Wall Street has beefed up the hiring of digital asset teams. But some employees are moving away from marquee institutions in search of more risk and potentially more reward.

JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are among the companies with groups dedicated to cryptocurrency and its underlying blockchain technology. JPMorgan has one of the largest teams in crypto, with over 200 employees working in its Onyx division. JPM Coin digital currency is used commercially to send payments worldwide.

Umar Farooq, CEO of Onyx by JPMorgan, said the team has to worry about compliance and protecting the bank’s brand and often moves slower than your average crypto startup. But when the products are launched, they reach “a scale that a fintech can only dream of”.

“There aren’t many places where you can deploy a new platform and that platform can go from virtually nothing to transacting a billion dollars in trades per day in a matter of months,” said Farooq at CNBC. “This kind of scale can only be possible when you operate in a company like JPMorgan Chase. The upside of this scale is far greater than any downsides that might exist due to more regulations or controls.”

As for hiring, Farooq said it was a mix of current JPMorgan employees and competition for talent with start-ups and larger tech companies. From first-year analysts to senior executives and CEOs, there is greater interest in moving into crypto, he said.

A “Wall St” sign is visible above two “One Way” signs in New York City.

lucas jackson | Reuters

Financial services companies added three times as many crypto jobs last year than in 2015, according to recent data from LinkedIn. In the first half of 2021, this rate jumped by 40%. Banks on a crypto hiring spree included Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Capital One, Barclays, Credit Suisse, UBS, Bank of America, and BNY Mellon.

The crypto boom on Wall Street coincides with more funding and hiring in the start-up world. Crypto and blockchain companies raised a record $25 billion last year, an eightfold increase from the previous year, according to data from CB Insights.

Farooq said even with the start-up boom, JPMorgan has seen “limited attrition.” Those leaving are people “wanting to start their own business rather than wanting to leave and do something similar”.

However, JPMorgan lost one of its most high-profile crypto deputies last year. Christine Moy is on garden leave after stepping down as Managing Director and Global Head of Crypto and Metaverse at Onyx. She has yet to announce her next move.

“After more than half a decade of laying the groundwork for blockchain-based infrastructure in capital markets and cross-border payments, building new businesses that have already reached the billions of US dollars at JP Morgan, I seek to challenge myself further by finding new opportunities to create value and impact the Web3/crypto ecosystem from a new perspective,” Moy told CNBC in an email.

Leaving Wall Street

Other senior crypto executives who left Wall Street have recently expressed frustration with the length of time it takes to push projects forward at a major financial institution.

Mary Catherine Lader, chief operating officer at Uniswap Labs, left her role as chief executive at BlackRock last year. His foray into crypto began as a side project at the asset management firm.

“It definitely wasn’t my main job,” Lader said. “It was kind of a hobby, like it is for so many people on Wall Street, and it certainly wasn’t something I was thinking about at the time, because it was the early stages of adoption.”

At Uniswap, Lader is currently working on an emerging decentralized cryptocurrency exchange. She said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work on the next wave of innovation.

“This technology is so essential to the future of finance that it didn’t seem like a risk at all,” Lader said. “I was sad to leave the people I loved working with for many years. I have huge respect for the company, but it didn’t seem like a risk. It’s a good thing about our position in Web3.”

Justin Schmidt, former head of digital asset markets at Goldman Sachs, made a similar career change last year. He joined institutional crypto trading platform Talos and described the risk the same way, calling the decision “multidimensional.”

“Inherently, you’re taking brand risk — Goldman is one of Wall Street’s legendary institutions,” Schmidt said. “You’re also taking a risk by staying in a more traditional place, and I strongly believe it’s about generational change and there’s a generational opportunity here.”

Cryptocurrency startups and banks describe a shift in the hunt for top talent. Many look beyond the best candidates with an MBA and instead consider those with less conventional resumes. Lader and Schmidt said some of their best crypto hires were self-taught engineers or crypto influencers they first interacted with on Twitter.

“I constantly meet 23-year-olds, who are as smart about the markets as the people I worked with on Wall Street for years,” Lader said. “People who frankly had no interest in financial services, who would never really explore or consider working on Wall Street, are thrilled to work at UniSwap Labs and companies like us.”