LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Edward Richardson knows a thing or two about the banking system.
The Kansas City native turned Lakewood Ranch retiree rode a career in finance all of the way to a seat as vice president of the Federal Reserve Banks in Cleveland and St. Louis, where he also served as senior marketing officer.
Richardson was responsible for a department that managed the Fed's payment systems business, generating more than $125 million in revenue annually.
Now living in the Country Club, where he spends most of his free time golfing, Richardson also volunteers with his HOA, Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota.
He lost in a race this week to become district supervisor in his neighborhood's Community Development District.
The Herald sat down with Richardson to discuss his career and how the retired Fed executive sees the local economy shaping up.
Q: How did your career get started?
A: I grew up in Kansas City, and went to work while I was still in school for Dun and Bradstreet running credit reports and continued that through law school, which I didn't finish. I went to work for the marketing services division. They transferred me to Cleveland as regional manager, where we oversaw all of Ohio, West Pennsylvania and parts of West Virginia.
We built a sales staff of more than 20 people and got the division off the ground. I moved to credit services after about five years and became district manager.
Q: How did you start with the Fed?
A: I found my skills were becoming only marketable to Dun and Bradstreet. That was a good career path, but I thought there might be something else out there.
At the time, the Fed started to provide and get into the financial services business, which sets the item prices for different products (like check collections and wire transfers) on the market. I was recruited by the Fed out of Cleveland to help start that up.
It was basically the same geography. I had the responsibility to build the product, develop the product, price the product and sell it. I became vice president and senior marketing officer of the bank. We were trying to define what our systems were and going forward what our niche would be in the financial services industry. I had only planned on being there for a few years, because vice president of an organization like the Fed looks pretty impressive on a resume. Fortunately or unfortunately, I ended up there 21 years.
Q: Did you always know you wanted a career in finance?
A: I had no idea. I probably wanted to pursue the legal profession a bit more, and I probably regret that I didn't. A lot of that had to do with circumstances, I got married, the Vietnam War was here, and there was a lot going on at that time. I suppose sales and marketing is close to the legal profession, you're trying to convince someone of something.
I'm a peddler in basic terms. Maybe I understood more of the sophisticated processes and procedures, but I'm still a peddler. That's what I did.
Q: What do you attribute your success to?
A: I had the pleasure of being associated with a bunch of very bright people. Particularly with the banks I was with, these were a lot of Rhodes Scholars and that sort of thing. I think what I brought to the table was common sense sometimes. I had the private sector experience that was both an advantage and disadvantage.
It was a very intense department with meetings and planning groups. We collected all of the processing fees and all of the infrastructure costs that make the payment systems work. People will write a check or do an online bill pay and don't understand the infrastructure behind it. We were the plumbing. One example is that machine you will see at the bank or grocery store that processes checks and reads the codes. We did the first pilot at a small bank in Cleveland.
Q: How has technology changed the way the industry works?
A: When I left the organization there were 46 check processing centers across the country. Today, they handle it with only one. We had info flowing pretty quickly, but the digital age has really sped that up. The first thing I did when I got there was develop a PC network that was built for the bank to do automated transactions and all sorts of different payments. It was a novel idea at the time because PCs weren't on every desk. The computer it took to run the bank was probably the size of a large room. Now you have the same processing power on your cell phone.
Q: What do you think about the decisions that are made at the Fed today?
A: There are three separate areas at the Fed: payments, monetary policy and regulation. Although we had some involvement, these were pretty separated, and I was not really a participant in policy making.
From that perspective, I think sometimes the Fed gets itself into fiscal policy a lot more than it should, and that's partly a fault of Congress for not being able to take care of it themselves. I think they're trying to accomplish more than they should be.
Q: What brought you to the Lakewood Ranch area?
A: Have you ever been to Cleveland? We were tired of the weather and the long winters. We had some friends in the area. It's just like everyone, we're all here from somewhere else.
Q: How do you see the economy unfolding in the next few years?
A: I think Sarasota, and this entire area in general, will head out of the doldrums quicker than others. Part of the reason is the money that's coming down here, and people are starting to feel a little better. This market is in for some better times ahead. I'm very optimistic.
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman