Women Leading The Blockchain Revolution: “Education, in my opinion, is one of the great equalizers available to mankind”

With Nicole Biernat, President and COO, Laureate Digital Securities

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Education, in my opinion, is one of the great equalizers available to mankind. Influential people need to step up and exert their influence to help bring education to the global uneducated. We now have the technology to deliver quality education to the most basic electronic devices — be it a dated computer or even cellphone. Creating and translating educational content and promoting it globally would make an enormous impact.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Biernat, President and Chief Operating Officer at Laureate Digital Securities, a fintech company which integrates blockchain technologies with the asset management industry. She has over two decades of experience in the alternative asset management industry, encompassing operations, investor relations, strategic business development, due diligence, and marketing.

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?

Spending over two decades in the asset management industry, you develop a fairly clear picture of what works well, and what could be improved upon. The advent of blockchain technology introduced the opportunity to solve many of the problems we identified with the way things are currently done in asset management. For example, it was easy to see how blockchain tech could increase operational efficiency, reduce risk, and create greater liquidity in investments. Enabling cost savings, greater peace of mind and more investment flexibility for investors is going to be transformative for the industry, and the idea of bringing that change to life was exhilarating. In terms of lessons to learn, I’d offer that it’s important to develop domain expertise in something you are passionate about, so you have the depth of knowledge that allows you to recognize opportunities when they arise.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Our firm, Laureate Digital Securities, is bringing the innovation of blockchain technology to the asset management industry. “Tokenizing” investment funds (converting them to digital security form and recording them on a blockchain), allows them to be traded on secondary market exchanges. This means that traditionally illiquid asset classes, like real estate, private equity, and venture capital, can now be made liquid, and therefore more accessible to a broader audience. The ability for investors to rebalance their portfolios in real time is game-changing — especially for fiduciaries who manage large portfolios, like pension funds. Creating better options for pensions can translate to better returns for their pensioners, which is something that we are passionate about. The issue does not end with the creation of these digital securities, though. Once they are minted, it is important to ensure they are administered to with diligence and within a regulatory-compliant framework. Therefore, we are also offering a token administration function (performing “know your customer” and anti-money laundering checks, calculating the tokens’ net asset values, facilitating the subscription and redemption of the tokens, etc.) in order to reduce risk and maintain regulatory compliance. Finally, digital security liquidity cannot exist without a robust secondary market. Facilitating the secondary market trading of digital securities is thus the third leg of our firm’s business. We feel these three functions are the lynchpins to the blockchain revolution of the asset management industry and are excited to be a part of this transformation.

None of us can 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?

I have been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by brilliant, inspiring people throughout my career. To single out one person would be misleading because I have had a network of support that I have drawn upon in multiple ways over the years, but I’d love to take the opportunity to call out a few of the amazing women who have helped me. Noelle LeCann, President at AlphaSource Advisors, introduced me to blockchain, and constantly inspires me with the innovative ways she finds to fight climate change through socially responsible investing. On so many occasions, Christine Chang, CEO of 6th Avenue Capital, a small business funder, has turned her dazzling intellect and experience towards helping me evaluate issues or opportunities, and has brought her formidable network to bear in doing so. And one of my earliest mentors, Catherine Banat, Institutional Portfolio Manager at RBC Global Asset Management, taught me the lay of the land of being a woman in business, and the importance of surrounding yourself with a strong team. You are right — none of us can achieve success on our own. When women help women, it is incredibly powerful, and these are just a few of the women to whom I’m grateful.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

  1. Adaptability. Blockchain has the potential to be transformative to so many industries — its adaptability is what I find most exciting. I know asset management, so of course I see its applications in my field. Those in other fields undoubtedly see the tremendous opportunities in their respective areas. Within my space, however, the advent of digital securities and cryptocurrencies create so many new investment opportunities!
  2. Beginning to attract the best and brightest. While there have always been talented technologists in blockchain, we are now beginning to see some of the brightest entrepreneurs enter the industry. While they may not be forwarding the technology, they are coming up with creative ways to leverage blockchain technology in use cases that revolutionize their industries. This was what hedge funds were 15 years ago — all the best and brightest flocked to this emerging industry. Blockchain is that now.
  3. Institutional acceptance. It’s exciting to see institutional players — be it service providers or investors — begin to embrace blockchain and digital assets. Every day there is a new entrant (or an established player) carving out real estate in this new asset class. This creates more credibility on which the industry can continue to build.
  4. Digital assets. ICOs are dead, and security tokens are “it.” Digital assets backed by “real” fiat assets will be the mode of asset transference — and we are just beginning to see that emergence.
  5. Social impact. We are thrilled by how blockchain will change lives — especially the lives of those in third world countries. In fact, we would argue that it is these people who will most directly feel the impact of blockchain technology — either via new banking/payments systems, land registries, etc. This will be exciting to watch and even more so for those enabling these miraculous transformations.

What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?

  1. Bad actors. Several of the ICOs that were issued were scams — period. We saw this type of behavior in the IPO flurry in the 90’s, and we’ll see it again in the next bubble. Bad actors will unfortunately continue to flock to where there is opportunity and information asymmetry — to take advantage of hype. We have begun to turn the corner on this in the blockchain/cryptocurrency world, but strong regulation and prudent due diligence work are absolutely imperative to bring further legitimization to the blockchain world.
  2. Inappropriate or unclear regulation. Innovation needs runway, but also guardrails to protect investors. This is a fine line that regulators in all jurisdictions need to walk.
  3. Hacks. Blockchain and crypto companies have become more institutionalized and embracing of security protocols and procedures. While the risk of a hack is lower now, the constant threat of a hack of (any) company remains real. Any hack of a blockchain company will certainly feed the naysayers.
  4. Pushback from established technologists. Blockchain is beginning to enter the enterprise. Established incumbents will push back. SQL admins and devs will push back — and they have. While we agree that not every ledger makes a blockchain use case, we are seeing the old guard trying to protect their natural detractor positions. Remember when Apple started to invade enterprise circa 2007 — the Microsoft sys admins and CIOs fought hard until the use case (as explained to them by the CEOs) was unquestionably undeniable.
  5. Crackdowns by sovereigns. Crypto has the potential to upend governments. Monetary policy is one of the few tools that sovereigns can wield over their people. If a local or global cryptocurrency gains sufficient adoption and scale, then monetary policy becomes irrelevant. Loans and savings can (and will) be denominated in non-fiat currencies. Then the only powers that governments will have over their citizens are fiscal policy and judicial. This could be quite frightening for those in countries that try to maintain their control over monetary policy.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I feel really excited about what I’m doing right now. Many people are hesitant to invest in asset management products because they know that Wall Street will make money on them, but they’re not so certain that they themselves will make money, too. This is not an irrational fear. Having spent 20+ years in the industry, I have seen the myriad ways investors’ returns get leeched away — through structural inefficiencies, excessive fees, paying for things the client doesn’t really need, etc. We formed Laureate’s sister company, Alpha Innovations, on the premise of solving these issues for the investors. Employing blockchain is part of that — creating operational efficiency to reduce costs, but we’ve focused considerable effort on preserving returns for investors in other ways, too. For example, we streamlined our fee structure so that less of the investor’s returns get spent away before they even get to see them. We think of foundations, endowments and pension funds as institutions, but it’s important to remember that those foundations and endowments are funding good causes, and those pension fund returns are paying the pensions of people who have worked hard to create lives for themselves and their families. If we can provide them with a better investment return, that benefits real people and real causes.

As you know there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the blockchain space to thrive?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, network (both to learn and so you have more people to ask for help), and don’t forget to help others.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?

See my answer above combined with that of the next question below

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent — Eleanor Roosevelt

Women get painted with the broad brush of being “not technical” and more adept at “soft skills.” It’s unfortunate, but that message is still pervasive within society, and it affects us — both internally and externally. Much more is being done at this point in history to try to change that external stereotype and to increase the opportunities that are available to women, but the paucity of visible examples of women leading companies in technical fields decreases the likelihood of other women aspiring to that path. Articles like this one both serve as reminders to people that women are just as capable technically, and also hopefully provide inspiration to women to dream outside the box. Don’t ever let anyone else write your story. It is yours alone to write, and if you have the passion and inspiration, don’t allow anyone or anything to make you feel inferior and silence your voice.

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. 🙂

Education, in my opinion, is one of the great equalizers available to mankind. Influential people need to step up and exert their influence to help bring education to the global uneducated. We now have the technology to deliver quality education to the most basic electronic devices — be it a dated computer or even cellphone. Creating and translating educational content and promoting it globally would make an enormous impact.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on LinkedIn, and I’m at nbiernat on Telegram and @nicole_biernat on Twitter.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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