Adam Leonard, the founder and CEO of blockchain-based fintech start BlockEx, has a plan to expand aggressively by adding headcount across three continents. His most recent move was to add a veteran bond trader most recently a managing director at Mizuho in the City.
Last month, James Godfrey joined BlockEx as managing director of capital markets. He worked trading sterling bonds at UBS for more than a decade, working his way up to director before joining Commerzbank to set up sterling and euro credit trading desks in London.
From there, he went on to join Nomura as a managing director running the credit trading desks for around eight years, then a brief stint at Daiwa Capital Markets before building up Mizuho’s credit trading in the City “from scratch”, but left last year due to illness.
“In 2014, I was very ill, and after stepping down the following year to get healthy, I decided to do something a bit different with my life, which is why I ended up here. I’m lucky to be here – it gives you a different outlook on life, he said. "I wanted to something more exciting than buying and selling bonds all day, and this is something new, which is fun. I’m sitting here in jeans drinking a beer on Friday afternoon and many of my contemporaries are miserable working at banks.”
Leonard describes BlockEx as a digital asset exchange platform, a pooled liquidity exchange and a high-frequency-trading matching engine built to meet the needs of buy-side and sell-side traders.
BlockEx executives have ambitions beyond the exchange platform. Leonard said people who are taking security seriously are coupling the Internet of things together with blockchain.
“Blockchain is a key part of our platform, but the vast majority of what we’re building at the moment is not blockchain-related – we do have a couple of blockchain experts with between five and seven years of experience., and we have a PhD coming in to lead the blockchain initiatives,” Leonard said. “The exchange portion is very traditional, and the reconciliation process is very traditional – it’s the wallet infrastructure that allows us to interact with various types of blockchain and create digital assets, manage corporate accounts and do blockchain-based clearing."
While financial services firms are obviously the core clientele for the exchange, Leonard claims to be in discussions to apply the firm’s technology to the supply chain.
“If we close these contracts, then we’ll probably have to hire another 100 developers,” Leonard said. “Our focus is on builds that leave behind a tradeable asset that can be put on the exchange.
“We’re don’t have any PhDs yet, but we have a PhD as an adviser and we’re making an effort to start hiring them soon,” he said. “For the most part, the engineers we have are very experienced – they all have computer science degrees, and most have 10 years or more experience in particular functions, a mix of developers from the trading world, the exchange world and banking."
Blockchain won’t impact trading jobs, but it will likely decimate back-office functions.
“There will always be a human element – I started trading in the ’80s and there were certainly many more people buying and selling bonds and equities then than there are now,” Godfrey said. “Trading and sales teams won’t be badly hit by blockchain, but settlement and accountancy roles will, because a huge portion of your settlements department is no longer needed.
“The fact that it is self-reconciling and feeds directly into your accountancy software, that will hit accountancy departments as well,” he said. “Banks are going to try to buy this up and use it to cut costs, and it remains to be seen how revolutionary how this technology will be."
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