Carlos Fuentes: business and tech at Federal Reserve Bank
As a kid, he bonded with his Commodore. He’s used his passion to build a wealth of IT experience that led to his dream job overseeing Fedwire
'Nothing compares to this.” That’s how Carlos Fuentes sums up his experience at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Fuentes is vice president of strategy and architecture in the wholesale product office, overseeing Fedwire funds and securities.
Fedwire (Federal Reserve Wire Network) enables the electronic transfer of almost $4 trillion a day among more than 8,000 customers. The Fedwire securities service provides safekeeping, transfer and settlement services for another $200 trillion-plus in securities issued by the U.S. Treasury, federal agencies, other government-sponsored enterprises and certain international organizations.
“The wholesale product office is the juncture between business and technology,” explains Fuentes. “We define a vision from both business and technology perspectives, leveraging technology to enable our businesses to deliver better services to their customers. Defining the vision is easy,” he says with a smile, “but the execution can be hard.
“It takes time to execute, and in that time the market changes and the needs of business change. A vision is not a fixed point. Once people commit, they invest tens of millions of dollars or more. You have to be able to redirect it but still have an end goal in mind.
“For example, we’re going through a modernization project, taking applications off the mainframe and rewriting them in newer technology. That’s the first step. The second step is asking where we want to be in five years and what we have to do to get there. So we work with the business and maybe come up with ten things, but there’s never enough money to do all ten.”
For this project, Fuentes is personally reviewing the technology. He reviews designs of proposed new systems to see if they align with business needs. Has anything been overlooked? Are there any tweaks that can be made to improve its usefulness to the business? He typically looks three to five years into the future.
“These systems have an impact on the national infrastructure of the Federal Reserve. You have several trillion dollars moving around every day, and if something goes down, people will notice. There is a lot of pressure to be accurate. We have to get it right the first time out the door.”
Fuentes heads what he calls “a tiny team” of three senior technologists with broad business and IT skills. “The Fed has centers of excellence. Rather than each district having its own data center, its own development center, and its own day-to-day operations organization, those have been consolidated into centers of excellence and I insource to them. I am their customer and they deliver for me. Between me and the other districts, there’s always somebody needing something.”
Early “obsession” is a sign of things to come
Fuentes was born in Bound Brook, NJ. His parents were college professors of Spanish. His interest in technology began in the early 1980s when he was a freshman in high school. “My parents bought me a Commodore 64,” he remembers, “and I was obsessed with it. When they wanted to punish me, they put away my computer. I also knew there weren’t a lot of people in the field at the time, so it would be easier for me to get a job.”
Fuentes knew several people whose parents were in technology or business. He saw these adults facing big decisions, challenges and opportunities and he wanted to be part of that. Fuentes set his sights on working in a big multinational company.
Fuentes chose Rutgers (New Brunswick, NJ) for college. “It was close and affordable,” he explains. “The job market wasn’t great and I didn’t want to end up saddled with a lot of debt when I graduated. I chose to major in computer science and English literature. I wanted the English degree to be able to write well. I also figured if there were no jobs in the computer field, I could become a teacher.”
At Rutgers, Fuentes worked in the computer lab doing operations and tech support. By his junior year, he was working on a supercomputer through a partnership among Rutgers and other universities. He says this was both a blessing and a curse because in 1989, at the end of his junior year, he got a job offer on Wall Street from trading firm Kidder Peabody. KP was looking for someone with database and programming skills.
He decided to leave college for a year and take advantage of the opportunity at KP. “I was designing trading systems and doing operations support. The hours were a killer but the money was wonderful,” remembers Fuentes. A year later, Kidder Peabody was bought out and Fuentes was laid off. He was ready to return to school when his former boss arranged an interview for him with analytics firm Institutional Brokers Estimate System (IBES), which was migrating systems off of a mainframe. Fuentes took the job.
He started attending college again, at St. Peter’s College (Jersey City, NJ). “They had a real night program,” Fuentes says. “Sometimes I didn’t leave work until 7:00 PM but I could still take the second shift of classes from 8:00 to 11:00. It took me a long time to get a degree because I was also doing a lot of traveling.”
In 2008, nineteen years after he left Rutgers, Fuentes received a BA in English literature from St. Peter’s College. He has also earned numerous professional certifications.
Prior to coming to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2012, Fuentes played key IT roles in major business and financial services firms including Reuters, AIG, Verizon and Ernst & Young.
Federal Reserve makes a good pitch
“Every few years, I would take a job at another company that had another opportunity.”
He had been at Ernst & Young a few months when the Federal Reserve called. “At first, I wasn’t returning their calls,” he remembers. “I didn’t know much about them but after I finally talked with the recruiter about the culture and the people, I was interested. When he told me about Fedwire and transferring several trillion dollars a day, and what my responsibilities would be, I was hooked.
“The Fed wants smart people and committed people but they also want people who can be part of a team. I’ve never been so happy in my life. My wife says I can never leave.”
Fuentes was named to the Hispanic IT Executive Council’s HITEC 100 list in 2009 and 2010. The list highlights the nation’s top Hispanic IT executives and rising stars. In addition to his active membership in HITEC, he has been a board member of the New Jersey Chapter of the Internal Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA).
“Right now, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do to grow and succeed in the Fed. I want to make Fedwire successful. The important thing is, whatever I do with it probably isn’t going to change for twenty years or more so it’s a legacy. I want to be that bridge between business and IT.”
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