure that you retain your culture, your community and your collaboration and ways of learning that are beyond a particular job function. And so, I think that's what we're going to see. And I also don't envy CEOs that have to explain to employees why it's not 100%. But I think most people will be reasonable and will move forward on that.

The other piece I think that supports going back to work at least part time is that you look at these surveys and the people that most want to go back to work are the people that are new in their jobs, people in their jobs less than three or four years. And so, they're feeling the pain of not having that collaboration, not having that connectivity versus people who have been with firms for many, many years and know their way around.

So, in short, I think we're going to be in a hybrid situation. I think we're going to continue to learn and reimagine the ways that we do work and collaborate. And so, I think that will be pretty exciting. And lastly, I think it's fantastic that if there's one positive thing from COVID that people who didn't think flexibility for the workforce made sense, this has really been something that's convinced them that that can work well.

14:16 - 14:42

Robert Cook: Yeah, it's certainly the case along the lines of what you're describing. When I talked to a lot of other leaders of organizations, this is a struggle, but it does seem like the emerging trend is to have this hybrid environment. And then the challenge becomes, how do you manage that hybrid environment effectively when you have some people in the office and some people at home? How do you make sure that the fact that they're in different locations, that you're able to get the benefits of having the interactions that you're looking for by bringing people back in?

14:43 - 15:01

Eileen Murray: I couldn't agree with you more. And when I look at the number of studies and surveys that's being done on it, it's quite voluminous. But I think it comes down to what you just said, which is how do you get the benefits of flexibility and then how do you manage in that environment and how do you help people with things like child care and so on and so forth?

15:02 - 15:22

Robert Cook: Yeah, absolutely. So maybe looking beyond COVID in the workplace, you have such a perspective from the different seats you've been in and also the different parts of the industry you've been in. About the industry, I'd just love to hear your thoughts about COVID's long term impacts on our industry and the economy more broadly.

15:23 - 17:38

Eileen Murray: Yeah, I think that what COVID taught us is that things can be done a lot more quickly than we might imagine. And there's been a lot of focus, as you say, Robert, on the workplace. But I think some of the major trends that we're going to see beyond COVID is think of the Internet and the Intranet and how that changed our worlds. And I think newer technologies are going to continue to really change how business is done and transform a lot of the current business models we have in place. And we've already talked about retraining and the challenges of that.

I think the other big thing that is a terrific opportunity for financial services, which act as advisors, investors and lenders to really work on ESG. I think the work that's been done on climate change has been great. The regulatory focus on that, I think, will continue to evolve not just financial services, but many industries. And when I think about it, what's pushing that? It's basically hyper transparency that we all deal with today, social expectations, investor emphasis on ESG and stakeholder activism.

That said, the reporting of ESG is complicated, it's burdensome, and it really isn't compatible across many companies. And I believe ESG reporting should really mirror the norms and practices of financial reporting, including how it's regulated. All that said, despite the progress that we're making in that area, data remains uneven with a patchwork of reporting frameworks around the globe. I think something like 90% of companies in the S&P publish sustainability reports, but only 16% of them have a reference to ESG factors that were used to come up with these assessments. So, there's a mismatch there.

So, again, I think there's a tremendous opportunity in our industry given newer technologies, reimagining work, focusing on ESG. Who could argue with ESG, and happier employees, a better environment? All sounds great, but there's a lot of work to realize the benefits of that. And I think financial services firms, like I said, as advisors, investors and lenders, are in great position to really help society on that front.

17:39 - 17:55

Robert Cook: For sure, and another area I know that you've spent a lot of time thinking about changes in the industry is in the fintech space and the digital assets and the like. Just be curious if there's anything along those lines that you think about when you think about opportunities on the horizon for firms or the industry to be thinking about.

17:55 - 19:09

Eileen Murray: Artificial intelligence and machine learning is going to really help us in compliance areas. It's going to help us in terms of mortgages and documentation. I think that the opportunities are really endless for automating. If you think of all the manual processes people have.

Then the second big opportunity, I think, is big data and the data you have, how you can turn that data into knowledge for better business decisions is another big area. And then all this is around serving clients and employees and stakeholders.

So, these opportunities, Robert, I've never seen so many opportunities, at least in my career. And the pace of change that we're seeing given these opportunities. The other piece has to deal with legacy systems and we're seeing a lot of new entrants in the marketplace, fintech companies, that are really helping companies integrate their core systems to newer technologies in a way that's a lot simpler than it had been in the past.

So, I think financial services, what it is today versus what it will be 10, 15, 20 years from now will be dramatically different in how business is done. But I think they'll still be the focus on clients, employees and stakeholders.

19:11 - 19:46

Robert Cook: Well, that's a terrific perspective. There's so much more I'd like to talk about there. But in the interest of time, I want to make sure we talk about another topic I know you care deeply about: diversity and inclusion. And as you know, last summer, the FINRA board put out a statement outlining FINRA's continued commitment to diversity and inclusion both within FINRA but also in the industry and in the communities we serve. And I'd love to hear, looking forward, what do you hope that we can achieve as an industry in this space? And what techniques or methods or approaches do you think hold the most promise to achieve those goals?

19:47 - 21:34

Eileen Murray: I should start by saying I'm very happy that we no longer have to talk about the fact that diverse talent produces better ROEs and EBITDAs and the like. When I first started working, Robert, .5% of senior positions were held by women in financial services. Today it's 17%. And I don't know whether to cry or do the happy dance because it's certainly not enough progress. And there are other forms of diversity we need to continue to make progress on.

I think that the best thing people can do is really focus on inclusion. And the reason I think it's important to focus on inclusion and development of people is that, I will start off with using women as an example. 50% of the people we hire are women. And yet when we go up the ranks, that dwindles dramatically. And I think part of that has to do with inclusion. How do you make people from diverse backgrounds feel included in the environment and bring their authentic selves to work? And that requires training and development of managers, etc..

But I think the real key is make sure that diversity and inclusion strategies and goals are part of a CEO's compensation, part of senior management's compensation. And I'd like to see more reporting and standardization around diversity and inclusion. Because I think if it's measured, it will be managed. And if it's not measured, I don't think people focus on it because they have so many other things to do.

So, in sum, I think, focus on the I, the inclusion piece, focus on renumerating people and holding them accountable for meeting targets. And I think that will make a world of difference. And I also applaud companies like the NASDAQ that have put out measures and so on and so forth. So those sound like two simple things, but I think that would make a world of difference.

21:36 - 21:48

Robert Cook: This focus on the measurement and accountability I think is so important. You actually told me a story, Eileen, about, years ago you were asked to make the business case for diversity. I'd love it if you could share that story.

21:48 - 22:38

Eileen Murray: Yeah, I was at a management committee meeting. I was a young professional, pretty green. And it was about not having a policy for flexible work arrangements. And so, I sat in this boardroom and I looked around the table and what I was told was "Eileen, that's great. Why don't you put a business case together for diversity?" And I kind of laughed. I thought it was a joke. And I said, "OK, do you have the business case for homogeneity?" And I looked at the empty stares in the room. I realized that nobody thought it was funny and the joke was really on me.

So, I think we've come a long way from there where, thank God, people aren't asking for the business case anymore. And besides all of the business cases. Robert, one of the things I know is a value of yours. It's just the right thing to do. It's amazing how just doing the right thing has positive business impact.

22:39 - 23:09

Robert Cook: Absolutely. And as you say, it's so great that we aren't having that conversation anymore, but still so much work to do and so excited also that the board of FINRA has been focused on this, both in terms of its oversight of us as management and on its own diversity. And we just hit 50% gender diversity on the board a few months ago. Our board turns over a lot. So, it'll ebb and flow. But that was a great milestone for us to hit. And thank you for your leadership and the leadership of Kathy Murphy, the nomination and governance committee chair on those issues.

23:10 - 23:31

Eileen Murray: Yeah, I think Kathy Murphy from Fidelity, as head of the nominating committee, has done a fantastic job. As have you, Robert, in terms of your own staff, too. When you look at your senior team and you look at the board, I think most people would say we're leading by example and setting the tone for the rest of the organization. So, yeah, I think Kathy's done a great job, as have you. So, thank you.

23:33 - 23:57

Robert Cook: Well, Eileen, thank you so much for being with us today. Share some of your insights. I wish we had more time. There's so much more we could go into here. But I hope this gives the audience a perspective and appreciation for why we are so incredibly grateful for your leadership that you bring to FINRA and to our organization. So, thank you for all your work for FINRA, Eileen, and thank you for being here today to join us.

23:57 - 24:03

Eileen Murray: You're welcome, Robert. I'm going to record that and play it for my family because they won't believe me. Have a good day.

24:05 - 24:05

Robert Cook: You, too. Thank you.

24:06 - 24:27

Kaitlyn Kiernan: That's it for this episode of FINRA Unscripted. We hope that we'll see you in person at next year's event. It's never too soon to register for early bird rates, so click the link in our show notes for more information. If you have any thoughts or feedback on this episode or any others you can email us at [email protected]. Until next time.

24:27 – 24:33

Outro Music

24:33 - 24:55

Disclaimer: Please note FINRA podcasts are the sole property of FINRA and the information provided is for informational and educational purposes only. The content of the podcast does not constitute any rule amendment or interpretation to such rules. Compliance with any recommended conduct presented does not mean that a firm or person has complied with the full extent of their obligations under FINRA rules, the rules of any other SRO or securities laws. This podcast is provided as is. FINRA and its affiliates are not responsible for any human or mechanical errors or omissions. Parties may not reproduce these podcasts in any form without the express written consent of FINRA.

Find us: X / Facebook / LinkedIn / E-mail

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and by RSS.