Global Finance sat down recently with Andrew Spindler, president and CEO of the Financial Services Volunteer Corps, which has spread the gospel of sound financial systems to the developing world for the better part of a quarter of a century.
FSVC is a not-for-profit, public-private partnership created by presidential initiative in 1990—as the financial equivalent of the Peace Corps. With a staff of only 25 but the services over the years of 8,500 volunteers, more than half of them bankers, Andrew Spindler says FSVC has often been highly effective in strengthening banking systems and capital markets in the 50 developing countries to which it has sent almost 3,000 missions since its inception, most recently in the Middle East, North and Sub-Saharan Africa and Russia and other former Soviet Bloc members.
Global Finance: How do your missions work?
Andrew Spindler: Our modus operandi is to go to countries that have invited us to help them, and listen. We find key reformers in the central bank, finance ministry or capital markets who want to promote solid change. We work with them to identify projects to address bottlenecks. Once we’ve designed these projects, which usually takes a week or two, we come back to the United States to find experts willing to step out of their jobs on a pro bono basis and help solve the problems.
GF: Do they see a business opportunity in the work?
Spindler: They should, because we’re building future markets. All of our volunteers sign conflict-of-interest waivers committing them not to use any of the information they gather for commercial or personal purposes. And we have enough street knowledge to know if volunteers are circling back a week later and looking for some paid activity. Our counterparts know this, and the trust that develops is very strong.
GF: Where does your funding come from?
Spindler: Our funding mostly comes from various bureaus of the State Department. We’re also sponsored by a number of foundations. But the biggest contribution is from financial institutions, investment banks, law firms and accounting firms that give us their experts on a volunteer basis. We couldn’t do what we do if we couldn’t draw on those experts.
GF: How has that been translated into progress?
Spindler: Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, we helped to train thousands of Russian bankers, built the capacity to do bank supervision in the country’s central bank, established a modern payment system there and built the legal and regulatory foundation for an internationally integrated financial system. Russia is going through a very difficult period right now, but these foundations tie Russia to the global system and will be there for the long run.
GF: Where else have you had success?
Spindler: We were very active in Indonesia and helped restructure its banking system after the financial crisis of 1997. We’ve just started a new program there combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The progress has been tremendous.
GF: Where have your efforts failed?
Spindler: Ukraine, where we were very active in the mid- to late-1990s and even through the early-2000s. But as Ukraine spiraled downward, we pulled out. It hasn’t made a lot of progress.
GF: What’s your biggest challenge today?
Spindler: Our biggest challenge is fighting corruption. But lecturing people doesn’t work. So we’re working with governments to set up civil society watchdogs in the Middle East and North Africa. Central banks don’t want to publicize the fact, but demand for this kind of work is enormous.