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Crypto executives are fleeing


Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Fintech. This Thursday: feeling the chill in crypto’s executive suites, Klarna’s big ambitions, and making 401(k) moves simpler.

Off the chain

There was a time when Stripe was happy to sign up fellow startups on the strength of its developer-friendly payment tools. But the company is following a more traditional marketing path these days. It’s now touting a string of big-company customer wins: Shibuya, Irish Life, MAN Truck & Bus, La Redoute. None of the deals are particularly interesting on their own, but they illustrate the story Stripe is telling about itself to the market, which is all about big business.

— Owen Thomas (email | twitter)

The big chill

Call it The Great Resignation, crypto edition. Top executives from some of crypto’s most prominent names — Kraken, FTX, and Celsius — stepped down recently as crypto continued to reel from a very rough year. But these aren’t rank-and-file workers worried about wage stagnation or inadequate benefits. These are highly paid, high-profile leaders at an industry that until recently was hailed as having world-changing potential.

If there’s a common thread, it’s this: Crypto winter is wreaking havoc on a once high-flying industry. And for some of the industry’s prominent figures, the cold is simply too much to bear.

The reasons for leaving? It’s complicated. As the crypto market crash triggered mass layoffs and sent some companies into bankruptcy, some executives took on new roles or headed straight for the exits.

  • Alex Mashinsky, co-founder and CEO of Celsius Network, which filed for bankruptcy in July, resigned last week. He told the crypto lender’s board that his “continued role as CEO has become an increasing distraction,” and that he was “very sorry about the difficult financial circumstances members of our community are facing.” This week, his co-founder, S. Daniel Leon, followed him out the door.
  • Brett Harrison said he was stepping down as president of FTX US, saying the crypto industry is “at a number of crossroads,” including the “arrival of larger market participants.”
  • Kraken co-founder Jesse Powell, who recently caused a stir when he encouraged employees unhappy with the crypto giant’s culture to leave, also announced that he was stepping down as CEO to become board chairman. “I like to think of it as stepping up into the chairman role, getting a nice promotion,” he told Protocol in an interview.

“There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t enjoy doing as CEO,” Powell told Protocol. That sentiment may be more and more common among his peers, especially in an industry that’s gone from hot to cold in record time.

  • “I think we may just be seeing leadership fatigue,” Michele Alt, co-founder and partner at Klaros Group, told Protocol, citing the headaches crypto execs must deal with: “Financial pressure is high, employee morale is low, and regulators are watching closely.”
  • Logan Allin, Fin Capital managing partner and founder, agreed: “Executives are feeling the cold in terms of company performance, failed business models, and from the ire of the regulators.”
  • Career calculations also may be at play here. Amid growing controversy about crypto and heightened regulatory scrutiny, some executives may be “pulling the cord too late or in advance of what they perceive is ‘terminal career risk,’” Allin told Protocol.

The slump probably doesn’t mean the end of crypto. But after a crash that wiped out $2 trillion of value, ever more intense pressure from regulators, and the threat of another recession, “I suspect it’s a lot less enjoyable to run these organizations than it used to be,” Alt said.

— Benjamin Pimentel (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM ALIBABA

Alibaba — a leading global ecommerce company — is a particularly powerful engine in helping American businesses of every size sell goods to more than 1 billion consumers on its digital marketplaces in China. In 2020, U.S. companies completed more than $54 billion of sales to consumers in China through Alibaba’s online platforms.

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On the money

The G20’s Financial Stability Board wants stringent financial regulations for crypto companies. POLITICO Pro reports that the FSB will propose a plan to rein in crypto when finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 industrialized countries gather in Washington next week.

The holding company for Kabbage’s loans filed for bankruptcy. KServicing, the company that serviced small-business loans that American Express left out of its 2020 Kabbage acquisition, is facing several investigations over how it handled Paycheck Protection Program loans.

Europe’s big crypto regulation plan moved forward. A European Union council has agreed on text for the much-anticipated Markets in Crypto Assets regulation.

Stash is adding crypto. The investing app with a reported 2 million users is taking what it called a “curated” approach, offering a selection of eight digital currencies: bitcoin, bitcoin cash, link, ether, avalanche, ETC, solana, and UNI.

Moving a 401(k) is about to get easier. A rare collaboration between Fidelity Investments and Vanguard will automate the transfer of millions of 401(k) balances below $5,000 when workers change employers.

Do Kwon is losing his passport. South Korea plans to invalidate the Terraform Labs founder’s passport as the country tries to rein in the crypto fugitive it is seeking to arrest.

Overheard

Someone’s taking the whole “Crypto Dad” thing a little too seriously. “I’ve decided not to set any curfew for my teenager. I’ll just ground her if she comes home later than I’d like. Regulation by enforcement,” Coinbase chief legal officer Paul Grewal tweeted.

If you thought Klarna’s ambitions had been tamped down by “buy now, pay later”’s setbacks, think again. “Fintech is driving a future where there are four to five global retail banks. Perhaps one or two will be banks today. Some will be today’s tech companies. One of those global banks will be Klarna,” said Klarna U.K. head Alex Marsh at the Sifted Summit.

Moves and hires

James Nguyen is general counsel for Axie Infinity publisher Sky Mavis. Nguyen was previously the compliance leader for Robinhood’s crypto unit. Robinhood in March lost its crypto leader, Christine Brown, who started an NFT company.

Angelena Bradfield is head of policy and government relations for the Financial Technology Association. Bradfield was previously a senior vice president at the Bank Policy Institute.

NYDIG has named new leadership. The investment group promoted executives Tejas Shah and Nate Conrad to the roles of CEO and president, respectively. Former CEO Robert Gutmann and former president Yan Zhao will remain at Stone Ridge Holdings Group, parent company of NYDIG.

Coatue Management general partner Matt Mazzeo is leaving to launch a new investment fund, according to the Information.

Matt Homer is a senior adviser to Tusk Strategies’ crypto and fintech practice. Homer, a former official at the New York Department of Financial Services, is an executive in residence at Nyca Partners. Tusk Strategies has promoted crypto and fintech practice leader Eric Soufer to partner.

Jonathan Cheesman, FTX’s head of over-the-counter and institutional sales, has left the company, the Block reported. Cheesman joined FTX in May 2021 to help bring traditional financial institutions into crypto markets.

A MESSAGE FROM ALIBABA

Using economic multipliers published by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, NDP estimates that the ripple effect of this Alibaba-fueled consumption in 2020 supported more than 256,000 U.S. jobs and $21 billion in wages. These American sales to Chinese consumers also added $39 billion to U.S. GDP.

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Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!

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