People leaving traditional financial services for cryptocurrency startups is becoming more common. These are the former bankers who are making a name for themselves in the cryptocurrencies and blockchain space.
No one has a career arc exactly like former Deutsche Bank and Citi trader Arthur Hayes.
During his first week as a full-time employee at Deutsche Bank making markets in exchange-traded funds, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, sending his and many others’ career off-track. Deutsche Bank slashed bonuses and reorganized its trading desks to rein in risk and comply with new capital restrictions. Hayes earned 30%-to-50% less than he’d expected when he signed on. Eventually, he jumped to Citi, but the situation there was no better and he ended up getting laid off.
Hayes pivoted to his Plan B – Bitcoin – at the perfect moment, initially trading it himself. Now 32 years old, he is the co-founder and CEO of BitMEX, a Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency exchange that serves up cryptoderivatives – futures contracts that let investors make leveraged bets of up to 100-to-1 on the direction of 11 digital currencies.
Hayes’s firm brought in $83m in revenue last year and more than $21m last month alone, Bloomberg reported. It thrives on volatility and makes money whether Bitcoin goes up or down, and Hayes says there’s a lot more excitement compared to the current state of the banking industry.
Bitfinex chief strategy officer Phil Potter worked for Morgan Stanley in New York in the 1990s but lost his job after bragging at length in The New York Times about his $3,500 Rolex, his opulent lifestyle and his aggressive tactics for making money, according to the New York Times.
The company lost 1,500 Bitcoin, worth around $400k, to a hacker in 2015. But the most damaging incident happened in August 2016 when a thief got almost 120k Bitcoin, worth around $75m at the time.
However, the company made a comeback last year, according to Bloomberg.
Fred Ehrsam – the Bitcoin entrepreneur who co-founded the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, which is back by venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures and Ribbit Capital, used to work in G10 FX trading at Goldman Sachs.
Ehrsam says he knew he had to get out of GS when he looked around and asked himself, “Did I want to be any of these people in the next ten years? – The answer was no.” One of the problems with banking, says Ehrsam, is that “the majority of the interesting stuff already happened – it was extracting rent rather than innovating.”
Erhsam recently signed a big deal for Coinbase to partner with Barclays.
Bharath Rao is the founder/CEO of coinpit.io, a blockchain exchange, and Leverj, a decentralized leveraged exchange built on Ethereum. Previously he worked as a software engineer at Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse.
Chris Miess spent around three years at Goldman, where he was latterly an M&A analyst in London. His route to GS was a study in moving up the banking brands: after leaving the London School of Economics, he spent four months at Deutsche Bank and then four months at Morgan Stanley before settling for 36 months at GS. Now Miess is the CFO of TenX, which offers the TenX Card, a debit and credit card with an accompanying mobile TenX Wallet that can be funded not only with Bitcoin, Ether, Dash and eventually other cryptocurrencies.
James Godfrey, managing director of capital markets at BlockEx, 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.
Now healthy, he's working to grow BlockEx, a blockchain-based 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.
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