How does what you do at Chainalysis differ from your previous role in intelligence? It’s very different. There’s the reactionary side, but then there’s also the proactive work that we enabled through having increased visibility of the crypto space. Because the blockchain is public, it’s live, and we do real-time monitoring of it – that’s a game changer for organisations.
If you look at the ANZ stablecoin transfer, for instance, people were really excited by the fact that they could move $30 million in 30 minutes. But if you flip it on its head and say, “well, someone stole money and moved $30 million in 30 minutes” – that’s just crazy. It’s those sorts of situations where you need to have that active investigation.
Considering how close you are to the criminal side of crypto, do you think the broader concerns about scams and crime in the space are justified? Or is it a bit overblown? It’s definitely overblown. The key piece of crypto is transparency – the fact that we can show you, on-chain, the crime and illicit activity we see, no one can do that with fiat currency, it’s not possible. We don’t know how much cash Pablo Escobar had hidden and how much the rats have eaten. In crypto, the rats are like Tornado Cash or CryptoMixer. They take that little piece out of it, but we can still see where those funds are.
This confidence in the security and transparency of crypto is shown through the increase in institutional organisations coming to play in this space, they’re not investing for no reason. They’ve been looking at this for a long time because the fundamental technology can be a huge enabler for them.
With something like TornadoCash or Monero, how hard to track are they really? Do they make it much harder for law enforcement? While privacy coins have been used by some illicit actors including ransomware groups in an attempt to obfuscate their transactions, they haven’t been adopted to the extent that one may expect. One reason is that privacy coins aren’t as liquid as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
Especially now that many exchanges have delisted privacy coins given regulatory guidance, they’re becoming increasingly impractical. Cryptocurrency is only useful if you can buy and sell goods and services or cash out into fiat, and that is much more difficult with privacy coins.
What’s your view personally on all the broader aspects of Web3, like NFTs, DeFi etc? I think the underlying technology is extremely important, and I think people are having amazing ideas on how they’re trying to solve real-world problems. Traditional cryptocurrencies – there are thousands of them and they don’t all serve a purpose, they don’t solve a problem. But if you look at things like NFTs, they’re a fantastic concept.
The smart contract components and what they can be applied to is remarkable technology, things like proving where your wine came from, and mitigating counterfeiting. Provenance is a way NFTs can be utilised across the globe.
DeFi is just a new way to do markets. People are not always happy with the standard offering that they’ve got from the banking sector, so why not build something else? Obviously, it isn’t for everyone and doing your due diligence is key for anyone investing in any market.
It seems like Web3 right now is mostly serving people who are already involved in it. There’s a fairly large barrier between taking all these very idealised use cases and then pushing them into the mainstream. Do you think that’s going to happen any time soon, or will that barrier remain? No, I think it’s definitely coming. If you look at traditional finance, the same types of things happened: development of capability, then organisations adapting, and then providing that front-end solution.
The challenge that we’re talking about is how do we make it easy for consumers to trust and use it like anything else? People just don’t have time to dig in and dive into these things, so once that bit is done it’ll be a mass market.
I think that development will start to happen. And with pressure from the government and a focus on the crypto industry, I think we’ll start to see that over the next 18 months.
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