RBS Blockchain boss: “The ICO model didn’t help” blockchain development

Richard Crook says that the surge in ICOs has led to a shortage of talent for projects like his, and also has thoughts on impending regulation in the crypto space.

With a 20-year career in investment banking, specialising in the building of financial ledgers and regulatory reporting, Crook – the man charged with leading RBS’ Emerging Technologies team, heading-up its contribution to the collaborative R3 consortium and applying Corda’s blockchain-based systems into its business – has seen FinTech revolutions come and go. With that experience behind him, he bought a wry opinion of the current state of blockchain development to the stage of London’s World Blockchain Forum.

In a conversation on The State of Crypto, chaired by WBF organiser Moe Levin, Cooke expanded on RBS’ search for talent to add to its Emerging Technologies team.

“I would say I have a contrarian opinion with regard to talent in the space,” he began, following contributions lauding the amount of talent working in blockchain.

“I think the ICO model didn’t help,” he expanded. “I think it gave belief that you could write a white paper and become a millionaire – and if you can do that, why work for anyone else.”

“And secondly, the moment individuals have downloaded a wallet onto their mobile phone, they change their linked in profile to say ‘Blockchain Guru’, and it’s really, really, difficult to find good talent.”

ICO development has exploded in late 2017 and early 2018, as marked by the constant news that investment in the sector is ever-rising. This has, Crook asserts, led to no-little amount of bandwagon jumping in terms of the CV’s coming across his desk.

“Everyone who has the slightest insight into how a blockchain works, or who has read the book Mastering Bitcoin a couple of times, is saying ‘right, I can do everything blockchain.'”

“And they’ve all been working in blockchain since 2010, ironically,” he said to chuckles among the group on stage. “Two years ago nobody worked in blockchain, and now everyone’s been working in blockchain since 2010… So, we’ve struggled to find good talent – or, should I say, with filtering out good talent.”

The panel where Crook made his comments was the same session where eToro’s UK boss, Iqbal Gandham, gave an optimistic view on regulatory changes in the UK crypto market, which we’ve previously report on.

When asked to comment on crypto regulation, Crook’s assessment was similarly straightforward:

“If you look broadly across the market: Q1, we were watching the SEC looking for someone to go toe-to-toe with, and Coinbase stepped up, and we’ve been watching that over in the US. What we’ve been watching on the European side is a different conversation and that’s culminated in things like the GDF [Global Digital Finance, an industry body]… That’s given us a regulatory guide path.

“If you watch what’s been going on with the G20 earlier this year, they’re going to come back and report in October. You’ll see that task force start to come back with actions.”

“It’s a very standard routine,” he concluded. It’s a movie we’ve seen before. If you have an a emerging market that grows to half-a-trillion in size, the incumbents are going to sit up and start taking notice.”

“They can ignore it, and they can avoid it,” he observed, “until such point as it’s an emerging market – and that’s how you’d describe the crypto space right now. To that end, regulation is a cert.”

“The real conversation that’s going on [among] the G20 Central Bank [Governors], at least if we’re reading the minutes correctly, is that they don’t want to overdo regulation, because they will just snuff-out all of the innovation and you will just make crypto look like any other financial market,” he added.

“On the other side, they can’t leave it as a wild west, or all the regulated entities will just discard their licenses, walk across the street and become unregulated.”

Crooks conclusion was that the is “a balance and a trade-off going on here,” that was happening on more than one front. “There is more to it than just the US jurisdiction. The Europeans are having a different debate, and that’s very interesting to follow too.”