Crypto has been on the hype train for many years, but now, in 2022, more and more people want to work in a rapidly changing space.
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In 2022, crypto is everywhere. Except for Google, where bitcoin search have fallen to pre-pandemic levels.
While investing in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin is more volatile than ever, down 55% From its peak of $68,000 on Nov. 10, for fintech veterans and incumbent bankers, crypto is fast becoming the next big career move.
Investment bankers and the financial regulatory class of London are turning to crypto in droves. For example, Varun Paul, head of fintech at the Bank of England, is leaving after 13 years to take up a role at Fireblocks.
Meanwhile, Binance has hired Steven McWhirter from the Financial Conduct Authority as its new global director of regulatory policy. London Metal Exchange boss Matthew Chamberlain recently left to join digital asset custodian Komainu in January 2022.
“We are seeing a series of high-profile departures from the traditional financial sector into the crypto space, as crypto transforms countless sectors with innovative products.
Why? What is happening? Is Crypto Eating Fintech?
“Fintech has been the hot thing for the past five years. And now it’s one of the less sexy areas because there are so many big companies, the regulations have gotten tighter, the board of directors is now made up of gray hair and bank people,” former Revolut employee Chad West tells me.
West joined Revolut in its early years and after a brief stint at grocery delivery startup Dijia, which was acquired by rival GoPuff, is now vice president of marketing for crypto wallet provider Argent.
“One thing I see is people like me or others in fintech moving in, and then we bring people with us,” he said.
In the early days of a boom, you tend to have generalist innovators, says West, who enjoy the fast-paced, disjointed world of getting a startup from zero to one. Or as Revolut famously emblazoned on the walls of its first “do shit” office. They are “innovators”.
“[Innovators are] people who are generalists. They’re versatile, generally have a high level of creativity, and they have a burning desire to go fast and smash things,” he said.
When a company reaches a point of critical mass, four or five years later, things start to change. As the need for “innovators” decreases, the need for “scalers” increases, West says.
“These are people who usually come from a bigger industry or big business and will bring with them a lot of process, a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of politics. There is a need for these people. They have the skills and expertise to work in much larger organisations, building structure,” he said.
“Innovators don’t thrive in this environment at all. They don’t like bureaucracy and they don’t like going through an endless process. They don’t like working with people who are the opposite of what they think. So it’s not a classic point the people you need in years one through four aren’t the people you need in years four through eight, in the journey.
“So all of these innovators naturally start jumping, all they care about is what’s the best thing to do, because they’re going back to their natural environment where they’re thriving.”
“So all of these people are naturally piling into crypto, because it’s kind of like remaking fintech. So that’s my kind of analogy. But I think there is a small statement.
Crypto’s growing legitimacy crystallized in 2021 and has steadily gone from strength to strength despite the market crash, especially in the UK.
London is emerging as a global cryptocurrency leader. A job platform recently revealed the number of employers currently looking for staff in the crypto industry, showing the US as the highest number of vacancies at 3,893 with the UK in second place with 954 vacancies, most of these positions being based in London. Canada came in third with 386 positions currently vacant.
Globally, investors poured more than $28 billion into crypto and blockchain startups last year, a 400% increase from 2020, according to PitchBook, showing how bullish – and hype-driven – the trend has become.
Even JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon seemed to offer something of a flip-flop on previous skeptical crypto comments recently, when he said “decentralized finance and blockchain are real.”
According to Gemini, nearly one in five UK adults (18%) now own cryptocurrency, currency exchange and other tokens. However, nearly half (45%) of those who invested did so for the first time last year.
UK consumers are curious about crypto, with 49% of UK respondents who don’t currently own crypto saying they want to learn more or are likely to buy it in the next 12 months. Of those identified as “cryptocurious,” the majority (55%) are women.
“The last year has been transformational for cryptocurrency ownership, with significant growth in adoption in the UK. A high proportion of UK investors view crypto as a long-term store of value, which which suggests that more people are recognizing the role crypto has to play in a diversified investment portfolio,” said Blair Halliday, UK Head of Gemini.
The UK government has made some of the loudest noises of any major nation supporting the shift to a crypto-friendly economy.
John Glenn, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, recently replaced UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak to deliver a hymn to the UK’s future as a “crypto hub” as well as more practical applications of blockchain technology in a speech.
This included the use of stablecoins in the payment system and potentially the use of distributed ledger technology in government capital markets.
Oh, and the Royal Mint, founded in 886 AD, will start producing NFTs this summer.
Nonetheless, the crypto regulatory regime is opaque at best and downright confusing at worst, while the FCA only recently managed to hire an interim head for its dedicated “digital assets unit.”
Despite all the unshakeable “crypto maximalist” belief that crypto usurps the traditional order of government and policy makers, regulation seems to be the biggest problem to solve.
“It’s very similar to the ‘early days’ in terms of people, but I can see it can change quite quickly, depending on the type of regulation in the legal landscape,” he said.
“Crypto is still a tech-savvy elite club. You hear a lot about companies talking about how they’re improving usability and going mainstream, and I just disagree.
“I think when you still look at onboarding flows, educational materials, or just general usability, it’s too complex. It’s too technical, and I don’t think a lot of milestones have been hit there .
FCA announces it will hire 80 new staff to meet the challenge of rooting out problematic financial firms before they become a problem in a new three-year strategy.
The Crypto hiring frenzy among UK fintech and incumbent banks seems to carry a regulatory theme. West says a lot of people from regulators or big banks are looking to crypto to help the industry navigate incoming regulation.
“I don’t think it’s because crypto companies want to employ that caliber or that type of profile. It’s because there’s so much uncertainty and worry around regulation that they’re lining up to hire these bigwigs – whether they’re public policy officers or regulators – it’s to try to protect themselves,” West said.
“I think there is a great fear. And that’s why a lot of those guys who aren’t, innovators also join at an early stage. You didn’t really see that in fintech in the first two years,” he added.
Does West have any advice for someone transitioning from banking to crypto? Yes, be prepared for an uphill battle to learn the ropes, he says/.
“People think banking is difficult. It really isn’t, it’s actually very, very simple and easy to understand. With crypto, I am still learning and have to read every day. The technology changes every six months as we are now moving from layer 1 to layer 2 of the blockchain.
“You need to be quite technical to work in crypto, and you need to be comfortable knowing that everything you’ve learned in the past six months may potentially not be relevant. You have to start from scratch. There is a lot of technical jargon and you really, really have to understand the background of this industry, which is not an easy task.
“I remember in fintech, I used to go to meetings willingly and I could speak very competently and be candid. And now I’m calmer and I listen.
A silver lining however for those making the leap to a career in crypto is the seemingly quicker route to monetization for crypto businesses compared to fintechs such as neobanks which must scale before they can hope to make a profit.
“Generally, I think they pay a lot better than FinTechs. there is no doubt. There’s a lot of revenue generated right off the bat and they make decent money. They are therefore able to be competitive on the salary scale. as a result of that, they attract good caliber talent,” West.
Perhaps a job in crypto can even turn out to be a more profitable bet than a bitcoin punt.