Since its inception, the crypto industry has combined new technology with intense collaboration and the entrepreneurial spirit to create an entirely new, dynamic ecosystem. As the digital revolution continues to unfold, we’re left with a powerful infrastructure that has the potential to reshape the global investment landscape. Blockchain innovation is disrupting incumbent processes and entire industries – and the financial services world of Wall Street is chief among them.
In May, SDM appointed Alan Mittleman as the firm’s new Chief Operating Officer. Having previously spent over two decades on Wall Street, Alan joins the team with a wealth of traditional finance experience and an eagerness to dive into digital assets. We recently sat down with Alan for a conversation about his transition and where he sees the greatest opportunity for SDM on the road ahead.
Why did you decide to make the leap from traditional finance to crypto?
On a personal level, I became passionate about cryptocurrencies and have traded them dating back as early as 2016. In a previous professional role, I had the opportunity to build out a cryptocurrency strategy. Ultimately, there were a lot of risks associated with crypto that larger institutions still did not know how to approach; therefore the strategy was not implemented at the time, but this gave me my first professional foray into digital assets. These factors combined with an increased mainstream interest in crypto led me to seek out new opportunities within the crypto space. It was then that I started joining virtual and crypto conferences and networking in this community, and this is how I discovered Secure Digital Markets. The combination of my initial interest in crypto and my 20+ years of experience within traditional finance coupled with Secure Digital Market’s growth plans made for a great fit.
What are the biggest differences you’re seeing, a couple of weeks into your new role?
Most crypto companies are still in the early stages while I come from a world where traditional financial institutions like global banks have been established for over a hundred years. Within a smaller start-up, everyone wears multiple hats in terms of responsibility; even as COO, I’m helping to build out product offerings while also figuring out the proper infrastructure buildout, workflow, and organizational structure for all necessary work functions.
Overall, the unclear guidance from regulators within the crypto space is one of the biggest differences I’m seeing. It’s not clear how cryptocurrencies are classified; whether they’re a commodity, security, property, etc. On the flip side, within traditional markets, regulations are very clear — the SEC is in charge of all securities, the CFTC is in charge of all derivatives, and so on. I have worked closely with regulators over my TradFi career helping shape rules/regulations, such as with Dodd Frank implementation and Libor transition more recently. As such, I am confident this will be no different in the digital asset space.
What are you most excited about being able to do in your new role that you couldn’t previously?
Everything. At a large bank, your role is a bit myopic as you tend to focus on just your task at hand. In my new role, as we are still considered a startup and growing quickly, I am able to get involved with every aspect of the business — from building out new business verticals to ensuring proper controls and infrastructure is in place for scalability.
Are there any areas of traditional finance that you believe crypto is trying or will try to replicate?
Eventually, crypto will get involved in all aspects of traditional finance and we are seeing TradFi banks slowly dipping their toes in. However, with legacy thinking and systems, and the fact that crypto native firms are building out their businesses at an exponential pace, TradFi firms will have their hands full.
In recent weeks, we’ve certainly seen some volatility among digital assets along with the spectacular collapse of UST/Luna. What are your thoughts on entering the market during the time you did?
I entered TradFi markets during highly volatile times, and I’m a firm believer that surviving the difficult times makes you more knowledgeable and better equipped to handle volatile times in the future. No matter the market, traditional or crypto, there will always be stress tests, crashes, or hurdles to overcome; especially reflecting on turbulent times I’ve experienced over the years within TradFi markets such as: the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, the Dot-com bubble of 1999-2000, the Financial crisis of 2008, the Eurozone debt crisis of 2011-2012, and the Coronavirus crash of 2020. I made it out of all of these volatile times by growing stronger, more robust businesses, and this time will be no different.
What are the biggest challenges you’re anticipating?
The speed at which the industry and Secure Digital Markets are growing is a challenge – but ultimately a good problem for us to have and an exciting hurdle to take on. It’s imperative that we remain agile while making sure proper risk management frameworks and controls are in place. Regulatory changes to the industry are also another hurdle we’ll need to face head-on. The industry will continue to get more and more regulated over time, and we will need to continue to be forward-thinking and anticipate these changes to be better prepared for the future. I’m fully confident that our team is well-positioned to take these on and succeed in doing so.
What’s your outlook for the future of the crypto space? As a former Wall Street exec, where do you see the crypto space headed in the next 3-6 months?
Cryptocurrency is here to stay — I consider it a new asset class that will be here forever. Not every token or protocol will succeed, but for those that do, I expect them to grow considerably. In the next 6 months, I’m envisioning a significant increase in the total addressable market value within the crypto space.