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2008 Industry Achievement Award Winner – Judith Rinearson (March 2008)

For Pioneering Work in Law and Regulation Affecting Prepaid Cards

Judith Rinearson, a recognized authority on stored value and prepaid products, is a partner at Bryan Cave LLP in its New York City office. Formerly group counsel for American Express’ prepaid program, she launched a host of new products including gift, teen, travel and rewards cards. She currently chairs the Government Relations Working Group for the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association and co-chairs the American Bar Association’s Electronic Financial Services Subcommittee.

“Judie has had a significant and profound impact as a legal pioneer in the prepaid card industry. The importance of lawyers in creating new payment products cannot be overstated,” her colleagues at Bryan Cave wrote in her nomination for the award. “Payment products are considered high-risk products by regulators because of potential fraud and compliance risks. Laws for credit and debit cards developed over many years, but when the prepaid payment industry emerged, there was an ‘open frontier’ with little clear boundaries or guidelines.”

Rinearson’s work has helped build the legal framework surrounding the prepaid card industry—a challenge not to be underestimated. As prepaid plastic began to grow in the mid-1990s, many argued that regulation of prepaid products was urgently needed. Rinearson stood firm against premature regulation, urging lawmakers to hold off while the young industry emerged. Too much regulatory interference would stifle innovation, she argued.

“These products are so wide-ranging and dynamic in the marketplace that to try to achieve uniformity, in our opinion, places too great of a straightjacket on this developing area,” she testified during a hearing hosted by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Rinearson often is invited to speak to different groups about the payments industry, including the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, NACHA, and at annual meetings of the Money Transmitter Regulators Association and the Unclaimed Property Professionals Organization. In June of 2007, she co-chaired the American Conference Institute’s National Forum on Payment Systems in New York City. Last year, she spoke to an audience of federal law enforcement officials explaining why stored value cards should not be designated as “monetary instruments.”

She also writes about the industry for trade and financial publications, where her contributions are prized for their straight talk. In a 2005 article on state gift card laws, she observed that some legislation was “apparently drafted by persons who were ignorant about how the industry works.” In December, she wrote an article arguing that reward and rebate prepaid cards should not be subject to state abandoned property and consumer protection laws.

From Arizona to Vermont, Rinearson closely monitors legislation impacting the industry. And, she continues to be a voice of reason, calling for responsible and reasonable approaches to the legal and regulatory issues related to prepaid cards.

“Judie has become the preeminent legal adviser on prepaid card issues to a range of industry participants—banks, payment systems, processors, program managers, retailers, employers and sellers,” her colleagues at Bryan Cave say. “More importantly, Judie’s work in prepaid cards has helped influence the legal development of this industry from the time of its origins.”

An “Army brat,” Rinearson spent her childhood with her parents and three sisters all over the globe, from suburban Washington, D.C., to Seoul, South Korea, where she graduated from high school.

Rinearson began her legal career after graduating from Smith College, where she majored in government and minored in anthropology. She got a job in Atlanta as a paralegal and “liked the cerebral aspect of being a lawyer. I liked that we had projects where you weren’t just shuffling paper. There is a beginning, middle and end,” she told Paybefore during an interview in 2007.

After graduating from New York University Law School, she worked for four years handling litigation at a small firm before taking a position at American Express in 1985. During the course of 10 years as American Express group counsel, she worked with merchants that accepted American Express cards and reviewed contracts and sponsorship agreements. She also spent three years as American Express general counsel for Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. She lived in Sydney, Australia, during those three years—a place that remains one of her favorite destinations.

Today, she works with a diverse client base at Bryan Cave. Her schedule allows her to work from her home office at least once a week, which her children appreciate. She and her husband—a part-time lawyer and graphic designer—adopted their three children from Korea and are on the board of a Korean culture camp for adoptees. They have lived for the last 14 years in a refurbished Victorian home in Montclair, N.J., with a dog, three turtles and many fish.

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