Big Investors Are Finally Serious About Crypto. But Experienced Talent Is Still Scarce.
“Even if firms aren’t on board with the digital assets movement, they have no choice but to become educated because their clients are constantly asking them about it,” said recruiter Steven Clark.
After nearly 16 years at Goldman Sachs, Roger Bartlett, global co-head of operations for the bank’s global markets business, said he was leaving the firm last week. Barlett isn’t jumping to a traditional competitor — he’s moving into cryptocurrency.
Bartlett accepted a position as the v.p. of global financial operations at Coinbase, the point-of-entry for cryptocurrency investors, according to his LinkedIn profile. Founded in 2012, Coinbase touts itself as an “established and easy-to-use” platform for investors to buy and sell over 100 types of cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin and Ethereum.
“Now it’s time to take that experience and follow my passion to help enable the next generation crypto economy,” Bartlett wrote in the post. “The inspiring purpose-led mission to create economic freedom in the world, in a customer first, automation first approach is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of building the next stage of the digital evolution.” (Coinbase declined to comment.)
Bartlett isn’t alone in his aspirations: Inside the investment world, the “crypto economy” is beckoning.
Steven Clark, president and partner of DAK Associates, an executive search and consulting firm, said his crypto-related talent searches went from zero in 2020 to 23 by the end of 2021.
Clark said the mandates are “all over the map,” ranging from sales to investor relations both for institutions and financial advisors. Clark said firms need crypto professionals for roles in middle office, portfolio management, product development, and product management as well as for capital markets positions — working with exchanges, index providers, authorized participants, and market makers.
Many investment firms and allocators think it’s still early days for crypto. But demand is forcing their hands.
“It’s literally been a bevy of roles that these firms are clamoring for,” Clark told Institutional Investor. “Even if [firms] aren’t on board with the crypto or digital assets movement, they have no choice but to become educated on it because their clients are constantly asking them about it.”
Steve Kurz, global head of Galaxy Digital Asset Management, a crypto-focused asset management firm with around $3.1 billion in assets under management as of October 2021, agreed: “I would be shocked if most institutional recruiting firms are not spending some time on crypto,” Kurz told II.
Galaxy Digital, founded in 2018, has grown to more than 300 employees. In the asset management segment alone, the team grew from 10 employees a year ago to 50 today. Kurz expects to double the team over the next 12 months.
Unlike traditional investment roles, including portfolio managers, fundamental research and data analysts, and chief investment officers, the definition and required experience of “crypto talent” is new and malleable. There’s no clear-cut path that maps the trajectory of a career in cryptocurrency.
“Because of the infancy of this space, firms have no choice but to go out and hire folks from other realms,” Clark said.
While candidates categorized as “crypto talent” may not bring professional exposure to the asset class, Clark stressed that these candidates are often personally invested in crypto or have a vested interest in the crypto economy — meaning they’re informed and “ready to dive into the deep end of the pool.”
Despite the ambiguity, Clark believes a talent pool is forming. In part, this newly-minted professional group is a by-product of the capital that has poured into crypto start-ups over the past year. In 2021, venture capital firms invested $32 billion into crypto- and blockchain-related firms, and 43 crypto-native companies reached the $1 billion valuation mark, II previously reported. That amount of money can fuel a lot of hiring.
Kurz said institutional interest in crypto got serious in May 2020, when the pandemic spurred two existing trends. First, Kurz said the “digitized future became more clear” — as more people became aware of just how critical the transition to a digital world was — and inflation became a prominent concern for investors.
“Bitcoin happened to be this unbelievable asset that sat in between those two trends: It’s a digitally-native store of value and it’s also an inflation hedge,” Kurz said.
As the industry matures, the number of professionals with relevant experience will expand, Clark said: “[A year ago,] there was literally no talent pool you could recruit from because firms were new, or the folks at the organization were just onboarded,” he said. Over the next few years, companies will begin to fight each other for crypto talent.