As our regulatory responsibilities grow, Ripple has continued to expand its legal and compliance team. Recently, we were thrilled to welcome Jess Cheng as deputy general counsel.
Before joining Ripple, Jess was counsel in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s legal group. She provided legal support with a focus on financial services, including in the areas of payment systems and settlement arrangements.
Prior to joining the New York Fed, she was an associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in New York, where she worked in the firm’s litigation practice.
Jess earned her law degree in 2009 from the Columbia University School of Law after receiving a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Yale University in 2006. She is a member of the American Bar Association’s Business Law Section and currently serves as vice chair of the Payments Subcommittee of the Business Law Section’s Uniform Commercial Code Committee.
Hey Jess! Do you want to tell us a little bit about your role at Ripple and what you’re working on?
I’m the deputy general counsel at Ripple. Basically, the core of why I was hired is to provide legal support for payments and financial services law. That can be a challenge since most of these laws aren’t specifically tailored to distributed ledgers that operate as payment systems. For example, we need to understand how these laws might apply to us, how they indirectly interact with the Ripple protocol and more directly, how financial institutions using the protocol might be impacted by such laws and regulations.
Ultimately, it’s about getting an awareness for the legal landscape, both how it may potentially apply to us with today’s existing framework and also envisioning a future where there is a new legal regime developed specifically for blockchain or distributed ledgers as payment systems (and understanding what that might look like).
You’re an east coast transplant!
I grew up on the east coast, so transitioning to the Bay Area these last few months has been an exciting adventure. I went to undergrad at Yale and after I graduated Columbia Law, I stayed in New York City and went to work for the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz as a litigation associate. It was an intense experience, fascinating work, incredibly intelligent colleagues, etc. everyone there was very dedicated and hardworking with an incredible attention to detail. Working there, you become intensely focused working alongside coworkers who always see issues to the end.
How did you end up at the New York Fed?
I had already worked there for my 1L summer during law school—that’s basically the summer where you can sort of do whatever you want since you typically interview later for your full-time job after law school. I chose to do a summer clerkship at the New York Fed, where I worked on very fascinating issues. Naturally, I was thrilled to go back when I heard there was an opening.
I ended up specializing in financial services and payment services. My clients spanned different areas within the Bank—financial services operational and business areas, as well as credit risk management and account settlement areas. The legal area is set up on top of all of these service related areas so we basically helped coordinate things, spot issues, brainstorm how to handle difficult transactions or navigate bank failures.
After spending 4.5 years at the New York Fed, I got to know how the payment system worked, from ACH to paper checks to Fedwire and the legal issues involved. That’s why, to me, the idea that Ripple is just laying down whole new rails instead of tacking on a new interface is truly innovative. When I first heard of Ripple, I thought it would be a great opportunity to build on what I already knew and learned from the New York Fed and work on truly fascinating issues.
I was impressed by how thoughtful the people were there that I had met like Karen (Special Advisor for Global Regulatory Affairs), Norman (General Counsel) and Patrick (Head of Business Development), and Antoinette O’Gorman (CCO). Individually, they struck me as people who were very thoughtful, had great awareness of the workings of the financial services industry, and were comfortable with complexity. It’s nice to see innovation paired with careful consideration. At the end of the day, Ripple is just very interesting, it’s cool. It’s a very different way of looking at payment systems. It makes sense elegantly and intuitively while being so different from what’s out there today.
Anything you’d like to add?
I really do think blockchain and distributed ledger technologies are the next step in the evolution of payment systems. I hear about it all the time. For example, I’m vice chair of the American Bar Association’s Business Law Section Payments Subcommittee. The idea is for it to be a forum, for lawyers and regulators and academics to get together and talk about current issues and developments, at the general level for business law, and with this subcommittee, a focus on payments law.
One of the things that’s interesting is that the tone of the conversation around distributed ledgers and blockchain tech. For the longest time, it was this “crazy” thing. Recently, the conversation has shifted to how these new technologies be used to make payments faster, more reliable, more cost-effective and more transparent.
And that’s really interesting to me. It’s also something I’ve known for a while, that lawyers, financial institutions and policymakers are talking to Ripple about that potential. I knew this when I joined and I was very pleasantly surprised to see the extent and scope of it now that I’m fully onboard.