Beluga Spotlight: Antonio Alvarez

By  Will McKinnon March 21, 2024

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About Antonio

Antonio is the Chief Compliance Officer at Crypto.com, where he leads a global team responsible for the design, implementation and scaling up of the regulatory compliance program for the company in the demanding context of an exponentially growing business. As a global payments and remittances compliance officer, Antonio has nearly two decades of experience building and leading regulatory compliance programs for cash, electronic payment forms and crypto-based business models.

Prior to Crypto.com, he was VP of Compliance at Coinbase where he led the company's global Anti-Money Laundering (AML) program, and was responsible for the company's sanction programs, regulatory and independent examinations and financial partner compliance relationships. Antonio was also chief compliance officer at online and mobile payments solutions provider Yapstone, has held senior compliance/regulations roles at Western Union and Visa. Earlier in his career, Antonio served in several different roles during a 13-year tenure at American Express, where he was responsible for leading the business transformation and compliance governance programs across multiple business lines and geographies.

Antonio's work expands across North and South America, Europe and Asia, and he is a dual U.S. and European citizen fluent in Spanish, English and Portuguese. He is a member of ACAMS, the largest international membership organization for Anti-Financial Crime professionals.

Interview

1. You had a great career working in compliance for over twenty years with some of the largest fintech companies like American Express, Visa and Western Union and then you decided to go into crypto in 2019. Why?

I have always looked for job opportunities that challenged me and allowed me to learn and grow. The best day on the job is when I encounter something I did not know before, when I understand something in a different way, or when I gain a new perspective on a subject. I thrive when confronted with a new challenge so I have always sought roles that piqued my intellectual curiosity!

I first learned about crypto in 2014 when I had the opportunity to meet people within the industry who discussed the potential of crypto. Around the same time, a good friend from Visa joined a company called Bitpay and I learned more about crypto. From there, I was hooked. I realized how crypto could revolutionize the way we store and move money. And the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew and how much potential there was in the future. I decided that the only way forward was to immerse myself in crypto. I joined Coinbase, and eventually found my best opportunity to be in crypto, with Crypto.com. I have not looked back.

Compliance is a priority at Crypto.com, and what I do provides me with an opportunity to grow, challenge myself, and learn every day! It has been incredible, and the best part is that we are just getting started.

2. What have been some of your biggest surprises (good and bad) about the crypto industry?

As you can imagine, in crypto there can be a surprise around every corner as the entire industry is still in its nascent stage. I once read a headline that said "when you are in crypto, who needs Netflix." Every day is exciting!

If I had to pick one surprise that disappointed me it was the lack of cooperation between industry stakeholders in the beginning of crypto's inception. I had hoped that key players would have come together to champion learning and understanding of crypto as we have seen in other industries. Instead the industry was highly fragmented; competition was fierce and eclipsed collaboration that may have happened. But I have seen things change over the past few years. As the industry matures, players recognize the value of industry associations and alliances to educate stakeholders on the value of crypto and more broadly blockchain technology.

On the flip side, if I had to pick one surprise that excited me, it would be the incredible level of creativity and inventiveness that goes on within the industry. Crypto companies are developing the most amazing ways to create and share value. But what really wows me is the industry commitment to foster creativity by investing in new ideas internally and externally despite the headwinds. The level of research, innovation and development that is happening in crypto today is far greater than anything I have seen in my career in the retail financial services industry.

3. What is your role as the Chief Compliance Officer of Crypto.com?

My role as the Chief Compliance Officer at Crypto.com is to build a global regulatory compliance program that enables the company to offer and operate our services locally around the world in accordance with a market's rules and regulations as a competitive advantage.

When I started my career in compliance years ago, our role was to police the companies in which we worked. Compliance issued policies to align with regulations, and then ensured they were followed. From there, I saw compliance evolve into a business enabler; a competitive advantage. As financial regulations matured and technology provided non-banking institutions with more capabilities, being compliant meant that companies could secure licenses and strengthen their relationships with banking partners.

At Crypto.com, compliance is becoming more user focused because we are inherently in the business of trust. I want to continue to build a culture of compliance that surpasses the business enabler goal and further positions compliance as a way to enhance the user experience. Security and compliance are the foundations of achieving mainstream cryptocurrency adoption, and all of what we do is done with safety, security and compliance at the core. Our customers must feel secure and protected when engaging on our platform.

4. How is this role different from your roles as a compliance officer in traditional fintech?

FinTech has struggled to firmly distinguish itself - being both financial-focused and technology-oriented. Whereas compliance in TradFi is able to focus on historical, or traditional, policies to guide the industry through growth and business success, FinTech has to effectively marry characteristics of growing through innovation and exploration, evolving and differing regulatory landscapes around the world, while ensuring compliance remains central. This may seem like an intimidating task, but from my perspective it is the forefront of our discipline and industry!

5. What regulatory rules/laws would help grow the crypto industry?

I am a firm believer that regulators should be open to engaging cryptocurrency as a technology empowering and evolving existing financial systems. The value proposition of cryptocurrency, from a store of value or efficient means of commerce, has been established, so we need to collectively ensure its responsible maturation. We are proud to work with regulators around the world in advancing responsible crypto adoption and regulatory frameworks, particularly in jurisdictions that are further along in their crypto regulatory journeys, such as Singapore, Dubai, the UK, Canada, various markets across the EU, and many others.

6. Which markets do you think are regulating the crypto industry appropriately?

Regulators that are focusing on adapting their current financial regulations to accommodate crypto are creating a strong ecosystem Take MiCA for example. Creating a framework that allows existing regulations like EMID or MiFID to regulate certain crypto services and products makes perfect sense. Of course, there are other crypto services and products that are more innovative and will require new regulations.

What no one should expect is to regulate a rapidly evolving industry like crypto with a single piece of legislation. To be effective, regulation must embrace crypto's evolving and maturing nature.

7. What are you most excited about in 2024?

I am looking forward to seeing this industry evolve as the acceleration of crypto adoption continues.

We have already seen in the past few years traditional banks like Chase launch their own blockchain platform (Onyx), or Standard Charter Bank invest in crypto custody (Zodia). Most recently, traditional investment companies have embraced BTC ETFs and there is ongoing potential for ETH ETFs. As the year continues, I look forward to seeing this cascading effect to go beyond wall street and reach main street.