The GRIP Files: Katharine Wooller

Our new series of personal profiles, in which we get to know leading players in the financial services industry.

We spoke to Katharine Wooller – non-executive director, board adviser and press and TV commentator, to discuss her work in blockchain, Web3, crypto, digital assets and fintech. Katharine is also a five-times Amazon-published author and multiple industry award winner.

Tell us about yourself

Photo: Private

I originally worked in traditional finance, in financial technology for Tier 1 banks, hedge funds and asset managers. I was interested in blockchain technologies, and the efficiencies that they can bring to a plethora of use cases both in financial services and other verticals. 

I was lucky to be offered a role in 2019, and therefore had a front seat in the birth and evolution of the digital assets industry. I have worked across a number of businesses within the industry, including a crypto exchange, digital asset cyber security, a tokenization engine, and a big data health tech using blockchain.

I am really interested in the adoption of blockchain, and the benefits it can bring to financial markets, the economy and society at large.

“My mantra has been sensible coins, reputable exchanges and more regulation!”

What are your areas of expertise?

My career has focused on general management of scaling businesses, and I particularly enjoy running teams, strategy and commercial aspects. I’ve also been a board adviser to a number of businesses to assist their growth. I’ve been privileged to have a platform for my views on the industry in the press, on TV and in speaking at trade events. For a number of years my mantra has been sensible coins, reputable exchanges and more regulation!  I have been able to meet with regulators, trade bodies and government organizations in a number of jurisdictions to shape the future of the industry. 

What do you most like about your work?

The lightening speed of innovation within the industry; in comparison to traditional finance it feels like “dog years” where the pace of change is akin to seven-fold what happens in the old world. There is huge variety within day to day, not least due to volatile markets, and of course often bad news headlines of recent times relating to issues such as FTX, Terra/Luna and hacks.

I’ve also really enjoyed the amazing people that are joining the industry due to the mass exodus from traditional finance, with all the skills and view points they bring with them, which has created a fabulous melting point at the intersection of tradfi and defi. 

I’ve loved seeing how cutting edge technologies are creating value across a huge number of use cases including banking, FX, payments, exchanges, capital markets and tokenisation. My view of the current state of the industry is that we are the tipping point of adoption, and that the disruption it will bring is equivalent to the mass adoption of computers, and the dot-com boom. Unsurprisingly this brings lots of unique challenges in how we blend the old world and the new.

What are the main challenges to UK financial services?

It’s always a huge challenge to balance, on the one hand, encouraging innovation, competition and choice for consumers, and on the other hand, safety and regulation. Whilst the UK talks a good game around being the home of fintech, and specifically a leading market for digital assets, the pace of clear regulation has not always been as fast as the industry might like. 

“There is a real danger that the UK will be late to the party… other locations, particularly Europe, Singapore, Dubai, have been faster to bring regulation into effect.”

As always there are bad actors in the absence of regulation and unfortunately there are some real horror stories from the early days of crypto. This unfortunately tarnished the initial relationship between the regulator and the industry, especially when there were plenty of ethical businesses keen to do the right thing and desperate for clarity. More recently, fabulous work is being done in driving the agenda from trade bodies such as Innovate Finance and Crypto UK. 

There is a real danger that the UK will be late to the party in providing a home for some valuable businesses, and will miss out on the job creation and economic benefits this brings, as other locations – particularly Europe, Singapore, Dubai, have been faster to bring regulation into effect.

What worries you and what are you looking forward to most?

I am really excited to see what happens when we melt crypto into the financial infrastructure. We are only at the tip of the iceberg in applying these technologies to pretty much every industry whether its supply chain, agriculture, healthcare, energy – the potential is almost endless.

What has been the proudest moment of your career?

I am truly proud of what the industry as a whole has achieved in such a short period of time, and of the amazing teams I have been lucky enough to work with. They are solving complex problems daily, and driving the industry forwards. There’s been huge change since I started in 2019, and the ecosystem is much improved; not bad from a handful of underground techies who started a revolution! Hopefully some of my efforts to publicize the huge potential of reputable blockchain technology and digital assets have helped.

“There’s been huge change since I started in 2019 … not bad from a handful of underground techies who started a revolution!”

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Be fearless! If I had a pound for every time someone told me that the industry was – insert various insults – a scam, dead, not likely to succeed, I’d be writing this from a sun lounger in the Bahamas rather than at my desk at home. Innovation and disruption comes from the dreamers who simply won’t be told it can’t be done and have to find a way to make new technology useful and palatable to regulators.

Tell us an amusing anecdote about your work.

It was only a few years ago that the whole industry would fit in one large conference room; until relatively recently my colleagues and I would excitedly WhatsApp each other if crypto got into the mainstream press. We don’t do so now as it’s reported on pretty much daily. 

What are your hobbies and interests?

I’ve got horses, which provide fabulous a break from work, not to mention a great way to get out and see the beautiful UK countryside, and some headspace to ponder big decisions/problems. I also volunteer to cook for a homeless charity which again is very different from what I do as a day job and makes you appreciate what you have.

Can you recommend a good book?

I read a huge variety of books across fiction, non-fiction and business. Some of my favourite business titles are Play Bigger, Leaders eat Last, Leading outside the Lines. I am currently reading Mary Beard’s SPQR: A history of Ancient Rome, she was one of my favourite academics when I did my degree at Cambridge. It’s a fascinating read on how cultures adapt and deal with economic and social change over a one thousand year period, and has much I can apply to my career a mere two millennia later!