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Niel Willardson, Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank
Niel Willardson, Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank

In-House Counsel 2022: Niel Willardson

This July, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank will lose one of its most valuable, longtime leaders, when Niel Willardson retires after 31 years of service, including 17 years as senior vice president and general counsel.

Willardson has led the bank’s supervision, regulation, and credit division, and also the system’s staff development subcommittee, training thousands of bank examiners. He has also overseen the financial management group, serving as the bank’s CFO; the payments, standards, and outreach group; community development; and served as the corporate secretary. He served the Board of Governors as a deputy director and interim general counsel for the office of employee benefits.

During his tenure, Willardson has helped lead the Minneapolis Fed through two major crises: the 2008-2009 financial meltdown and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

In the early days of the pandemic, he led the legal team that implemented the Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility, which provided more than $208 billion in liquidity to about 900 financial institutions nationwide.

One of Willardson’s most effective recent contributions — to the entire Federal Reserve system — was taking the lead in implementing a new policy requiring all Minneapolis bank employees to be vaccinated or receive an accommodation. In July, 2021, the Minneapolis Fed became the first of 12 regional Federal Reserve banks to publicly announce a vaccine requirement policy.

“It was good to be in that position to support all of the other banks,” he says.

Willardson has been part of the Bank’s mentoring program for the past 20 years. “Earlier in my career, I was really fortunate to work with and learn from a lot of really great people and had a lot of support. So, ‘giving back’ is the least I can do,” says Willardson, who plans to continue working as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and as a fellow in the U’s Law and Economics Institute.

In 2017, Willardson played a major role in establishing the bank’s employee resource networks, which are employee-led affinity groups designed to promote leadership and inclusivity.

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