Women in Crypto Q&A: Valkyrie CEO Leah Wald Focuses on Underserved

Leah Wald is the co-founder and CEO of digital asset fund manager Valkyrie Investments. 

She spoke to us about how her experience working in Africa for the World Bank and working at Veterati, a technology company that aims to help unemployed and transitioning veterans find employment through mentorship, helped her shape her work at Valkyrie. 

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Wald also spoke about how focusing on the idea that helping underserved populations rise up is fundamental to a functioning society and how, in that vein, decentralized financial applications have the potential “to fundamentally change access to banking services for unbanked and under-banked individuals is unprecedented in our lifetimes.”

She also explained why the crypto space needs more regulatory clarity, as it would “open the floodgates to broader adoption across all kinds of investors,” and the fact that crypto matters because it is a perfect form of money that is for everyone, “a completely democratic asset.” 

How did you come to the crypto industry?

LW: Back in 2010, while working in Africa for the World Bank, I learned about M-PESA, a micro-payments platform that works via text message to expand banking services to rural communities, and saw how a permissionless system could help change people’s lives. A few years later, when I first learned about Bitcoin, that was the ah-hah moment and, by 2017, I [had] joined Lucid Investment Strategies, which was founded by the brilliant Tyler Jenks. We built one of the first Bitcoin-focused asset managers and also wrote the book “Hyperwave Theory: The Rogue Waves of Financial Markets.” 

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Can you describe what you are doing at Valkyrie?

LW: At Valkyrie, we are building the next generation of fund manager, focused on digital assets for both the retail and accredited/institutional audiences. We have three Bitcoin-adjacent ETFs on Nasdaq, where we recently rang the opening bell, two hedge funds, two actively managed SMA strategies, a VC fund and six protocol trusts.

This year we also focused on building internal infrastructure technology to help better enable institutions to adopt digital assets — from tax and P&L reporting and additional data to other functions we soon plan to announce. Bear markets are for building, and we are excited to share what we’ve created.

Can you talk about how your previous experience is shaping what you’re currently doing?

LW: Prior to working in asset management, I worked for the World Bank on monetary policy and also co-founded Veterati, a technology company that aims to help unemployed and transitioning veterans find meaningful employment through mentorship. Most of my life has been focused on the idea that helping underserved populations rise up is fundamental to a functioning society. Though we are approaching digital assets from a different angle in this instance, our efforts to help educate and offer more access will help even people who don’t buy our products to learn about the space and take advantage of the benefits of owning Bitcoin and other tokens.

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What excites you the most in the space?

LW: Bitcoin and digital assets are the future of finance. Being here, at the ground floor, and getting to work with all the projects building these platforms is among the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of. We talk to founders and entrepreneurs with visions for platforms and products that simply weren’t possible even a few years ago. The potential for decentralized financial applications to fundamentally change access to banking services for unbanked and under-banked individuals is unprecedented in our lifetimes.

What do you think should change in the space?

LW: The best thing that can happen to this space is regulatory clarity. Once authorities enact rules and regulations, that should open the floodgates to broader adoption across all kinds of investors.

Additionally, this industry has historically worked together rather than competed like Wall Street does. Given where we are at in the growth cycle and how none of us are really competing against each other yet, it would make more sense to collaborate to educate the broader public and authorities, to bring more people into the fold and hopefully foster regulations that encourage innovation rather than hamper it — while also providing the investor protections found in traditional assets.

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Can you talk about how the industry is male-dominated and what could be done to change this?

LW: Most industries are male-dominated, and there is not really an overnight fix. In fact, male CEOs outnumber female chief executives on a magnitude of 17 to one, according to a recent Morningstar study — though those ranks are beginning to close in senior management ranks and should hopefully translate to more women in the C-suite. Studies have shown that women-led companies tend to be more profitable, and investors always follow the upside.

Additionally, the women have outnumbered men among college attendees for many years; this is a long game where it is only a matter of time before many of the brilliant female founders and executives I speak with on a weekly basis gain larger platforms and broader influence. 

Who are the women you admire in the space?

LW: I admire many female developers and executives in this industry. There are a number of powerful women — including Cathie Wood, Daniela Brozzoni, Gloria Zhao, Talia Klein, Giang Bui, Jaime Leverton and Ciara Sun — that are blazing a trail and showing girls and young women that you can achieve anything, regardless of your gender or background, and they are laying the groundwork for future generations to surpass even our achievements.

Crypto isn’t an easy industry to navigate, and these women are charting a course with purpose and grace. 

What could be done for the industry to be more inclusive? 

LW: Many companies are working to be more inclusive, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to maternity and paternity leave policies, childcare reimbursement, internal mentorship programs, diversity hiring practices and investment policies, education reimbursement and more. Until the past few decades, women were largely expected to stay at home and raise children while men worked, and the legacy of that dynamic still exists in many ways, even if only subtly. It’s going to take time for women to reach equality, but I think we are much closer than ever before.

Why do you think crypto matters?

LW: Crypto matters because it is a perfect form of money that is for everyone, a completely democratic asset. It is a permissionless value transfer that is immutable, “unconfiscatable” and fungible around the globe. This creates true equality because the trustless nature of all transactions removes bias from the equation, placing everyone on a level playing field.

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.
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