- BlackRock faces the “crypto winter” and possible regulation as it enters the crypto market.
- Employees tackling crypto and blockchain initiatives largely work across Aladdin and iShares.
- The firm recently launched a digital assets lab run by a Goldman Sachs technology alum.
BlackRock is taking the plunge into the cryptocurrency waters.
In April, the world’s largest asset manager was among investors that raised $400 million for the financial-technology company Circle, which issues a so-called stablecoin known as USDC that’s pegged to the US dollar. Circle also said the two companies would explore “capital market applications” for USDC through a partnership.
Two weeks later BlackRock said it would launch a blockchain- and crypto-themed exchange-traded fund, details of which Insider first reported last year. Last month, the firm partnered with Coinbase to connect large clients of BlackRock’s Aladdin platform with access to crypto, starting with bitcoin. BlackRock said later in August that it would launch a private trust to provide bitcoin exposure to institutional clients in the US.
The efforts this spring and summer come as a severe downturn in asset prices, turmoil at big companies like Coinbase, and the possibility of new regulation from the Securities and Exchange Commission rock the industry.
It’s also a pivot for BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, who five years ago said “bitcoin just shows you how much demand for money laundering there is in the world. That’s all it is.”
Even last April, he told analysts that clients were not widely asking questions about how crypto might fit in their portfolios. But the demand for crypto exposure has appeared to shift in a short time.
“The crypto asset market has witnessed a steep downturn in valuations over recent months, but we are still seeing more interest from institutional clients about how to efficiently access these assets using our technology and product capability,” Fink said on an earnings call in July, according to a transcript from research provider Sentieo.
As the crypto industry finds a new — and highly influential — participant in BlackRock, Insider has identified key employees there involved in crypto decision-making, from product launches and engineering to big partnerships.
A main challenge that traditional financial firms — known to the crypto industry as “TradFi” — face in this space is hiring top talent who have crypto know-how and can translate that in a legacy setting, said Neil Dundon, founder of the Sydney, Australia-based search agency Crypto Recruit.
“There’s a cultural mismatch between TradFi and crypto-native companies. After all, crypto was born out of an anti-establishment foundation. Satoshi’s white paper was a response to the 2008 financial crisis,” Dundon told Insider, referring to a piece of writing published in 2008 by an anonymous author called Satoshi Nakamoto who first outlined a framework for bitcoin.
Here are the key people helping BlackRock embrace crypto, according to interviews with former employees and LinkedIn.
Robbie Mitchnick, head of digital assets
Robbie Mitchnick joined BlackRock in 2018 and oversees the firm’s digital assets operations. A blockchain and crypto expert, Mitchnick worked at the crypto company Ripple in 2017.
On a BlackRock podcast in October 2019, Mary-Catherine Lader, a former BlackRock executive and internal champion for crypto efforts, asked Mitchnick why he thought financial institutions had not widely adopted blockchain.
Blockchain technology, he said, “is still not that well-understood by a lot of large institutions, and the scale of disruption is broad. In many cases, you would need to take multiple, disparate legacy systems and replace them with a single blockchain-based model. That is going to take time.”
Mitchnick is seen as an advocate for blockchain technology internally, former employees said, and has sent email newsletters detailing blockchain and crypto developments out to colleagues.
Earlier in his career, Mitchnick worked at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. And together with former college classmates, he also cofounded Q4Q Beer Company, which was acquired by a beverage company.
Lance Braunstein, head of the Aladdin Product Group
Lance Braunstein leads Aladdin’s product group, known as APG. It is the core of BlackRock’s sprawling technology business and is responsible for Aladdin’s product management, design, engineering, and software development.
“Congratulations to team Aladdin for announcing our partnership with Coinbase, enabling access to digital assets in Aladdin,” Braunstein wrote in a LinkedIn post last month. “We continue to expand our whole portfolio capabilities and innovate our platform partnerships.”
The partnership means big, institutional clients using Aladdin will get access to crypto trading, custody, and prime brokerage through a Coinbase program called Coinbase Prime.
Braunstein, a longtime financial-technology executive, joined BlackRock in April 2019. He was previously the chief information officer of E-Trade. He previously held senior technology roles with Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.
Adam Salvatori, head of alpha engineering and digital assets lab
Adam Salvatori runs the new digital assets lab at BlackRock, which sits within the Aladdin Product Group. A BlackRock spokesperson declined to say what the digital assets lab does or when it was launched.
Salvatori has long worked at the intersection of tech and finance. He joined BlackRock in 2021 from the big financial data provider FactSet, which acquired the environmental, social, and governance data and analytics provider Truvalue Labs in 2020. He was the chief solutions officer at Truvalue, which he joined in 2019, and ran its client solutions, research, and quant divisions, according to LinkedIn.
Previously he was an executive at Kensho Technologies, the data provider S&P Global bought in 2018 for $550 million. He also worked at Goldman Sachs across two separate stints and was one of the original developers of the bank’s sprawling Marquee platform.
Rob Goldstein, COO and global head of BlackRock Solutions
Rob Goldstein is the firm’s chief operating officer and the global head of BlackRock Solutions, which houses Aladdin and the key efforts BlackRock is undertaking around crypto and blockchain. A spokesperson said Goldstein and Salim Ramji, the firm’s global head of ETFs and index investments, are the executive sponsors of BlackRock’s digital asset strategy.
In an interview with Bloomberg in June, Goldstein said the firm’s blockchain strategy has important roots in efforts by Lader, the former executive who is now COO of Uniswap Labs.
Goldstein has led BlackRock Solutions since 2009 and was named the firm’s chief operating officer in 2014. He also led the firm’s institutional-client business from 2012 to 2014.
Sudhir Nair, global head of Aladdin
Sudhir Nair runs all of Aladdin’s client relationships and business development, a key role for the firm that views Aladdin as an engine of growth — and where BlackRock is focusing much of its crypto-related work.
Though the business has become Wall Street’s most popular set of risk-analysis tools, Nair said during the firm’s 2021 investor day that Aladdin has captured just 11% of what he estimated is a $10 billion addressable market. Nair joined the company as an analyst in 2000.
Carolyn Vadino, managing director in corporate communications
Carolyn Vadino joined BlackRock this year as a managing director from Gemini, the major crypto exchange founded by brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. Vadino ran Gemini’s corporate communications globally.
The businesses Vadino works with across the firm include Aladdin, digital assets, and other areas, and Vadino is expanding her team.
She said in a recent LinkedIn post that she is hiring a vice president of corporate communications “at the intersection of TradFi/Web3,” working with the firm’s “tech, Aladdin, blockchain, and digital asset teams,” a sign that the firm is seeking a bigger voice and more control over its narrative in the space.
Joe Chalom, head of strategic ecosystem partnerships
Joe Chalom is tasked with developing and overseeing BlackRock’s strategy around relationships it has with other companies, including the major digital assets partnerships the firm announced this year.
“Our institutional clients are increasingly interested in gaining exposure to digital asset markets and are focused on how to efficiently manage the operational lifecycle of these assets,” Chalom said in a press release that announced the Coinbase and BlackRock partnership.
Chalom has worn several hats at BlackRock since joining in 2005. He was previously the chief operating officer of BlackRock Solutions. Before joining BlackRock he was an attorney focused on strategic partnerships, tech transactions, and venture capital at the big law firm Skadden.
Salim Ramji, global head of iShares and index investments
Salim Ramji runs the global ETF and index investments business. He is responsible for the world’s largest ETF issuer, with some $2.8 trillion in ETF assets under management as of June.
This year he oversaw the launch of the blockchain- and crypto-themed iShares ETF, a fund that holds names including Marathon Digital, Riot Blockchain, Coinbase, PayPal, and Block (the payments company formerly known as Square).
“I’m a big believer in the disruptive capabilities of decentralized finance,” Ramji told Insider last December.
Ramji joined BlackRock in 2014 as global head of corporate strategy. He previously worked at McKinsey as a senior partner leading the firm’s asset and wealth management practices.
Armando Senra, head of iShares for the Americas
Armando Senra is responsible for the iShares business in the Americas. This year he helped oversee the launch of the firm’s first ETF that tracks blockchain technology- and crypto-related companies.
Senra said in an interview with Insider this spring that the market has not fully appreciated the value of blockchain technologies, with investors instead focusing on cryptocurrency price speculation and volatility.
He has been with BlackRock for more than two decades, and was previously its head of Latin America and Iberia.
Rachel Aguirre, head of US iShares product
Rachel Aguirre oversees product launches and development for iShares ETFs in the US.
When BlackRock said this spring that it would launch a blockchain- and crypto-focused ETF, which does not invest directly in cryptocurrency, she said the addition of the product and others reflects “the power of the millennial and rise of the self-directed investor, whose buying habits have reshaped mainstream consumer behaviors, and in turn, the companies in which they invest.”
Aguirre has held other roles at BlackRock over a decade and a half. She was previously head of the developed markets portfolio management team and head of US iShares product engineering.