Crypto crashed, Wall street won. At least, that was the title of a New York Times article written in the white hot-heat of the Crypto ‘meltdown’ of the summer. Propelled to the frontpages with thoroughly unflattering aplomb, Cryptocurrencies of all stripes, stocks and non-fungible varieties have taken a big hit to their pocket and brand.
But that’s not just with the public – the story & journey of the most skilled compliance & legal professionals has been one similar to those in FinTech - retrenchment and layoffs, especially amongst larger exchanges and businesses, but also a broader sense that moving to Crypto as a candidate is pitching on unsteady ground – or that there’s no roles in Crypto at all.
However, that’s far from the full story according to Will Brown, Hamlyn Williams’ executive search lead in Financial Services.
“There’s always going to be cyclical hiring trends in compliance & corporate governance hires that tie into the economic climate, and now is no different. But from what I see, there’s still demand on both sides.
There are strong hiring demands in certain pockets of the Crypto marketplace for quality compliance hires – and I think there is still a desire from many candidates to forge a career in a dynamic, challenging culture which Crypto can provide.”
Will is still seeing from his own engagement with hiring managers and amongst his network, that outside the larger exchanges, where there were layoffs of up to 20%, there are still a variety of companies looking to hire.
“From a short-term perspective over the next six months, there will be still a number of smaller companies that will need to hire the minimal expectation of compliance and risk functions.
Compliance isn’t a function that is suddenly irrelevant in Crypto – in fact it remains crucial that those building now put the right teams in place to help as they scale going forward.”
With the background noise of a Crypto downturn and FinTech cutbacks, Will’s outlook on the vertical is refreshing, but one still grounded in the ways the market has changed;
"The crypto market is a fascinating place at the moment. We've seen sustained and exceptional growth within compliance and corporate governance for 18 months, with new companies coming in and existing companies building out their capabilities. We’ve seen some functions grow to the same size of banking, compliance and FCC functions.
In the last 4 or 5 months, there's obviously been pauses, and rescinding of offers. Companies are trying to get a clear understanding of what the next 6 months to 2 years mean and there isn't a lot of clarity right now.
But that doesn't mean the roles have gone away. Some businesses are realizing they don’t need to hire immediately, based on their current capabilities – but that doesn’t mean that this is the case everywhere, or that this won’t change.”
At a deeper level, the reasons candidates want to build a career in Crypto have remained the same despite this year’s disruptions. Crypto is still a game-changing industry, and those involved will help force the future of financial markets and forge alternative financial models. That is still a motivation, as is the opportunity to shape a compliance function from the ground up.
And as regulations struggle to keep up with the pace of emergent technologies in Crypto, those individuals who want the industry to have legitimacy and reach critical mass will see themselves as being able to aid that change.
How though, should compliance professionals in or looking at Crypto as an option react to how things are?
“In the current climate, candidates should be focused on companies that have a good internal culture where your voice is heard, recognized and where you have a platform to execute.
From the broader crypto and fintech market perspective, there's a lot of regulatory demand at this point. There's a lot of conversations around how the regulations are going to shift, who'll be the primary regulator, and how it will be focused looking forward. So it's important you have a company that's going to put you at the forefront and give you the resources to be able to execute and not be the person trying to execute all of it with no resources and no one to help, which is a very tough place to be.”
And Will thinks now is still a time that compliance professionals can find great opportunities and build relationships and skills to deepen a career in the sector;
“We're still seeing some companies raise funding rounds, and they'll be looking to grow a function as a result of business growth, but it will mainly focused on the smaller entities and functions that are growing in the digital asset space.
Within those companies, there are a variety of roles I'm seeing - they need to hire General Counsel's and chief compliance officers amongst others, so those opportunities are still here. And from a networking perspective, now is the time to be proactive in terms of building relationships, attending conferences, reaching out to individuals over LinkedIn.
One of the best aspects of the crypto market is how interactive everyone is. The best thing candidates can be doing at this point is networking, building their relationships and comparing notes. If you sit in a KYC or investigation program - go and interact and connect with people that work at other exchanges to build your relationships – whether more junior or senior.
If you're coming from a Financial Services firm and looking to break into crypto, now is the time to really develop around certifications to show you have an interest in the space, because I think the biggest hesitancy most crypto and fintech firms will have is around personality fit and how you will adapt in the culture of a less structured environment.”
The flipside of this is that the best companies have an opportunity to find talent and built out functions in a way they may not have before;
“The majority of companies still need to hire. There are a few of the larger exchanges that probably are at capacity, but companies right now can get some best-in-class talent if they're open to hiring. I'd prioritize one or two roles that they were really going to focus on that maybe they've struggled with in the past 12 months or that they see as a core pillar of their next phase of growth.
They'll be able to snag some individuals from top tier companies, even those with crypto, and broader banking or consulting experience who are looking to move because of the volatility in the market. I think if you have a clear action plan and focus on one role that is going to be fundamental to your growth, you'll be able to get some excellent talent that previously you might not have been able to get.”
With the opportunity to add skills to compliance teams and at the same time build businesses that are more resilient to future risk, Will is positive about the outlook and thinks both candidates and businesses can look to the medium to long term.
"In the medium to long term, as the market recovers, there’ll still be an expectation that the exchanges will have to grow certain elements of their programs. There are still some exchanges that will need to develop their compliance capability, particularly from a regulatory side.
If the CFTC talk more around how they would regulate it, you'd probably start to see more market compliance roles come in the picture. Where people have swap, dealer or derivative experience, or some interaction with the CFTC, these would be valuable skill sets in the future.
My best advice I give to all candidates is to prioritise medium to long term development over short term salary gains, and there is certainly the chance for good compliance candidates to build for the long term in the Crypto and wider Web3 space.”