On Thursday, Benôit Cœuré, the founding leader of the BIS Innovation Hub, announced that he’s been nominated to lead the French Competition Authority. The BIS Innovation Hub is best known for its work around the globe on central bank digital currencies (CBDC), but it’s also involved in green bond issuance, regtech, cyber security, and new financial market infrastructures.
Assuming Cœuré’s nomination is confirmed, we analyze who might be the new leader. We’d put our money on Bénédicte Nolens who heads up one of the first Innovation Hubs in Hong Kong.
Before Cœuré’s nomination announcement, in early December, the BIS ran an event about the new European Innovation Hub split between Paris and Frankfurt and set to launch in 2022. During that session, we suspected Cœuré might be leaving based on two observations.
Firstly, the Governor of the Banque de France, François Villeroy de Galhau, made a comment about Cœuré. “I pay tribute Benôit to your specific involvement today. You will remain the founding father of this BIS Innovation Hub,” said the Governor.
Secondly, there was a discussion between three central bank heads and the staff of the Eurosystem central banks, which Bénédicte Nolens moderated. While Nolens is Belgian, she’s based in Hong Kong. Coming on the back of the French Governor’s tribute to Cœuré, it planted the question about whether she might be his replacement. Or at least she was being considered for the role.
And it makes a lot of sense.
Who is Bénédicte Nolens?
First off, Nolens has an almost perfect resume for the role. She’s a trained lawyer, spent 15 years in banking (Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse), six years as a regulator (Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission, IOSCO) and two in innovation before joining the BIS. In the latter case, she worked at stablecoin company Circle for a year and spent another year at SC Ventures (Standard Chartered).
But it’s more than that. Listening to her talk during Hong Kong Fintech Week, she has a genuine enthusiasm for innovation. And the people she works with seem to respond to her positively.
There’s nothing more international than the BIS. Nolens has a Belgian degree and two degrees from the University of Chicago. She was admitted to the New York Bar and has lived in Hong Kong since 1997. It’s where her kids were born.
Nolens is also currently managing a project that requires considerable diplomacy, the M-CBDC Bridge project involving the central banks of Thailand, Hong Kong, China and the UAE. Having a person like Nolens who can bridge the East and West seems necessary for the BIS Innovation Hub.
One of the significant innovation risks in the future is that the global financial system fragments. If new payment systems like M-CBDC Bridge go into production, SWIFT’s role in global payments could decline. Someone like Nolens might play a key role in promoting collaboration.
We contacted the BIS to confirm plans for a new BIS Innovation Hub leader. “For the time being, the BIS is not commenting on a successor,” said a spokesperson.