If there’s one thing that came out of this week’s Digital Asset Summit in London, it’s that crypto companies around the world are growing rapidly. If there’s another one, it’s that finding the right people isn’t easy at all.
Jobs and products in crypto and decentralized finance are as disparate as jobs and products in traditional financial services: there are trading jobs, customer-facing jobs, product management jobs, data jobs and, most importantly, engineering jobs. There are DeFi companies focused on custody and payments and there are DeFi companies focused on prop trading, market making, or prime brokerage. As a former global head of credit reporting at Barclays turned crypto pioneer, Oliver von Landsberg-Sadie pointed out that whatever exists in the “TradFi” world must ultimately be reflected in the DeFi world. “Spot trading was the first mirror of TradFi,” said of Landsberg-Sadie. “Then we had the evolution of derivatives, which are flourishing in the DeFi space.” In October, the first bitcoin-linked ETF arrived.
DeFi has its big players, like Coinbase, which employs nearly 3,000 people. It also has an array of small businesses, like Von Landsberg-Sadie’s BCB Group, which provides transaction and payment banking services to the crypto industry. All are growing exponentially; all say they are hiring.
“When I joined this firm 2.5 years ago, there were 35 people,” says Cameron Dickie, head of EMEA sales at crypto broker B2C2. “We are now at 120, and this growth trajectory will continue.” Coinbase hired 600 people in the last quarter. Small businesses like CrypPro and Dexterity Capital hasdoubling in size. Only BCB wants to double or triple the size of its engineering team in the coming year. In 2021, crypto investment bank Galaxy Digital increased its workforce by 130% to 510 people.
The expansion of the “crypto native” space has not gone unnoticed by traditional finance players, some of whom noticed it a while ago, some of whom pay very little attention to it. Thomas Uhm of Jane Street’s Global Crypto Institutional Sales & Trading team said he started building the e-commerce firm’s crypto team four years ago. Bank of America did not launch crypto research until October 2021.
As DeFi jobs explode, everyone wants candidates with existing DeFi experience and early movers in the space are finally seeing their career decisions vindicated. Jonathan Cheesman, a former FX salesman at Barclays, Goldman Sachs and HSBC, said when he left TradFi for DeFi in 2018 he was forced to retrace his steps in order to “feed the family”. In May 2021, Cheesman joined crypto exchange FTX to sell its services to institutions and act as “a bridge between traditional finance and crypto natives”. The times have changed.
The catalyst for change has been the pandemic, Cheesman said — and specifically governments’ “extreme politics” and “wartime” response to the pandemic. “It really lit the fuse,” he said. “Satoshi wrote the white paper – he developed bitcoin because he believed the monetary response to the financial crisis was so important that banks could never withdraw the monetary response they had provided.” Satoshi predicted that another round of stimulus was inevitable in the next crisis. The pandemic was that broader crisis, Cheesman said. This is the moment when “the institutional dispatchers finally said yes”.
As institutional money moves through the crypto space, the expectation of crypto natives is that the volatility of established tokens like bitcoin, ether, or SQL will drop, creating a virtuous circle in which the involvement of institutions in decentralized finance will only increase. “Over the next two to three years, banks are going to completely change their stance on crypto, and that will cause a huge sea change,” predicted David Olsson, global head of institutional distribution at BlockFi and former trader at Caxton and Merrill Lynch. At the moment, the DeFi system is both fragmented and relatively illiquid, Olsson said, but the more institutions get involved, the more volatility will be dampened and market anomalies will disappear.. Boris Bohrer-Bilowitzki, Chief Revenue Officer at Copper, which also provides custodial and prime brokerage services for digital assets (there are a few), compared the current state of market developments in cryptography to the stock markets of the early years of the last century. – Most of the investors were individuals, but then the institutional money came along.
If the forecasts are correct, the demand for decentralized financial expertise should explode. Specialized market makers and accessory traders are already saying that they are already forced to offer exceptional packages to attract people. – Dexterity said it pays on par with Jane Street, and Jane Street has been known to pay even its most junior traders $400,000+ all-in. Galaxy Digital’s 510 people shared $182 million this year, an average of $357,000 each.
Hiring in crypto is tough, but there is no shortage of potential candidates. It’s people with prior cryptography experience and exceptional math and coding abilities that are the real problem. Ideal recruits often already sit at rival crypto firms, making roles difficult to fill and bidding wars common. For the moment, however, it is still possible to move away from traditional finance. B2BC’s Dickie says he gets a steady stream of five to 10 resumes a week from traders and bank salespeople who want to relocate, and he’s ready to hire them. “Crypto sales jobs will only grow,” he predicts. “It’s still a cottage industry compared to traditional finance, but the talent drain is only going one way.”
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