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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Omarova uses her expertise to make finance more ‘public-minded’

Omarova_mugLast year was a busy one for Saule Omarova.

She published “The Merchants of Wall Street: Banking, Commerce and Commodities” in the Minnesota Law Review (Vol. 98, 2013), pointing out questionable commodity trading practices of several large national financial institutions. Then, the George R. Ward Distinguished Professor of Law was asked to testify before the Senate Banking Committee’s Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection.

Her research fueled a national debate, resulting in media coverage from the New York Times, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, along with “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Omarova’s work – which focuses on the regulation of financial institutions, banking law, international finance and corporate finance – has frequently put her at the center of debate on federal regulation of financial institutions and markets.

Omarova came to Carolina in 2007 from the U.S. Department of Treasury, where she served as a special adviser for regulatory policy to the Under Secretary for Domestic Finance. Before that, she was a bank regulatory lawyer in New York, where she became interested in the intricacies of U.S. banking law and how it was connected to other areas of financial regulation.

The more she learned, the more she began asking broader theoretical questions, which led her to pursue academic research about the nature of the financial system, its social functions and its public role.

“I think it’s my duty to use my knowledge of this very technical and specialized field to make finance more public-minded and efficient as a tool of the broader and sustainable societal progress,” Omarova said. “What happens in financial markets affects all of us, and so we should all have a say in how they are governed. That’s what drives my work and keeps me excited about it.”

Originally from Kazakhstan, Omarova was educated in Moscow before coming to the United States in 1991 on a student exchange program in the political science department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, she stayed in Madison and became a doctoral student in the same department. She then pursued a law degree at Northwestern University.

Omarova admitted that with her background, she might be considered an unlikely financial regulation expert. Even so, she said, “I love my field and think it is incredibly important, not only as an economic matter but as a matter of building a strong, truly democratic America.”

Her passion for her field of interest is matched by her enthusiasm for Carolina students.

“Carolina students are truly our best asset, and their dedication to defending and furthering the public interest is contagious and inspiring,” Omarova said. “Working with our students is the best part of being a Carolina law professor.”