Cameron Thompson is a news reporter at CoinDesk.
NEW YORK — It’s easy when walking around the financial district in lower Manhattan to be struck by the oldness of it: the winding streets carved out long before the nearly perfect grid farther north, the cobblestones in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
You could clearly spot the old days Tuesday night inside Broadstone Bar & Kitchen, a few minutes’ walk south of the NYSE. Attendees included employees of T. Rowe Price, the stalwart money manager founded in 1937, as well as folks from the Chicago Board Options Exchange and investment bank RBC Capital Markets, neither of which were born yesterday. Many wore suits adorned with NYSE name tags.
But there were signs at the weirder, burgeoning cryptocurrency culture that, at least among the biggest optimists, aims to upend the old ways of doing finance and trading. You could spot the crypto folks immediately in their standard attire: jeans, T-shirts and FTX hats.
They had all gathered for a happy hour held for sponsors of Wall Street Rides FAR, which raises money for the Autism Science Foundation, not long after they had rung the 4 p.m. NYSE closing bell.
Celebratory vibes filled the room as the old and the new mingled, just as the old and new had come together days earlier in an even bigger way when BlackRock, the $10 trillion asset manager, agreed to give institutional investors who use its Aladdin platform access to crypto through the Coinbase exchange. The week before that, crypto exchange FTX.US had switched on its stock brokerage service, stepping into NYSE’s centuries-old turf.
Crypto attendees at the happy hour included FTX.US employees as well as representatives from Talos, which develops software that helps conventional investors trade crypto, and blockchain infrastructure firm Blockdaemon. The Blockdaemon folks quickly occupied the same circles as employees from IEX, the stock exchange made Wall Street famous by Michael Lewis’ 2014 book “Flash Boys” that’s now crypto-adjacent after FTX.US bought a stake this year.
Mike McCoy, a senior product manager at Blockdaemon who attended the event wearing the company’s logo on a cycling shirt over a formal button down, has witnessed the crypto climate shift since he entered the industry in 2015. He told CoinDesk that the industry’s techy developer culture has turned its focus to traditional financial players – a group Blockdaemon is courting.
“Your habits and a lot of things kind of change, you know? You dress up in the morning, you work more trading desks, who are particularly providers, traditional custodians, like the major banks of the world,” he said. “Watching crypto democratize the wealth that is in some of these larger banks shows a better financial system.”
But not all TradFi natives are comfortable yet. Blockdaemon sales director Melissa Moo Harkins attributes any hesitation to a lack of regulatory clarity. Harkins told CoinDesk that once that comes, innovation and creativity in the crypto industry will further bridge the gap between the old and new worlds.
“A lot of my customers on the institutional side, they’re moving forward, forging ahead with their crypto adoption,” she said. “To me, that’s an indication that the money is going in that direction.”
Because crypto grew so much during the social-distancing days of the pandemic, the two sides are only just beginning to hang out together. But who’s to say there will never be a decentralized finance (DeFi) mogul – wearing something that’s decidedly not an old-school suit – one day ringing the NYSE bell and hanging out in Wall Street bars?
Anton Katz, CEO of Talos and former head of trading technology at quantitative investment firm AQR, told CoinDesk that there’s a growing sentiment that digital assets are here to stay and the future foundation of finance is being built.
“It seems like there is growing consensus around that idea, which is why I think you’re seeing so many events like Wall Street Rides FAR where the lines between crypto and TradFi are eroding so significantly,” he said.