Olga Feldmeier is CEO and co-founder of SMART VALOR, a Swiss-based blockchain start-up building a decentralised marketplace for tokenised alternative investments. Olga has extensive experience working in the banking and financial services sector for global brands such as Barclays Capital, UBS Wealth Management and Boston Consulting Group, where she focused on strategy projects at financial institutions such as Deutsche Bank, Unicredit and Commerzbank. Prior to founding SMART VALOR, Olga held the position of Commercial Managing Partner at prominent Silicon Valley Bitcoin startup Xapo.
Olga is a prominent founding member of the Crypto Valley community, and is the producer of the Crypto + ICO Summit, the first global conference focusing on blockchain crowdfunding in Switzerland. She is also a mentor at the largest European accelerator program, Kickstart Accelerator, and regularly delivers talks at conferences and universities on the regulation of Blockchain industry, the tokenisation of assets and the disruption of the banking industry.
Based in: Zug, Switzerland
Company website: https://smartvalor.com
When was your first encounter with Blockchain technology, Olga?
The first time I bought Bitcoin was back in 2013. It was because I came across something intriguing, something that was making no sense from the point of view of classical monetary theory.
As the government of Cyprus announced a bail-in for banks, they had to cascade the losses on their shareholders, debt holders and even large depositors. The run on the Cypriot banks pushed Bitcoin from around 50 USD to 200 USD. This case in itself was actually quite an interesting incident from a historical perspective. For the first time in our history the role and behaviour of gold – a physical asset as old as history of humanity – was replicated by something that does not really exist: some abstract computer code run on decentralised network of computers. Perplexing situation, right? Especially if you’ve ventured into the history of monetary policy before. At my post-Soviet Union University this subject was my favourite, as it was a glossy new addition to our Fiscal Policy course.
What about it really caught your attention?
I didn’t take Bitcoin seriously before, but this incident got me thinking. Is it really possible to create a post-national currency that would substitute gold, a universally acknowledged asset? Cyprus was just a little ripple in the ocean of capital markets. What would happen to Bitcoin’s price if World War III were to break out tomorrow?
Later the same year (2013) the Chinese got excited about Bitcoin and the price started to rise even further. Chinese government however understandably was not so happy about this new borderless currency which makes it so easy to circumvent the capital control. There were announcements about a clamp-down on Bitcoin. All of this was to no avail, as the price of Bitcoin just dived for a while. This was the first proof, that governments can’t do much about Bitcoin. This story was replayed in September last year as the Chinese government introduced restrictions on cryptocurrencies exchanges.
The understanding of blockchain we had then, and the understanding we have now… how do you think it has evolved?
I think today we experience many cases of how it is already working:
- One of the largest investment banks with issuance volume of over 10b within the last 12 months with an extravagant name Ethereum came to existence
- UBS`s Batavia built on IBM blockchain handled trade transactions selling cars from Germany to Spain and textile raw materials from Austria to Spain
- The number of Ripple transactions crossing that of VISA at twice the rate: 50.000 transactions per second
To put it short: today we see a lot of real life applications of blockchain technology and even the skeptics of Bitcoin cannot put this into question anymore.
What main features of Blockchain technology make it so prevalent or relevant in your opinion?
- Immutability of record
- Decentralised, trustless network
- Tokenisation of assets
How has the experience been in building Smart Valor and the Valor Platform so far?
SMART VALOR AG is a true Swiss company. We are building the first decentralised global marketplace for tokenised alternative investments. Our mission is to enable frictionless, compliant and secure access to alternative digital assets and to deploy blockchain technology to democratise access to wealth.
The VALOR Platform is an online investment platform with a focus on alternative investments such as crypto, venture capital, start-ups and other alternatives. All investments on the platform are represented through cryptographic tokens issued on the blockchain, powered by smart contracts. With this we are creating a fully licensed and compliant exchange for tokenised securities while building on the Swiss crypto-friendly regulation.
Nothing comparable exists today, so creating something new completely from the scratch was one of the most exciting professional challenges I had before. Although I have been in the crypto space for a while now, tokenisation of assets and enabling of global access to the alternative financial products is going to be yet another big achievements not only for us but also for the overall financial institutional landscape.
You are based in Switzerland, presently. The Swiss government has been quite welcoming for Blockchain startups. Can you please give us some insight into the local ecosystem?
For 200 years, Switzerland has existed in such a privileged capacity. It was all about wealth management for the rich people of the world, who brought their wealth here to protect it from corrupt regimes in their own countries. Previously, if you wanted to open a bank account here in Switzerland and benefit from world-class banking, no problem – as long as you brought £5 million or more along with you. But now, everything is changing. Cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, represent truly democratised finance: anyone can purchase it from anywhere in the world, and can transfer it to any address, with no boundaries.
As we all know, the first few years have been controversial – but people are increasingly accepting that blockchain and cryptocurrencies represent a new frontier for finance globally. New best practices are being created, new rules being written, and new forms of wealth creation being explored. Switzerland has been progressive and acted quickly, embracing this trend early and playing a key role in helping its transition to mainstream finance. So what does it mean for us in Switzerland, right now? It means a lot of companies like Smart Valor are building marketplaces and platforms which will bridge the gap between crypto finance and traditional finance. It’s a trend that will show just how powerful the idea of democratising finance can be.
Any important developments that you’ve recently noticed in terms of government support extended to understanding, adopting and regulating the technologies?
A lot of countries are still not ready to embrace this trend. We’ve countries like China ban Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) altogether; while challenges persist in markets like South Korea and the USA. Fortunately, Switzerland has truly embraced the potential of secure, regulated cryptocurrencies.Switzerland’s Economic Minister, Johann Schneider-Ammann, announced earlier this year that the nation’s focus on crypto should move beyond the ‘Crypto Valley, instead now referring to the entire country as a ‘Crypto Nation’.
This was a clear of commitment from the highest political level for the establishment of the crypto industry in Switzerland. The move was swiftly followed up with new ICO guidelines published by Swiss Financial Regulator, FINMA. It represents one of the first frameworks published by a national financial regulator with the goal of giving guidance to startups and companies around conducting secure, compliant ICOs. We expect to see similar moves made by other markets around Europe and beyond, in the months ahead.
What are the main areas of interest for you and Smart Valor in the next year?
We were excited to recently announce a partnership with Ledger, joining an early access group for their Ledger Vault programme – the first enterprise-grade security solution for cryptocurrencies. Along with submitting an application to receive the status of ‘Financial Intermediary’ in Switzerland, we will soon be able to begin offering escrow, Know Your Customer (KYC) and on-boarding services for businesses raising capital through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) – all with the security benefits of Ledger Vault and in compliance with FINMA’s recently published regulatory guidelines.
Beyond that, we’re excited to be working on further regulatory and technical milestones – including a ‘security dealer’ licence in combination with Organised Trading Facility (OTF) status, allowing the business to become a fully licensed exchange for security tokens such as company shares or publicly traded funds. And of course, we’re seeing an incredible amount of early interest in our own crowd-sale round of investment. At an industry level, I’m keeping a close eye on some key trends that will really ‘move the needle’ for the crypto community in the near future: custody, transparency and more regulatory clarity. Progress on these issues over the coming year will get us closer than ever to democratising finance for good.