Mayor Adams sent a lightning bolt through New York’s crypto community when he announced that he’d be converting his first city paychecks into Bitcoin and Ethereum. But it was more than a feel-good moment; it was a clarion call to hundreds of local innovators, technologists and entrepreneurs that New York City is ready to embrace the financial revolution, and the jobs and diversified wealth that can come with it.
Unfortunately, this sector of the economy continues to be dogged by stereotypes and misconceptions, with many claiming it is nothing more than an elaborate scam, sure to collapse and hurt low-income New Yorkers the hardest when it does.
If we’re going to rebuild our city’s financial sector — and the jobs and tax dollars that come with it — we need to embrace change. The legacy financial system won’t be enough. According to a recent report from the Partnership for New York City, a quarter of all Wall Street firms plan to cut jobs in the five boroughs. In contrast, the rapidly expanding crypto sector is surging. Just this month, LinkedIn reported that crypto job postings were up 395% year over year.
Those jobs, which can be high-paying, tech-focused and driven by rapid innovation, will go to the cities that want them. The mayor of Miami uses his Twitter account to speak directly to industry leaders, the governor of Texas pledged to make his state “the crypto leader,” and a city in Arkansas is offering people $10,000 in Bitcoin to move to their city.
I’m a Brooklynite. I know New York City has so much that attracts the best and brightest. But as an executive in the crypto industry, I also know that we cannot take that edge for granted. If we don’t keep embracing cutting-edge technologies and what they could do for our city, we risk squandering our advantage. Crypto, NFTs and other digital assets are technological advances that New York needs to embrace to maintain our relevance. We need a bit of that New York fearlessness from our elected leaders so that innovators know they’ll be welcomed.
New York State has the most comprehensive regulatory regime for crypto in the country. This has helped already some of the best companies in the industry make New York their home. Unfortunately, that’s not enough, as even well-intentioned regulation can often scare away promising start-ups who are afraid they won’t have resources to apply for (and wait out) regulatory approvals while they scale their products. By leveraging announcements like Mayor Adams’, New York can tip the scales back in its favor.
But first, we should clear up some conventional misconceptions about crypto.
To begin with, Crypto is not about propping up the traditional gilded class. In fact, according to recent surveys, nearly a quarter of Black Americans and 17% of Latinos own crypto, compared to 11% of white Americans. What’s even more surprising to most is that 37% of those who own crypto are underbanked, compared with just 10% among those who are fully banked. This is a rare case in finance where the most economically marginalized folks are ahead.
Adams seems to understand the appeal — and economic benefits — of crypto to working folks instinctively, which is why his political ascension is generating enormous excitement in New York’s crypto community. Here’s what New York can do to attract the best and brightest job creators in the field over the next year:
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First, make our appeal about more than Manhattan. Some of the most exciting developments in the space are taking off in Bushwick and outer-borough communities that feel lightyears away from Wall Street and City Hall.
Second, we should host events with the New York crypto community and integrate the community into the vibrancy of New York’s arts, culture and food scene. NFTs are unlocking enormous economic opportunities for artists around the globe by providing a direct market and millions of new potential patrons. Miami has done an outstanding job drawing this community to its shoreline. With a dose of creativity and political buy-in, New York can do the same on a grander scale.
Third, we should ensure blockchain-enabled technologies have access to the same tax incentives, like the Excelsior Jobs Program, that apply to every other major sector of the state’s economy. Accessing that program, along with simple changes like legally recognizing blockchain-enabled records, would be both valuable and non-controversial political validation of the technology and its potential.
As an Ethiopian-born, LGBTQ Black woman, I am not who most would think of as the typical crypto champion. But as the U.S. CEO of a global social investing platform, and like so many others around the world and in our city, I’ve seen what the future can hold for crypto and other digital assets in New York. Let’s lean in to make the Empire State a leader of this intrepid future.
Demmissie is the CEO of eToro USA, an investment platform for equities, ETFs and crypto.