Shifting Winds of Technology Test Clearing House's Mohr
John R. Mohr, the new No. 2 executive at the New York Clearing House Association, thrives on complexity.
As executive vice president reporting to the association's hard-driving chief executive, John F. Lee, the 43-year-old Mr. Mohr oversees some of banking's largest and most complicated back-office operations. They include Chips - the Clearing House Interbank Payments System - and the New York Automated Clearing House, which together process nearly $1 trillion in electronic payments a day.
A Sailing Metaphor
Mr. Mohr often relaxes from the rigors of his job by taking out a 26-foot sailboat in New York Harbor.
"Sailing is a lot like managing," Mr. Mohr said. "You've got a lot of forces at play: You've got the wind, the tide, the set of the sail." It's the act of sailing, and not the destination, that is most appealing, he said.
That should serve Mr. Mohr well in a job in which technology shifts as often as a light breeze.
With his diplomatic style, Mr. Mohr seems well-suited for his new post, where one challenge will be to coordinate responses to Fed Reserve proposals in the areas of payment systems risk and check clearing operations.
Big Shoes to Fill
"My biggest responsibility is to see the forces at play in the banking industry and work with the banks to see how we can best position ourselves, how we can best react," he said. Today, that means constant evaluation of Fed initiatives on settlement deadlines and payment system risk, "and how the Fed plans to operate in the future."
In succeeding William B. Walsh, Mr. Mohr has big shoes to fill. Mr. Walsh, who died of cancer in November, was instrumental in getting the more than 800 members of the ACH to move to an all-electronic system.
Colleagues say Mr. Mohr's strong suit will be his abilities to listen and to take a strong position that reflects the interests of the group.
"John is a freethinker," said Kenneth C. Fuller, senior vice president at Morgan Guaranty Co. "He looks for better ways to do business that would be beneficial to all, not just the institution he's working for."
A 19-year banking veteran - 17 of them spent at the Irving Trust Co. before it was acquired by the Bank of New York - Mr. Mohr knows the ins and outs of the funds transfer business.
He rose from a part-time job as an assistant secretary in securities processing to executive vice president in charge of funds transfer, deposit, trade, and credit services, a role he continued in for two years at the Bank of New York after the hostile takeover of Irving in 1989.
Funds Transfer Experience
In the early 1980s, as an operations head of Irving's highly regarded funds transfer system, Mr. Mohr spearheaded an effort to standardize funds transfer messages that involved the sometimes competing interests of bankers, regulators, and funds transfer networks like Chips, Fedwire and Swift.
At that time, there was no standard format for structuring funds transfer messages. The ABA had recommended a format of which the Federal Reserve System did not approve.
"John had to work through the clearing house, Swift, and the American Bankers Association committees to get them to standardize message formats, and to get other banks to agree to use them," said Richard A. Pace, executive vice president at Bank of New York, a former colleague.
As Mr. Mohr works to coordinate his members' response to the sweeping changes in the industry, he is also managing technical projects designed to make clearing house operations run more smoothly. Among these are a software effort to make Chips message formats more compatible with Swift formats.
And the association recently requested bids on an imaging system that processes check return items and transmits them to banks electronically.
"The clearing house needs to get its feet wet in imaging," said Mr. Mohr. "We want to be able to help banks evaluate the imaging process."