Crypto Industry Is Still 'Embryonic,' WEF Finance Lead Says

I spoke recently with Matthew Blake, who looks at the future of finance (among other things) at the World Economic Forum, on the industry’s prominence during this year’s meeting.

By Nikhilesh DeLayer 2
AccessTimeIconJun 21, 2022 at 1:30 p.m. UTC
By Nikhilesh DeLayer 2
AccessTimeIconJun 21, 2022 at 1:30 p.m. UTC

Nikhilesh De is CoinDesk's managing editor for global policy and regulation. He owns marginal amounts of bitcoin and ether.

Welcome to State of Crypto, a CoinDesk newsletter looking at the intersection of cryptocurrency and government. I’m your host, Nikhilesh De. You’re probably here because you signed up, but in case you're not a fan, you can unsubscribe here.

CoinDesk has written before about the sheer presence crypto had during the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting this past May. This past week, I sat down with Matthew Blake, WEF’s head of the future of financial and monetary systems, to discuss the role the crypto industry might play in future meetings, as well as its presence more generally.

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‘Industry maturation’

The narrative

We’re continuing our conversations this week with one I had in Davos last month.

Why it matters

Crypto’s role at the annual meeting was a signal of sorts. The industry’s presence was loud, visible and intended to say, “Hey, we’re here!” from the moment you stepped off the plane in Zurich. Matthew Blake, the head of the future of financial and monetary systems,, spoke to me about what he’s seen from the industry this year and how he sees industry engagement moving forward. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Breaking it down

Nikhilesh De: Thank you so much for joining us. So let me just set the stage, there have been a number of crypto panels here at the Forum. And if you walk outside on the Promenade, you can't walk more than 50 feet without seeing another crypto company. So I really want to get your sense of, is this a lot of engagement relative to past years? And are [these companies] engaging with the actual Forum itself? Is there productive conversation?

Matthew Blake: Yeah, I appreciate the question. I think it's a story of industry maturation at its core. We've had engagement with the crypto industry as it's evolved. And obviously, it's still embryonic in many ways, and we look to it and look forward to future growth with them. I think the platform of the World Economic Forum, we're working very closely with those companies across a number of different initiatives that we have ongoing. We have a team dedicated to blockchain and digital assets based out of San Francisco. I think we've seen great growth there. There's a real appetite for the type of neutral platform, multi-stakeholder [conversations] that the forum can bring to that industry. They are looking to certainly engage with policymakers, academics and members of civil society, as they further refine and formulate and design protocols and their approach to socioeconomic issues.

As you said, we've seen that a lot of these conversations have been in the Forum itself, there have been conversations about crypto’s carbon impact, and about central bank digital currencies – how do you see these conversations evolving in the years ahead? Are there specific topics or issues you really want to see highlighted during these panels?

We are not a static organization, and in essence, I would if I can, make a prediction. I think we will see an increasing appetite to have crypto-related topics on the agenda. We are building toward that trajectory.

This year, I think we had an amazing selection of topics. There's great familiarity, but for a lot of folks there's a long learning curve, right? And there's such great innovation overall that that curve is pretty steep. So what we're trying to do is help the industry and also help our stakeholders writ large, understand better the nuances of crypto. I think, I'm sure you can appreciate, oftentimes how crypto is portrayed in media and common knowledge is really focused on just certain dynamics, not the whole picture. We're trying to do justice to the whole picture. We're not there yet, but we're doing it in a segmented way and I think an evolutionary way. And so the bottom line is, we see more to come on this.

In terms of crypto itself, just looking at your experience of the Economic Forum and what you've seen over the years, what do you make of crypto itself? Do you think it's meeting the goals it’s set up for itself, or what needs to happen for it to become kind of a global payment system?

I think there's a tremendous amount of potential there. We've studied various aspects of blockchain technology in the context of capital markets. We've done a good amount of work on that front over the years. These days, we're looking at really the nexus of crypto and ESG [environmental, social and governance], actually a collaboration with you guys, CoinDesk, on CISA, which is the crypto impact and sustainability accelerator, which is really all about the nexus of ESG [environment, social and corporate governance] and crypto. We also have a piece of work that's looking at the macroeconomic implications of broader crypto adoption. It's a really hot topic for us, for the industry, but also for policymakers. So we're contributing to those discussions globally.

I feel like our work is really interesting. And there will be aspects that we look to grow. I think it's very fair to say, as an institution we are investing in the space our time, our energy and our commitment. I think we're seeing that interest reciprocated from the industry itself as they increasingly look to the Forum as a way for them to help further hone in how they engage with society, and the meaningful role the sector can play in creating jobs, and deal with some pretty challenging socio economic issues.

Unpacking that a little bit on the regulator front, we've spoken about crypto industry engagement. Have regulators been interested in engaging with the industry or with the Forum on the crypto issues as well?

Yeah, we are. Everything that we do from a thematic and research basis has a multi-stakeholder property to it. That's kind of core to how we operate, and the answer is, absolutely. I think one of the key areas where we've seen keen interest from central banks around the world is on the [central bank digital currency] basis. We've also seen in the regulatory component that I mentioned a moment ago, we're doing interviews around the world with members of parliament, the central banking authorities, ministers of finance and so on. I think there's a combination of trying to understand the evolution of the space and stay on top of it. If you take a step back and put yourself in the policymakers’ shoes, those are tough shoes to fill. Because, on one hand, they have a mandate for maintaining financial stability and protecting customers – that's a big job. And, on the other hand, they have really a sort of economic view toward the benefits of innovation and striking the balance between when to intervene and when to let things go.

The forum, I think, is very well situated because we can help in socializing and educating folks across the board, the concerns of policymakers vis-a-vis the crypto industry and vice versa. It’s very symbiotic in that way. That's really the type of work that we tried to do, that's the type of platform we try to provide. I think we're having success on that.

One of those concerns that you mentioned [was] climate and carbon impacts. Going back to what you said earlier about CISA – how do you see that evolving?

You can sense the debate, and a bit of the ferocity of the debate, around proof-of-stake versus proof-of-work. But also, I think it came through a theme that I keep repeating here, which is that as human beings, we focus on the here and now, but this is very much an evolving story. Different consensus mechanisms, what we have and what we're proving is what we're aware of today, three years, five years, 10 years down the line, most likely that there'll be many more. I think the key answer there is the environmental concern is real … We are, again, as an institution, working with 180 different sectors.

We are working with many of the hard to abate sectors, so aviation, automotive, chemicals, steel, just to use as an example, right on transition paths, right toward net zero. I wouldn't want to just pigeonhole the crypto industry; they have their challenges. I think if I could say something positive there, it's that it's still an embryonic sector. They're very aware of this issue. And I think that bodes well for them to adapt, in a very sensitive way vis-a-vis the environment, in a way that other sectors who have more legacy kind of baggage and just history, it's just more challenging.

What do you see as the next steps? What do you want to see maybe a year from now or at the next Economic Forum? What do you hope to see either related to CISA or just crypto in general?

I think this year we are still on a level-setting stage. We're trying to bring to the participants here an agenda that's both rich, but balanced as it relates to the technical nuances of the crypto space. To those that are steeped in it, it's a technical space, right? It's got its own lexicon, it’s changing rapidly. We're very mindful of putting the pieces in place in a way where it's accessible. I think that benefits the industry. If I can be quite frank, I think, jargon, and sort of being very focused on the nuances [is inaccessible] – most folks are not technologists, so we have to sort of set the stage there. To answer your question, I see us working toward more granularity, so going deeper into the nuances, drawing distinctions between different pieces of the ecosystem and really taking the membership base, and also our participants here at the annual meeting, along for that journey. And that's not just in this environment, that's 365 days a year. We're doing that tactically, as a team, as an institution.

Biden’s rule

Changing of the guard

CoinDesk - Unknown

Key: (nom.) = nominee, (rum.) = rumored, (act.) = acting, (inc.) = incumbent (no replacement anticipated)

No news to report.

Elsewhere:

Outside CoinDesk:

  • (Rest of World) Rest of World spoke to people who put their money into TerraUSD (UST) in hopes of avoiding hyperinflation or monetary instability.
  • (Reuters) I somehow missed this in my lawsuit round-up but Elon Musk and his companies Tesla and SpaceX are getting sued over dogecoin pumping.

If you’ve got thoughts or questions on what I should discuss next week or any other feedback you’d like to share, feel free to email me at nik@coindesk.com or find me on Twitter @nikhileshde.

You can also join the group conversation on Telegram.

See ya’ll next week!

DISCLOSURE

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CoinDesk - Unknown

Nikhilesh De is CoinDesk's managing editor for global policy and regulation. He owns marginal amounts of bitcoin and ether.

Nikhilesh De is CoinDesk's managing editor for global policy and regulation. He owns marginal amounts of bitcoin and ether.

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