Despite what could have been a relatively gloomy backdrop in relation to both crypto and traditional finance, the mood was generally bullish in April at Consensus 2023, the year’s leading industry event for the standard-bearers of digital assets, NFTs, Web3.0 and the metaverse. If you’ve never encountered Consensus, this is a three-day event in Austin, Texas, produced by CoinDesk. The ambition is to bring together the many industry stakeholders, covering digital assets, traditional finance, regulation and media. It’s both a physical event as well as virtual and is really an outstanding way to quickly connect with and see a cross-section of the industry.
To get the most from the event, there are three golden rules. The first is to plan your presentations, going for the big brand, big name, controversial sessions. The second is to work the floor — visit each stand and work out whether you are a buyer, or seller of relevant services, and pitch. It’s like speed dating — and you won’t be short of merch; my favorite takeaway item was the reusable steel straws, which the London Stock Exchange Group were giving away. Post speed-date, be ready to connect via LinkedIn, WhatsApp or Telegram; your ‘phone needs to be ready with QR code ID, or similar. Finally, go to the evening events — it’s very strange, but they seem to happen by osmosis. You’ll host a dinner, and someone knows someone and, before you know it, you have three invites for that evening, and it’s just Wednesday. These events are hugely valuable to build deeper relationships with people over a shared experience, such as the food (which was outstanding), or the music, (it was Austin, TX. after all). There was even a band in the airport. And if you happen to run out of steam, station yourself in the garden at the Four Seasons — there was a steady stream of massively interesting people drifting through, who were always happy to chat.
The best session
One of the best sessions I joined was Jenny Johnson’s, President and CEO at Franklin Templeton, a leading asset manager that already tokenises US government securities, cash and repurchase agreements. Here, Jenny laid out the reasons why digital asset technology was so important for the securities industry — and Jenny absolutely nailed it in terms of describing how this technology can be used, and the efficiency benefits that it brings. Franklin Templeton has more than $1.4 trillion in AUM (so plenty of heft in the market) and Jenny described how blockchain has the potential to be a massive disruptor to traditional finance, with her firm seeking to bridge the active investment service offering across into digital assets. I will observe, however, Franklin Templeton was very much the exception when it comes to traditional finance. Consensus really needs to up the presence of the TradFi players, which would give it more balance.
The best stand
The best stand had to be Radix, which has been around for over 10 years, establishing itself as one of the very early protocols seeking to address the transaction throughput limits of Bitcoin. Stationed right at one of the main event crossroads, it was impossible to miss. The Radix ambition is to build a protocol that is quick to develop on, rewards participants for the improvements they make, and can be scaled with ease. It was great to see Piers Ridyard, CEO at RDX Works, on the triumph of its stand, looking so positive about the future of Radix — better still, it is a British project.
The best event
This had to be the reception hosted by Wave Financial, in Lamberts — one of Austin’s leading barbeque restaurants. Wave is focused on bespoke digital asset investment solutions, targeting yield generation through establishing private funds. Alongside managed accounts for corporations, HNWIs and family offices seeking tailored digital asset exposure Wave can also provide bespoke treasury management services, early-stage venture capital and strategic consultation to the digital asset ecosystem. It is also registered with the US Securities & Exchange Commission as an investment adviser. Heidi Pease is the principal contact there, and they were the perfect hosts.
Aside from the more formal, was the informal. Bumping into people you’d only ever known online seemed to be a regular occurrence, for example, Alex Guttler, head of partnerships at Paxos. Alex and myself worked on a virtual stablecoin accelerator project, and it was a surprise to hear him calling after me in the garden at the Four Seasons. And then there were new friends, such as Kam Patel, COO at Custodiex, and his team, a leading UK-based cold storage platform which has big plans for the future. All in all, given some of the gloom of the last 12 months, this was an event well done. Congratulations CoinDesk, and here’s to Austin.