Arturo Gonzalez Ph.D. ’97

Arturo Gonzalez Ph.D. ’97


Arturo Gonzalez M.A. ’93, Ph.D. ’97, is an accomplished economist who visited UCSB in April to speak to the Graduate Scholars Program students. After working at the Federal Reserve Board as Chief of the Consumer and Community Development Research section in Washington, D.C. for eight years, Gonzalez recently moved back to California to join Visa headquarters in San Francisco as senior director of payment economics. Born in Mexico, Gonzalez immigrated to East Los Angeles as a child. Among his teachers was Jaime Escalante, a Bolivian high school math teacher and subject of the 1988 film, "Stand and Deliver." “I am grateful for the direction and encouragement he gave me,” Gonzalez recalled.

Gonzalez earned a bachelor’s in economics from UCLA and a Ph.D. in Economics from UCSB, receiving the award for Best Dissertation in the Social Sciences. He was an associate professor at the University of Arizona and served as a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. Before the Federal Reserve Board, Gonzalez worked as a financial economist at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in Washington, D.C.

6  Questions

Why did you choose to study at UCSB?

When I was at UCLA, a professor recommended UCSB because I was interested in applied economics. He didn’t think MIT, Harvard or Yale would be for me because they emphasized mathematics and theory over application. I turned down a fellowship at UCI to come to UCSB which turned out to be a great fit. I had a good mentoring experience with professors here. They were tough in academic rigor but humane in terms of mentoring. It’s a lesson in balance- you burn out quickly if you try to learn everything on the syllabus- you realize it’s impossible. The university also taught me public policy, how to talk to the media, and helped me develop leadership skills. Knowing your audience is important in order to reach them.

At UCSB everyone is diverse. Being at UCSB was a reminder that this is a place where different people come together and have a shared experience.

Why did you decide to leave the Federal Reserve Board and Washington, D.C.?

We were far away from our family and friends in California and my parents are getting older. That 2,000-mile distance was hard, especially now that we have a baby. An opportunity opened up at Visa- it was a good fit with my interests and a great career opportunity. You have to balance life and work. Moving back is a big change—but it’s a measured risk, well thought out and it felt right. There isn’t any one thing that defines me. I joke that I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. But I’m okay with change. I don’t want my career to define me. I want to define my career. A Ph.D. does that for you- it allows you to define yourself.

What will you be doing in your new position?

As the resident economist for Visa’s Global Public Policy team, I give insights about how economics helps better understand the role of consumers, merchants, central banks, and governments in the credit network. It’s a fascinating, innovative area of research that did not exist when I was in grad school. It involves understanding how to efficiently manage a network that facilitates the provision of credit for the benefit of consumers and merchants, and national economies. I will be working on the economics of credit card systems to understand what factors increase or decrease the benefits from such networks.

What changes are taking place in how we use money?

Technology is redefining how money is used but we’re just at the beginning of that development. There’s a term for it: fintech, where finance and technology intersect. Fintech is opening up and democratizing credit. When you use a credit card it might take a month for a bank to settle payments. Fintech providers like PayPal make funds available at end of day. What does fintech mean for you as a consumer? Do you need to talk to an advisor about retirement or can a machine provide the same information to make financial decisions? Will you interact with your bank in person or only through your mobile phone? Does it mean that branches will disappear and that money will be accessed only through your phone? We don’t know the impact fintech will have on society. Merchants and consumers are still figuring it out. There’s experimenting, and failures will take place. Uber started as a black car service company but evolved to compete with taxis. We now think primarily of Uber for its UberX service and its UberBlack origins. What starts out in one direction doesn’t mean it won’t succeed.

Arturo Gonzalez With UCSB Students Arturo Gonzales with UC Santa Barbara Graduate Scholars at a networking workshop.

What have you learned through your research?

Through my work on mobile payments systems, we have learned that Hispanics are more likely to have smartphones than whites or blacks. One explanation might be that the smartphone is their main connection to the internet instead of relying on a computer at home. Hispanics with a mobile phone and bank account are more likely to do mobile banking than any other group. We’ve also learned that Latinos and African Americans are less likely to have bank accounts than whites. If immigrant parents don’t know how to use a bank, don’t speak English well or are intimidated by a bank teller, they can use smartphones or have their children help them at home. Children tend to be the interpreters institutionally and culturally. Banks are really interested in that because that brings more money for them.

What advice do you have for current UCSB students in general or for those hoping to follow the same career path?

Appreciate as much as possible the things that provide you the most satisfaction. Explore in as many ways as possible to find what will satisfy you, and don’t be afraid to fail. Have a backup plan in case. Seek advice from people you trust.

Reasons We're Proud to be Gauchos

Seeing the continued growth of the University in terms of academic reputation (such as the various Nobel Prizes) and diversity of the students.


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