The finance professionals who switched from traditional careers to the cryptocurrency sector are now seeing the latter retrench globally, but South Korea’s highest-profile example of such a job move has no regrets.
Lee Mi-seon, 39, became research head at eight-year-old cryptocurrency exchange Bithumb in March after 12 years as a bond strategist at conglomerate Hana Financial Group, where she won media accolades for her forecasts.
Two months after her move, virtual coins began a chaotic $1 trillion rout sparked partly by the $40 billion implosion of South Korean entrepreneur Do Kwon’s Terraform Labs ecosystem and related algorithmic stablecoin.
Bankruptcies and job losses have since proliferated worldwide among digital asset companies.
“It was kind of terrifying to witness what happened through May and June” as there’s no backstop for cryptocurrency unlike in traditional finance, Ms Lee said.
But she still sees long-term growth potential in the sector as a whole, and hence “more opportunities for one to continue with his or her career regardless of current job security”.
She argues one reason is because conventional companies will continue to expand into cryptocurrency. The extent to which that will happen remains arguable.
But only this month BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, introduced a private Bitcoin trust for big institutional clients and partnered with Coinbase Global to make it easier for institutions to manage and trade the token.
Even so, layoffs are still casting a long shadow across the industry.
Exchanges Coinbase and Crypto.com, lending platform BlockFi and non-fungible token marketplace OpenSea are among the companies that have cut jobs.
South Korea’s previously enthusiastic embrace of virtual coins has also cooled. As in other nations, regulators are asking more questions after spectacular blow-ups.
Bithumb — which according to CoinGecko data as of August 26 processes a daily average of about $360 million in trades — was among exchanges raided by local prosecutors as part of a probe into Terraform Labs.
Ms Lee was named best bond analyst by publications such as Maeil Business Newspaper, Yonhap Infomax, Korea Economic Daily and Chosun Biz.
She hopes her crypto research can help avert a “dystopian” endpoint for blockchain-based innovation and thinks more jurisdictions can make Bitcoin legal tender.
The token has plunged about 70 per cent from a record high of just under $69,000 in November last year, partly because tightening monetary policy globally sapped liquidity from financial markets.
Ms Lee said Bitcoin is in the process of bottoming out as much of the bubble in cryptocurrency has burst and investors have already priced in further interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.