By Leslie Bocskor, Managing Partner, Electrum Partners
The reverberations from the recent financial crisis are, to this day, still being felt. The Complete Credit Collapse and Asset Price Meltdown (often called mistakenly the Great Recession in the media, understandably) , while initially seeming to be a disastrous, cataclysmic event for all those with mutual funds, allowed for an era of change in the way that Wall Street’s day-to-day operations take place.
One of the most notable shifts in Wall Street’s structure is the emergence of start-up companies in the financial sector. Since the securities industry alone cut 28,000 jobs between 2008 and 2009 in New York City, many executives have gone off to form their own companies for reasons previously irrelevant to their decision-making (such as personal fulfillment). This shift in the increase of start-up companies is, in part, due to the lack of value that banks place on entrepreneurial approaches and their limited ability to change their structure in the wake of more pressing concerns. It remains to be seen as to whether emerging start-up companies in the financial sector will dramatically shift Wall Street’s structure again; however, they do pose as serious threats to the safety of otherwise unstoppable financial institutions (which seems quite fitting, given where the fault lies for the creation of the financial crisis in the first place).
While the financial crisis certainly provided individuals with an environment for change (albeit not quite as conducive to success as Silicon Valley’s, given Wall Street’s lack of an ingrained startup culture), Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin indicate a high likelihood of another disruption of colossal proportions. Our monetary system has been developing for thousands of years, and it is entering an inflection point for which sovereign fiat currencies will likely battle fiat Cryptocurrencies for utility position. There exists one simple reason for our collective decision to use Dollars, Yen, Euros, and other fiat currencies: we belief that they will maintain stability. As soon as non sovereign cryptocurrencies can establish that same faith, we will see people migrate to them in part due to the emerging distrust of states in general.
With that baseline, many startups, even if they are not aware of the general trend towards the disruption of our monetary system (not entirely different from the disruption brought on by what is thought to be the first “fiat” currency during the tenure of John Law in France), are creating solutions and opportunities that will contribute to this impending change. In fact, a round of start-ups are emerging on Wall Street for the purpose of using blockchain (the underlying technologies to Cryptocurrencies) for non-currency related stores of value in global financial markets. Due to the highly specialized nature of blockchain’s usage, however, it seems likely that the average person will be left behind in their inability to either a) invest in the technology as venture capitalists or b) understand the technology sufficiently to form their own start-up company.
Change is an inevitable factor across all industries. While semaphore, smoke signals and morse code were all choice methods of communication in the past, we can’t pretend that there aren’t better options for communicating with others; in the same vein, resisting the rapid change in the financial sector would require a willful disregard of the evidence. Innovative technologies seem to be developed every other hour, desired company structures seem to shift in scope and function with regularity, and the tremendous potential for growth in disruptive technologies continues to amaze.
The impact of Cryptocurrencies and start-up companies on the financial sector will be enormous, forcing change and evolution. Many of the staid, large, and cumbersome institutions will find themselves facing an “evolve or die” world. Most will die, but not without good reason.