Banking on Success

"I was interested in the Foreign Service. I thought about becoming an ambassador or other foreign service officer."

From his earliest days as a lawyer, Richard Jones, JD ’84, earned a reputation for his deep knowledge of bank regulation and enforcement. He was thrust into the role, first as a young lawyer working at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board in Washington, D.C., and then at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta during the mid 1980s when the savings and loan crisis deepened across the country. 

He sharpened his bank enforcement skills at the Office of Thrift Supervision during the clean-up after the S&L crisis and several commercial bank challenges at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. during the 1990s. 

Now as senior vice president, general counsel, and strategic adviser for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Mr. Jones has a broader mandate: to help ensure the safety and soundness of the banking system, particularly banks in the Sixth District of the Federal Reserve System headquartered in Atlanta, and to promote and maintain an efficient and reliable payments clearing process. 

“In many ways, Federal Reserve Banks function as a ‘bankers’ bank,’” Mr. Jones says. “We receive bank deposits and count them to the exact penny. If the money is short, we have to notify that there is a discrepancy and make every effort to ascertain how it occurred and who’s at fault. Of course, we try mightily to ensure that discrepancies don’t occur at the Federal Reserve Bank.” 

Each Federal Reserve Bank is a separately incorporated, private institution with different and similar functions. The Reserve Bank of Atlanta (Sixth Federal Reserve District) serves Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. It helps set “national monetary policy, supervises numerous commercial banks, and provides a variety of financial services to depository institutions and the U.S. government,” Mr. Jones says.

Mr. Jones—now one of the country’s top enforcers of banking law—wouldn’t have predicted this type of career for himself. At GW, he took a lot of courses in international law and employment and labor law. “I was interested in the Foreign Service,” he says. “I thought about becoming an ambassador or other foreign service officer.”

But managing financial crises—even his own once—became his trademark. Just before starting law school at GW, he went to pay tuition with a cashier’s check which was all of the $8,500 he had saved working for UPS during college. But when he opened his wallet, the check wasn’t there. He looked in his car, the parking deck at the Marvin Center on GW’s campus, and he retraced his steps several times. The check could not be found. 

He confided what happened to Audrey Free, who headed the Office of Financial Aid and served as special assistant to the dean of the Law School at the time. He was permitted to go ahead and attend classes as an unregistered student without any idea and little hope of how he would pay his law school tuition. 

Three weeks later, still unregistered, he was lying on the sofa studying in his Takoma Park apartment, when a mailman delivered a letter from GW. “I assumed I wasn’t going to be allowed to continue attending or auditing classes,” he says. 

Instead, the letter from the financial aid office granted him a full tuition scholarship for three years. He was stunned and gratified but to this day has no idea how the scholarship decision was made. He received another shock a few weeks later when he received a registered letter from his Atlanta bank forwarding him the missing cashier’s check, which had been found on the street in downtown Washington, D.C., and returned to his bank. 

With his finances secure, he turned his attention to working hard, as he always had. As one of 12 children, he worked during high school, contributed to household funds, and earned “every penny,” he says, operating a forklift, painting driveways, and stocking shelves at a grocery store. And when his family didn’t have the means to send him to college, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He became so good at judo that he hoped to compete in the 1980 Olympics. When the United States boycotted the games, he let go of his sensei’s (judo teacher) dream to focus on his studies. 

After completing Morehouse College on the GI Bill, he enrolled at GW Law. “Before law school, I thought I was a very analytical person, but I wasn’t even on the map,” he reflects. At law school, “I learned how to evaluate and weigh things, how to get to the point and help others to focus on the issue at hand in a way that has the best chance of making a difference.” 

He now recognizes he needed to go over those hurdles to get to where he is today. “If I had looked at where I was and thought of the places I would go, it would’ve been inconceivable, much like eating an elephant; you can’t eat the whole thing in one bite—you have to take those first steps,” he says. “Each step helped to shape my trajectory, and I’m thankful for all of them.”

by Laura Hambleton