Krishna Prasad Succeeds Thomas Kim as CEO of Digital Asset Platform Tassat; Blythe Masters Becomes a Board Chair
Kim joins buy-side software company Enfusion; Giancarlo's Digital Dollar Project assembles advisory board
Thursday, April 9, 2020
By Jeffrey Kutler
Just over a year after becoming chief executive officer of Tassat, a New York company responsible for institutional trading and payments breakthroughs using blockchain technology, Thomas Kim has been named CEO of investment management software and data analytics provider Enfusion.
Kim's move was announced March 23, followed a day later by Tassat's naming Krishna Prasad, another veteran of institutional markets and financial technology innovation, as its new CEO.
With TIAA, BBVA and Morgan Stanley among his past affiliations, “Krishna brings institutional and entrepreneurial leadership that will be pivotal as we embark on our next stage of growth,” said Tassat senior board member Kevin Greene. “Over the last year, Tassat has built significant momentum, especially in payments and settlement. We're looking to him to accelerate the company's progress, as we build two significant businesses in digital payments and digital exchange.”
Tarek Hammoud, an Enfusion founder who has transitioned from CEO to executive chairman, called Kim “the right person to lead us into the future,” bringing a background that includes Bridgewater Associates, UNX, Lehman Brothers and TraingScreen.
Current market and economic uncertainty notwithstanding, the active recruiting for senior executives and board members suggests there are pockets of strength and ongoing strategic commitment in fintech and in the digital asset segment. In other recent examples, Blythe Masters, formerly CEO of financial industry blockchain start-up Digital Asset Holdings, added to her board affiliations shipping company Maersk and was designated chair of enterprise mobile technology platform Phunware; and the Digital Dollar Project, an exploratory virtual currency nonprofit co-led by ex-Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo, has formed an advisory board of more than 20 members with executive and policymaking credentials.
Elsewhere, the Thomson Reuters spinoff and pending London Stock Exchange Group acquisition Refinitiv has appointed a head of digital solutions for wealth management; regtech venture singlerulebook.com named a head of sales; and Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. (DTCC) elected two new board members.
Exchange and Payment Initiatives
Previously operating under the brand name trueDigital, founded by Sunil Hirani (also co-founder of pioneering credit derivatives brokerage Creditex and of Digital Asset Holdings), Tassat operates a CFTC-regulated crypto derivatives exchange and implemented a blockchain-based commercial bank payments system with New York State Department of Financial Services approval. (See Tassat: A Range of Services Across the Blockchain Spectrum) In March, Tassat and market making partner Blockfills said they executed the first trade on the newly launched institutional Trade-at-Settlement (TAS) service for spot Bitcoin.
Tassat's Swap Execution Facility (SEF) registration was effective November 6, 2019, with then-CEO Kim saying it “will enable Tassat to bring to market the flexible and innovative derivative products our institutional customers need to efficiently manage digital asset risk. Additionally, our exchange will provide the workflows and infrastructure needed to gain exposure, trade and hedge digital assets in much the same way as in other traditional asset classes.”
In December, the company announced strategic investments by gumi Cryptos Capital and HashKey Capital to support expansion in Asia.
“Tassat is among those select few companies that can deliver impactful solutions to the digital payment and digital exchange markets,” Prasad said in a statement. “It has a great team, and I am joining at an exciting time in the company's development. I am looking forward to helping the firm secure its place as an innovator in its focused areas within the digital ecosystem.”
The new CEO worked most recently as the founder of Kavery Advisors, a consulting firm primarily focused on financial services and fintech private equity and venture investments in India. He has also been head of alternative investment products at TIAA, head of alternative investments at BBVA, co-head of institutional services at Morgan Stanley, head of operations for Deutsche Asset Management, and partner and chief operating officer of portfolio financing and data analytics firm S3 Partners.
“Positive Growth Trajectory”
Enfusion noted that “additional leadership investments” had preceded Thomas Kim's arrival as CEO. He comes in at “an exciting time for Enfusion, where we are seeing incredible strength in our products and services and, as a direct result, are on a positive growth trajectory globally,” said executive chairman Hammoud.
The Chicago-based company hired its first chief revenue officer, Steven Bachert, last October; Vivek Ranka as senior vice president, technology, and head of India, in November; and its first chief human resources officer, Julie Nagle, in February.
“It's an honor to become the CEO of this amazing company and join a global team that is dedicated to serving investment managers as a partner to help them achieve their goals,” said Kim, who prior to Tassat was chief operating officer of the Investment Engine Group at Bridgewater, the world's largest hedge fund.
“With its recent product expansion, including the development of a managed services and data analytics offering, Enfusion has established itself as a leader in the investment management technology space,” Kim added. “Enfusion's success at simplifying the complex asset management industry through thoughtful innovation and a cutting-edge technology solution proves there is no limit on the impact that it can have within the capital markets space. The Enfusion team is full of passionate individuals who have brought the firm to where it is today and who are prepared to support its future growth. I look forward to leading this organization into its next phase.”
Enfusion managing partner Stephen Malherbe said that Kim's “depth of experience will continue propelling our vision of bringing agility, efficiency and value to asset managers. With Enfusion Visual Analytics, we entered a new area of our business, and we look to Thomas for guidance as we continue onwards with our groundbreaking spirit.”
Scott Werner, managing partner, stated, “As Enfusion's headcount keeps increasing, Thomas will not only bring continued leadership with innovation to our global team, but also a commitment to our people and core values. He will empower us to continue innovating with passion and purpose every day to ensure our solution remains a catalyst for growth.”
Blythe Masters, whose reputation and contacts from a 27-year career with JPMorgan helped to accelerate the credibility and growth of Digital Asset Holdings while she served as CEO from 2015 through 2018, has since remained active through a growing list of directorships and advisory roles. For one, in addition to being a Digital Asset board member, she serves on the board of advisers of the Chamber of Digital Commerce with, among others, J. Christopher Giancarlo; Accenture blockchain business leader David Treat, a partner in Giancarlo's Digital Dollar Project; and DRW Trading chief executive officer Don Wilson, a Digital Asset co-founder and Digital Dollar Project advisory board member.
Phunware, which touts its Multiscreen-as-a-Service (MaaS) technology as enabling “true digital transformation in a digital-first world,” said in a March 30 announcement that Masters would remain on its board's audit committee (as chair) and compensation committee while succeeding Eric Manlunas as chair of the full board. Manlunas remains a director and audit and compensation committee member.
“We are living in unprecedented times as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, so we are honored and fortunate to have Blythe serve as chair for Phunware's board of directors,” said Alan S. Knitowski, the Austin, Texas, company's president, CEO and co-founder. “Blythe's proven leadership and experience will be invaluable to helping Phunware navigate the current macro and health environments as we continue to diligently manage cash and drive towards self-sufficiency through operational excellence.”
Said Masters: “I am pleased to assist Phunware during these challenging times; that not only creates risks, but also creates new opportunities to help our customers, which include many healthcare systems, better erve those who depend on them in these trying times. Phunware's enterprise cloud platform can deliver the digital transformation initiatives that Fortune 1000 companies must have in order to stay competitive in a mobile-first world.”
Digital Dollar Momentum
After stepping down in July 2019 after two years as CFTC chairman and a total of five years on the commission, J. Christopher Giancarlo became a director of American Financial Exchange, an interbank funding marketplace and home of the Ameribor benchmark, and joined the Willkie Farr & Gallagher law firm. All the while, he was eyeing potential digital markets and virtual currency opportunities, sparked by policy issues and technology developments that emerged during his regulatory tenure.
Giancarlo previewed a vision for a U.S. version of central bank digital currency (CBDC) in an October 2019 op-ed article co-written with former LabCFTC director Daniel Gorfine. They are two of the four listed project directors of the Digital Dollar Project, a partnership of Accenture and the Digital Dollar Foundation that now says it has an advisory group of “economists, business leaders, technologists, innovators, lawyers, academics, consumer advocacy and human rights experts, and ethicists [to] explore design options and approaches for creating a digital dollar through a deliberative process, including stakeholder meetings, roundtable discussions and open forums.”
The advisory group includes: cybersecurity expert and former U.S. Treasury/Office of the Comptroller of the Currency official Valerie Abend, now with Accenture; Sharon Bowen, a retired CFTC commissioner who is a director of Intercontinental Exchange and a member of the board of managers of ICE's Bakkt Holdings digital assets venture; Georgetown University law professor Chris Brummer; former Goldman Sachs chief information officer and chief financial officer Martin Chavez; Sigal Mandelker, former under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence; Jesse McWaters, formerly of the World Economic Forum (WEF), now Mastercard vice president of global digital public policy; ex-Securities and Exchange Commission member Michael Piwowar; and Sheila Warren, WEF's current head of blockchain and distributed ledger lechnology.
Indications of legislative interest in a U.S. digital dollar surfaced in March while Congress was working on crisis-relief bills, as reported by CoinDesk. Giancarlo's successor as CFTC chairman, Heath Tarbert, has said, “While it remains to be seen whether so-called virtual currencies will gain traction on par with traditional currencies or even other commodity classes, it is critically important that the United States continue to be a leader in blockchain technology.”
“The insights and expertise of the new advisory group members will be invaluable as we work together to help make the dollar a more effective and smarter currency in an increasingly digital global economy,” according to a statement by Giancarlo, and release of a white paper is planned during the second quarter of 2020.
Meeting Digital Demand
In a March 31 announcement, Refinitiv placed the appointment of Charles Smith, head of digital solutions, wealth management, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic “and the ensuing economic crisis that has seen the financial services industry depend more on digital solutions to enable an evolving engagement model that meets client needs.”
“As the world around us shifts to remote work,” said global head of wealth management Joseph Mrak, “Refinitiv remains ever more committed to providing customers with the transformative digital solutions and insight needed to succeed.” For what he termed “an unprecedented period of need,” “as our customers adjust to increased digital client demands, our systems are there to support such efforts accordingly.”
Mrak pointed out that daily transactions on the BETA Systems brokerage transactions and operations service, for instance, were up 129% on average during March, surpassing the previous monthly record, in February.
Before joining Refinitiv - which is building out a wealth portal with widgets and has efforts under way in digital and mobile distribution, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence - Smith spent eight years as a managing director in EY's Wealth and Asset Management practice. He worked with many of the top 10 U.S. financial services institutions in such areas as product strategy, client and adviser experience design and development, retirement, operating model development, process improvement, platform implementation and service delivery strategy.
Smith has also served in senior roles at Fiserv/CheckFree, Misys (now Finastra) and Thomson Financial (now Refinitiv). He has an MBA degree from Columbia Business School and AB in economics from Dartmouth College.
Smith said he is “excited to join Refinitiv at an important moment in the transformation of the wealth management industry. As new technologies evolve to enhance the way wealth clients and financial advisers interact, we plan to be at the forefront of that change, and I am looking forward to assisting our wealth management customers in meeting the rapidly evolving digital needs of today and tomorrow.”
Technology for Compliance
A Software-as-a-Service “regulatory knowledge management platform” employing natural language processing, cognitive science and visualization techniques to support financial-sector legal and compliance departments, London-based singlerulebook.com has brought on Chris Dingley as head of sales. He was previously head of sales for CME Regulatory Reporting.
Said Dingley: “singlerulebook.com has massive potential to change how many users interact with regulation. The proposition really answers the 'why now' question when meeting the compliance challenges of financial services firms.”
The firm's co-founders are CEO Wim Nelen, who has worked in the U.K. and Swiss financial regulatory agencies, and chief technology officer Stefan Hendrickx, a technologist and entrepreneur who founded market-surveillance systems company Ancoa Software.
Nelen said that he expects Dingley to “make an immediate impact as we begin the next phase of our scaling strategy. I am particularly impressed with Chris' strong understanding of our market and the senior leadership quality that he will bring to our growing team.”
The two new members of DTCC's 21-member board are Deborah Cunningham of Federated Hermes and Craig Messinger of Virtu Financial.
Robert Druskin, the board's non-executive chairman, said in a statement, “They bring decades of experience in financial services and deep hands-on knowledge of post-trade processing to the board, which will be invaluable as we focus on new opportunities to advance the mission of DTCC.”
Cunningham, chief investment officer of global liquidity markets at Federated Hermes, joined the Federated mutual fund complex in 1981 as a performance analyst. Since 1990, she has been a portfolio manager for all government and prime liquidity products. In addition to the domestic Taxable Liquidity portfolios, Cunningham oversees the management of the domestic Tax-Exempt Liquidity portfolios as well as Offshore Liquidity products. She earned an MBA from Robert Morris University and a bachelor's degree from Duquesne University.
A 40-year financial services industry veteran, Messinger is currently vice chairman of high-tech trading firm Virtu Financial and CEO of the Virtu Americas broker-dealer. Before joining Virtu in 2015, he was executive vice president and global head of trading and risk management at BNY Mellon and a member of the bank's operating committee and global markets executive committee. Messinger led business integrations within BNY Mellon, including that of Pershing Trading Services, which he headed from 2005 to 2011.
Messinger was president of Fidelity Investments' capital markets business from 2000 to 2004, and during 15 years with Lehman Brothers was in Tokyo for three years and formed and was president of Lehman Canada. He has a BS in economics from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.