Chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: Who Is Jelena McWilliams?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Jelena McWilliams (photo: Fifth Third Bancorp)

President Donald Trump has inched closer to finalizing his banking regulation team, which he intends to use to undermine the financial system protections adopted under President Barack Obama. On November 30, 2017, Trump nominated Jelena McWilliams to lead the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which regulates the banking system, most prominently by insuring bank deposits. Since January, she has been chief legal officer at the oddly named Fifth Third Bank. If confirmed by the Senate, McWilliams would succeed Martin Gruenberg, an Obama appointee whose six-year term on the FDIC board does not end until December 2018.


Born July 29, 1973, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia) to Branka and Obrad Obrenic, Jelena Obrenic arrived in the United States on July 29, 1991—her eighteenth birthday. She earned a B.A. in Political Science and Mass Communications at the University of California Berkeley in 1999 and a J.D. at the same school in 2002.


McWilliams practiced corporate transaction law in the private sector for not quite five years, specializing in public offerings of debt and equity securities, and mergers and acquisitions. She worked at two large law firms, Morrison & Foerster in Palo Alto, California (September 2002 to April 2005) and Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovell) in Washington, DC (April 2005 to April 2007). 


McWilliams’ deep involvement with the banking industry began in April 2007, when she joined the Federal Reserve Board of Governors as an attorney in the Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, where she focused on consumer financial services laws and regulations. 


McWilliams left the Federal Reserve in July 2010 to serve as assistant chief counsel for Republicans in the Senate Small Business Committee, where she worked on financial regulations, economic and monetary policy, consumer protection, and related small business issues for Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Richard Shelby (R-Alabama).


She moved to the Senate Banking Committee as senior counsel in July 2012, eventually rising to chief counsel and deputy staff director. McWilliams served the Banking Committee for five years, leaving in January 2017 to become executive vice president, chief legal officer, and corporate secretary at Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Prior to McWilliams, the White House had nominated congressional staffer James Clinger as the chairman of FDIC, but amidst renewed attention on past conflict of interest problems, he withdrew, citing personal reasons.


Jelena McWilliams was formerly married to John Neal McWilliams. They have a daughter, Maya.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Who Is Jelena McWilliams? Donald Trump Nominates New FDIC Chair (by Ayushman Basu, International Business Times)

Trump Taps Fifth Third Lawyer McWilliams to Lead FDIC (by Pete Schroeder, Reuters)

Fifth Third's McWilliams Tapped as Next FDIC Chair (by Rob Blackwell & Ian McKendry, American Banker)

Montenegrin Achieved the American Dream: She Aims to White House (by Dusica Tomovic, Vijesti) (machine translated from the original Serbian)


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