Profile: Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Kathy Koltin Blumenfeld

(Note: Video was cut short due to technical problems)

WisPolitics.com is profiling some of the newly announced agency heads. Our third installment features state Department of Financial Institutions Secretary Kathy Koltin Blumenfeld.

Blumenfeld most recently served as executive vice president of special operations at TASC. She replaces former Secretary Jay Risch, who was appointed by then-Gov. Scott Walker.

Birthplace, age? 
55 years old, born in Milwaukee.

Job history? 
Most recently worked as the vice president of special operations at TASC, a Madison-based business focused on third-party administration services. Previously worked at CUNA Mutual Group for 26 years, most recently as vice president of lending and payment security. Before that, she worked as a certified public accountant. And she previously served as a board chair and member of Summit Credit Union.

Education? 
Undergraduate degree in accounting and political science from UW-Madison.

Family? 
Married to her husband, Michael, and has three adult children. One is set to graduate from UW-Madison this year, the other is a second-year law student at UW-Madison and the third is working in a startup.

Favorite non-work interests? 
“Anyone that knows me would answer, Tennis.’ Tennis I’ve been playing since I was 10 years old. My dad taught me how to play. And it’s just my passion. I probably play on a slow week five times a week and on a good week, probably seven or eight times. For me, it’s just my stress relief. My kids play, my husband will play … We enjoy tennis a lot as a family as well. I also as I say, bleed red for the Badgers, so a big, big Badger fan. Our family loves to travel, (I) love to read, love to really (be involved in) community service, I’ve sat on a lot of boards and done a lot of volunteer work (currently involved in the UnityPoint Health – Meriter Board and UW Hillel). …”

Why the interest in being in the Evers administration? 
“First of all, I am so inspired by Gov. Evers. I think our values are very aligned. I think most everyone in the world is frustrated right now by the divided nature of our country. And I look at Gov. Evers as someone that really focuses on bringing people back together and finding common ground and connecting the dots, and that is very, very aligned with who I am. And I think most people that would know me (would say) when there’s a messy situation, a big problem, I like to bring people together, I like to look at data, I like to triangulate and I like to try and find solutions where we can really move forward together. So whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, whether you’re a bank or a credit union, or whether you’re a cat lover or a dog lover, there’s probably more that unites us together than that separates us. So I’m really excited to work for the Evers administration. And looking at the other cabinet secretaries, we have already built such a strong bond together, and constantly talking to each other and finding ways in which we can collaborate with each other to solve problems and working with the Legislature, too … Instead of just being one of the people that complains about the way things are, I want to be part of the solution, and I really feel that we can have such a positive impact in moving Wisconsin forward.”

What are your priorities for the agency under your leadership? What should the agency be doing differently? 
“Our mission is really to promote the safety and soundness of our state’s financial institutions, and state-chartered financial institutions in particular, of which most banks and credit unions in Wisconsin are state-chartered. We have a much higher percentage than other states, which I find interesting. And it’s because we have such a great team here of people that are not just regulators and examiner but really partners with our financial institutions, and so they have a really good reputation out there. So safety and soundness is number one. Also in our securities area, really protecting consumers of financial products. …My parents are in their 80s and they get random calls all the time for financial opportunities that really aren’t real, and there’s so much abuse that’s going on right now. So really cracking down on that and making sure that we have good actors in that space and that people are following the law and doing what they need to do; so protecting our consumers is extremely important. And then third, making sure we have access to capital and a good economy in Wisconsin and promoting that through all of our financial resources. And then four, promoting financial literacy in the state. And this is something I get very passionate about. There’s so much opportunity within the schools, within the workplace, within our senior population, wherever, to promote financial literacy … A lot of people graduate high school today, and they don’t have the education they need to really understand, ‘How do I manage student debt?’ … In the last Legislature, they passed a law that requires financial literacy training in the schools, which is fantastic. Five years ago, 30 percent of the schools participated. Now we’re up to 70 percent. I want to see that number get to 100 percent, but not just focus on that 100 percent, but focus on the quality of the education that’s happening at all of the schools. … I think we can do a better job in equipping our school counselors and making scholarships available and grants and loans available and having kids understand what it is they’re signing up for so that ultimately the outcome that I’d like to see is students graduating from their higher education with less financial debt and burden. I want to see them starting to save for retirement in their 20s, not paying off student debt.”

What’s the best advice you’ve received since getting the job? Worst advice? 
“Last week I had the good fortune of spending an hour with Jelena McWilliams, who is the chairman of the FDIC. She was in town, in Milwaukee …I figured she’s been at this a little while, she’s very dynamic, I really, really respect her and so I asked her that question, I said, ‘What advice do you have for me?’ And her advice to me, which I think is spectacular, was really get out in the community. Go to banks, go to credit unions, meet people in their place because — it’s great when people come to see you. When people come to my office, and they talk to me about their issues and their concerns, and generally they’ll have talking points that they have maybe a trade association help them prepare. And that’s great and that’s really important and I encourage that. But she said when she gets out and she visits people in their own place, that these talking points, these stories come alive, and you really understand it at a much deeper level. And she said oftentimes it goes further, and you learn about new things or you see potential things on the horizon. So during my tenure here, I really don’t want to just sit in my office. I want to get out and visit people and do outreach and listen. I want to listen to what the concerns are of the people so that I can bring those concerns back to Madison and help provide solutions for them. I think the worst advice was really when I was debating whether to take this job or not. A lot of people thought I was crazy for wanting to leave the private sector for the public sector. But as I told you before, it’s always been something I wanted to do. I didn’t know when it was going to happen, but I wanted to do it. And they said, ‘Oh don’t go to the public sector; you’ll never be able to get anything done.’ And so I think I feel very inspired by Gov. Evers, very inspired by all of the meetings I’ve had with legislators, that there’s a lot we can do to move Wisconsin forward. And so I’m glad I didn’t listen to people that gave me that advice.”

See a WisPolitics.com video of part of the conversation (cut short due to technical difficulties):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQ_vh30LIfs 

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