I would love to see more women CEOs and CTOs and this is why the two first points are important; we need both qualified women and funding. Leveraging women networks can be extremely helpful to connect with the right people from investors to media to new hires. One group that I quite like that is UK-based with global reach is ‘The Bigger Pie’ where you have a fantastic and helpful community of women in blockchain.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Amber Ghaddar, PhD, Founder of AllianceBlock, the world’s first globally compliant decentralized capital market. With a vast amount of experience across the capital markets industry over the last decade, Amber began her career at investment banking giant Goldman Sachs, before moving to JP Morgan where she held a number of different roles including on the Cross Asset Solution team, working on structured and exotic products across Equities, FX, Rates, Credit and Commodities, and spearheading the Macro Systematic Strategies effort which focused on dynamic risk premia trading strategies.
A prestigious academic, Amber obtained a B.Sc in Science & Technology from McGill University in Canada, before graduating with three masters (Neurosciences; Microelectronics & Nanotechnologies; and International Risk Management). She also holds a PhD in Molecular Medicine from Vita Salute in Italy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?
I originally read the Bitcoin whitepaper in 2009. I was still at university then and we were in the midst of the global financial crisis. For me, this paper was a justified reaction to the lack of regulations and transparency in the banking sector and the failure of the regulatory checks at that time. Funny enough, a year later I started my career at Goldman Sachs, then at JP Morgan in Sale and Structuring and later in Trading. During these years banking was justifiably heavily hit by regulatory compliance, and you would find that today in the US for example, finance is three times more regulated than healthcare. It took me almost eight years to decide that the time was ripe and that blockchain technology was mature enough to start having some relevant and scalable use cases in the financial sector. I then joined forces with my two co-founders to start AllianceBlock in late 2018. If there are any lessons I’ve learned, it is to make sure to raise enough money before quitting your job! If not, fundraising, even for brilliant projects, is what is going to take most of your time at the beginning of your journey. Additionally, leveraging your network is extremely important when it comes to connecting and scaling your project.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
AllianceBlock is bridging traditional finance and decentralized finance. We are leveraging blockchain technology to build the world’s first globally compliant decentralized capital market, with our layer two blockchain agnostic protocol. By delivering infrastructure to enable the legal, safe, and secure trade of all types of digital assets, AllianceBlock seeks to provide global financial institutions the opportunity to benefit from the increased efficiencies and lower costs offered by DeFi. My current focus is on the trading arm of the business. We are building a suite of tradable index products (Beta and Smart Beta) and algorithmic strategies. These indices allow easy and safe access to DeFi to crypto and traditional investors alike with all the required transparency and reporting. These indices are delivered in a structure that makes them adoptable by traditional financial institutions and should be a welcome addition to any “traditional” portfolio.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is a great question! The two people to whom I will be forever grateful to are my parents. From a young age they have taught me to be independent but not proud, assertive but not arrogant, and to always aim high. My dad always encouraged me even in my silliest hubris. I clearly recall going through a “painting” phase when I was in high school and let’s be honest, I had mediocre talent but my dad would be willing to take my paintings and put them in his office. On the other hand, my mum was much more realistic and unbiased and she taught me self criticism. She used to say my paintings were not too bad but not on par with real artists! It was a very good balance of “praise” and “constructive criticism” that allowed me to be confident but not blind to my shortcomings. It took me some time to find my calling, having initially studied medicine then nanotechnologies to end up in banking and finally run my own business and without my parents’ support and trust I would definitely not be who I am. My biggest blessing in this life is unquestionably to be the daughter of my parents.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
The most obvious one — and in conjunction with the fintech revolution — is that it has forced financial institutions to rethink their dilapidated infrastructure and legacy operational systems. Secondly, at its core, blockchain and crypto initially aimed to create an alternative financial system that is free of monopolies, corruption, and — controversially — regulations in a bid to democratize access to capital and payment systems. Thirdly, the programmability of cryptocurrencies; you can code in terms and conditions through smart contracts, effectively cancelling the need to trust a “middleman” to verify and approve a transaction. Fourthly, the current boom in Decentralized Finance (DeFi) and the various products that have been created this year, from decentralized exchanges, to borrowing and lending, to collateral management, insurance, derivatives, and other financial products. Last but not least, the current institutional interest in bitcoin and blockchain this year. We’ve seen MicroStrategy, PayPal, Grayscale Trust, and other big names investing in bitcoin. Similarly, many CBDC proof-of-concepts have been released or are in the process of being released. This is essentially the validation the industry has been calling for to help increase adoption.
What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
The industry is still in its infancy and it has unsurprisingly moved away from its initial reactionary principle to liberal capitalism. What worries me is that many of the principles of wild capitalism are taking roots in the current frameworks such as money is king. In many blockchains, those that own the most tokens are those that have the heaviest weight in decision making, leading to obvious cases of conflict of interest and corruption. Similarly, buying private sales tokens of projects is the most beneficiary and allows early investors to buy in at huge discounts (up to 85%) to issue prices. There’s no regulated framework to buy private sales tokens, it is the age old adage of you need to know someone who knows someone, or else be in some obscure Telegram chat. This is very far from democratizing access to capital!
Similar to the 80’s penny stocks boom, you don’t need to be registered and certified with a regulatory body to give investment advice, anyone and everyone can do it. The current frameworks in the crypto industry are going through the same mistakes the traditional financial markets have gone through in the past. It’s not only disappointing but also further and further from the initial philosophical concepts of equality, transparency, and trust. The governance model I support is a tripartite model that includes proof-of-work, proof-of-capital, and proof-of-authority that leads to a reputation score. The higher the reputation score, the higher the weight of the individual on the governance of the system.
The second thing that worries me is transaction fees. This year, due to the DeFi boom, rising congestion on the Ethereum network has driven costs up tenfold to the highest levels since 2018. This is not sustainable in the long term and highlights scaling issues that will become problematic as we move towards mass adoption.
Third, the unfriendly user experience can lead to problems ranging from basic UI design issues to underlying flaws in architecture. One of the consequences of this is sub-optimal user adoption.
Fourth, and it’s connected to the previous issue, is the dominance of technologists and developers in the creation of the systems, leading to deep problems with business models. As the goal is to build financial ecosystems, I would like to see more economists, bankers, regulators, and sociologists working hand in hand with pure technologists.
Finally, the lack of recourse, regulations, and security, which allows many bad actors and Ponzi schemes to thrive. Crypto should definitely learn from current regulations, especially when it comes to transparency and market manipulation. However, regulations that are solely focused on centralized finance can be outdated and unfortunately not adequate to regulate this new market. Similarly, wallet security needs to be increased. The many hacks we have seen over the past few years is proof that we have a long way to go and using custodians for retail customers doesn’t come cheaply. This also doesn’t encourage adoption and keeps crypto as the “panacea” of tech-geeks.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?
As the industry is new, there are as many opportunities as barriers to entry for women. The first issue is that technologists and developers are kings in this space and there are inherently less female developers than male. In the UK for example, only 12.5% of programmers and developers are women. Against this backdrop, encouraging more women to consider STEM subjects is vital if we want to at least have a comparable pool of developers to men. The second issue is funding, it is a well known fact that women founders attract less capital than men — only 2.8% of total VC funding in the US last year. It is sad to say but I would advise women founders to first seek women investors especially for early-stage investments. While there are quite a few women in the blockchain industry, disappointingly many are in sales, marketing, or business development roles. I would love to see more women CEOs and CTOs and this is why the two first points are important; we need both qualified women and funding. Leveraging women networks can be extremely helpful to connect with the right people from investors to media to new hires. One group that I quite like that is UK-based with global reach is ‘The Bigger Pie’ where you have a fantastic and helpful community of women in blockchain.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
I really like this quote by Chinese philosopher Confucius, “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm”. This is really about being agile and flexible as a person but also as a business. I think for us all, this was especially relevant throughout 2020. With Covid locking the world down we were left with no choice but to quickly adapt as a business to the new normal we found ourselves in. That being said, we were also able to identify a lot of business opportunities in supply chain and procurement for example. A good business person is one that can turn a misfortune into an opportunity.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I am all for participative capitalism and calibrocracy which I discussed in a TED talk here. The current form of liberal capitalism is unsustainable and needs some deep rethinking on what constitutes capital; capital shouldn’t only be money it should also take into account work (proof-of-work) and knowledge/experience (proof-of-authority).
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My LinkedIn account is here.
This was very inspiring and informative. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this interview!