Senior bankers discuss blockchain advising and being Asian Americans in investment banking with Block Asia
Author: Wang Yanhua
Wachsman, one of the world’s leading blockchain professional services firms, has hired senior bankers from investment banks Jefferies and J.P. Morgan to lead a new blockchain strategy and advisory division.
Formerly Senior Vice President, Technology Investment Banking Group at Jefferies, Michael Chang joins Wachsman as Managing Director and will lead the firm’s new Strategic Advisory Group in New York.
Chang will be supported by Associate Director Franklin Bi, former Vice President and Blockchain Strategy Lead for J.P. Morgan’s Blockchain Center of Excellence.
Wachsman’s Strategic Advisory Group will provide blockchain consulting and advisory services to clients.
Block Asia caught up with Chang and Bi in an email interview to find out more about their experiences.
How do you feel about your new role at Wachsman?
Michael: As someone who believes in the enormous potential and promise of blockchain technology, I’m delighted to bring my 10 years of investment banking experience at Citigroup, BofA Merrill Lynch, and Jefferies to Wachsman. Blockchain is the fastest growing industry of our generation, and I’m looking forward to leading the Strategic Advisory Group at Wachsman, a key player in providing companies with the strategy and tools necessary to engage the global blockchain and cryptocurrency audience.
Franklin: I’m coming on board the Wachsman team with great confidence and belief in the company’s direction.I also see extraordinary potential in the opportunity to lead the Strategy Advisory Group with Michael. In this industry, reputation is paramount and choosing your partners wisely can be the difference between success and failure. Wachsman has built its reputation on integrity and professionalism by applying a rigorous due diligence process for prospective public relations clients and engaging only with the most promising, capable teams and projects. We plan to be strong stewards of that reputation as we tackle Wachsman’s next challenge: advising clients on their next stage of growth through both traditional and blockchain-enabled strategies.
What was your experience as an investment banker like?
Michael: I founded and led the blockchain coverage group at Jefferies’ Technology Banking Group in early 2017 when the financial world was only just beginning to explore use cases for blockchain and realize how impactful it could be for the future of the world’s largest companies. What was very apparent was the vast knowledge gap among traditional businesses on how blockchain technology could be applied to existing operations. I began advising companies and investors on the blockchain business and investment opportunities, and over the past two years have been impressed by the speed and enthusiasm with which traditional businesses have explored blockchain.
Franklin: My background is rooted in corporate strategy for J.P. Morgan’s investment bank, where I partnered with senior executives to accelerate growth across new and existing business lines. In 2015, I launched a project to assess blockchain technology, in terms of new business models and frankly disruptive threats, for J.P. Morgan Chase as a firm. Shortly afterwards, I was down the rabbit hole, and when we formed the Blockchain Center of Excellence, I quickly jumped onboard to lead the strategy effort. It was an amazing ride, as we developed working prototypes of blockchain-enabled applications, released Quorum — a privacy-capable enterprise fork of Ethereum — into open source, and helped launch the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, which has since grown to 500 members. Over those 3 years, I also spent time sharing those learnings and collaborating with leading companies across many industries.
How did you find out about blockchain?
Michael: I started researching and investigating Bitcoin and blockchain in the summer of 2014 during a retreat in the Atacama Desert, Chile. When Bitcoin and blockchain started to capture the popular imagination in early 2017, I raised my hand at Jefferies Technology Investment Banking to lead the blockchain coverage effort to help our institutional clients understand the implications of this emerging technology as well as the business and investment opportunities that would arise from creative destruction as this technology matures.
Franklin: Like many early adopters, my first interaction with blockchain technology was through using Bitcoin in a real transaction. In 2014, I was traveling abroad and needed to use a VPN service that only accepted Bitcoin at the time. I opened a Coinbase account and bought enough Bitcoin to complete the purchase. That experience of “being my own bank” was eye-opening and put me squarely on the roller coaster ride ever since. It also resonated deeply with the stories I’d heard from my parents, who grew up in China during a time of economic upheaval and political uncertainty, to say the least. When the J.P. Morgan initiative began taking form shortly thereafter, I happened to be in the right time, right place, and right mindset to immediately jump in head-first.
What were the past companies that you have advised like? Were there companies who only wanted blockchain for the sake of it?
Michael: In my experience, the most innovative companies focused on future-proofing their operations are the ones that actively strive to better understand the risks and rewards of blockchain and decentralization. Since I first began advising companies on how to utilize blockchain technology, interest from major corporations has grown exponentially. The Strategic Advisory Group will help companies and investors understand blockchain and the business and investment opportunities as the technologies and companies mature.
Franklin: I’ve found that the most important thing for enterprises is that they’ve committed to objectively exploring the potential opportunities and challenges of blockchain technology. Some companies might indeed want blockchain for blockchain’s sake — in other words, for short-term benefits like share price — but that’s a natural part of the speculative phase that can eventually lead to real deployment, as Carlota Perez describes in her work on technological revolutions. Ultimately, a blockchain or distributed ledger isn’t a universal cure or solution to all our problems — it’s a new tool that can elegantly address a specific problem set or spur new thinking around your business model and product offerings.
How is it like being an Asian American in investment banking?
Michael: Investment banking is the ultimate meritocracy. Regardless of background, people are judged and compensated by the quality of their work and effort. I have had amazing opportunities to learn from some of the smartest and most experienced bankers in the world. At Citigroup, I advised AMC Entertainment on its US$2 Billion sale to Dalian Wanda in May 2012. As the only Asian American on the Citigroup deal team, I bridged the cultural and language gap to build trust between between the two sides as we negotiated the transaction. This was a textbook example how greater diversity is a key strength of building great teams.
Franklin: As an Asian American professional, I believe it’s important to address both diversity and inclusion in the workplace. I think of diversity as “who” — who is recruited or promoted, who represented at the table. Inclusion is the “how” — how to make sure that diverse voices are being heard, how to help everyone feel empowered to make decisions. Having one without the other risks losing out on new ideas and outstanding talent.