The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Wednesday named Paul Watkins, a lawyer in the Arizona attorney general's office who helped write a state law giving regulatory relief to fintech companies, to lead the bureau's Office of Innovation.

Watkins served as chief counsel for the Arizona AG's 150-person civil litigation division and also headed up the office's fintech initiatives. He managed the nation's first state "sandbox," which eases the regulatory burden for firms trying to launch new products.

The move is a sign that the CFPB could be exploring how to give fintech companies a similar carve-out from regulations.

Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney
Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney is ramping up the innovation office's focus "on encouraging consumer-friendly innovation, which is now a key priority for the bureau." Bloomberg News

“I am delighted that Paul Watkins is bringing his deep expertise, track record of protecting consumers, and commitment to innovation to the Bureau,” acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney said in a press release. “I am confident that, under his leadership, the Office of Innovation will make significant progress in creating an environment where companies can advance new products and services without being unduly restricted by red tape that belongs in the 20th century.”

Before working in Arizona, Watkins spent four years as an associate in the San Francisco office of Covington & Burling. He also clerked for a year at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Columbia, S.C., and spent a year before that as an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in Palo Alto, Calif.

Former CFPB Director Richard Cordray created Project Catalyst, which was the former name of the Office of Innovation, to help fintech startups and financial institutions test new products without fear of enforcement actions. But that initiative never gained traction and some considered it a failure.

Mulvaney is ramping up the office's focus "on encouraging consumer-friendly innovation, which is now a key priority for the bureau," the CFPB said in the press release.