In our latest interview with an inspiring woman in fintech, we talked with a best-selling author, guest lecturer, and founder of a crypto & fintech events and community.
Erica Stanford is the author of the book ‘Crypto Wars: Faked Deaths, Missing Billions and Industry Disruption‘, which looked at the biggest hacks and scams in crypto.
She is founder of the Crypto Curry Club, a crypto & fintech events and community; and Associate Guest Lecturer at Warwick Business School on use cases and applications of crypto and digital currency. She is also fintech specialist at law firm CMS.
How and where did you start your career in fintech?
I’d volunteered in Buenos Aires as part of my degree, and travelled around Argentina and the rest of Latin America during my summer holidays at uni. That had been pretty eye-opening.
Argentina was after the economic crash, and my local friends (my sort of age, so late teens / early twenties) quickly taught me that they don’t go to banks but rather cash out as soon as they get paid, convert the money into euros and dollars and other currencies and physically keep those notes in their flats in a safe. That was banking.
The trust for the traditional financial system was zero. I also had the misfortune of having to rely on remittance companies for a while after getting all my cards stolen, and then you realise how awful those companies are – they literally charge as much as they can to the poorest people. 14% fees (or more) and multiple delays for sending money.
So when I heard about crypto, it was an obvious interest. At the time there were no real events or community in London, so I started the Crypto Curry Club as casual invite-only networking events over food and drink – and they took off. That was the best way to meet people, and from meeting people, that leads to opportunities.
What challenges do you face?
Not enough time! I’m trying to juggle a job, promoting ‘Crypto Wars’, working on book two, training for a 980-mile charity bike ride across Britain, and family. My stack of books I want to read is piling up.
What are the most pressing issues facing the crypto industry today?
There are several! Firstly, there are still an enormous amount of scams taking advantage of the space. Perhaps no more on average than any industry, but still a lot, and so a lot of people end up losing their money. Education is needed to help prevent people falling for scams.
Likewise, there are also many hacks. Cybercriminals are getting increasingly sophisticated and seem to be able to outwit almost everyone.
There are ways to be – relatively – safe in crypto – using the best custody providers, storing crypto offline, and companies doing sufficient penetration testing and having the best cybersecurity in place, so this isn’t a be-all end-all, but it does shake trust.
Risk aside, the user experience in crypto still isn’t where it needs to be. Using crypto isn’t always as easy as it can be, yet, but that is changing fast.
Lastly, the big hurdle for the industry is still for the majority of the crypto companies wanting to work in a legitimate way. Traditional banking has not been open to crypto – that is now changing, but it hasn’t been easy for crypto companies to access services such as banking.
Also, regulation has in no ways managed to keep up with the fast pace of the technology, which has been a source of extreme frustration to those many companies wanting to operate legally, and also hasn’t helped to stop any of the scams or the big problems in the space.
What is exciting about working in the crypto space?
Gosh. Firstly, the people working in crypto are pretty amazing. For the most part, they’re super smart and working in the space out of interest, so it’s a lot of fun and pretty inspiring to meet great new people on an almost daily basis.
Through hosting the Crypto Curry Club events and working at CMS, the main law firm in the space, it’s nice to see where crypto is going – micropayments and the ability to make multiple super low cost transactions open up a whole new world of possibilities.
And the technology is constantly moving so fast, one is always learning something or hearing something new.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into fintech?
I’m often asked this. Learn what you can, there are good websites and books that give good overviews of the history of the space. Start playing around in crypto – it’s possible to download a wallet and play with £10 worth to see how it works.
Go to events and engage and meet people. It’s a very people-focused, relationship-driven industry. I’ve often seen people hired or given internships or casual work or partnerships because of who they’ve met at networking or work events.
The previous fintech-themed interview, with Radhika Rajpal, Co-Founder of Beyond Equity, can be found here.