The World’s Hottest Job Market

Firms specializing in digital finance are racing to get big. Are they siphoning off candidates who normally would go to Wall Street or Silicon Valley?

The total value of the cryptocurrency market hit a record $3 trillion this week. It has quadrupled in 2021 alone.

Growing nearly as fast: the number of people needed to work at cryptocurrency-related firms. Crypto- and blockchain-related job postings have doubled over the past year, according to job sites. Meanwhile, professional and executive searches within the industry have soared. “It’s been nonstop,” says Deepali Vyas, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global head of the firm’s Fintech, Payments, and Crypto practice.

Crypto-related firms, whose employee base up until a few years ago was a few software engineers, are now competing with Silicon Valley and Wall Street heavyweights for marketing and business development experts. Industry players are also looking to hire top regulatory and compliance executives who can help the firms navigate any upcoming regulation in the United States and elsewhere. At the same time, legacy financial firms are looking to hire people with crypto experience to build out their own crypto asset management businesses.

Experts say the push echoes the growth of jobs around exchange-traded funds back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. ETFs, a group of stocks or other assets bundled into one tradeable unit, were a novelty for years, then exploded in popularity as a way for investors to diversify their portfolios quickly and cheaply. Once they designed an ETF, firms had to find people to market and sell them.

The surge in crypto’s market value certainly is driving some of the growth, but experts say another key development is occurring: companies are recognizing that the blockchain, the underlying backbone for cryptocurrencies, is a technology with many uses. A blockchain is a decentralized public ledger that exists across a network of computers, cutting out the need for a single recordkeeping institution. “There’s a correlation between the decreasing amount of trust in institutions with the increasing interest in blockchain,” says Evelyn Orr, chief operating officer of the Korn Ferry Institute.

Part of the appeal is that the jobs can be anywhere. In the United States, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago are the major hubs for crypto jobs, but 53% are everywhere else, according to a new data from LinkedIn. Abroad, Singapore is a growing hub, but again the jobs are spread throughout the world. “A lot of these firms don’t care where workers are,” says David Power, a Korn Ferry principal consultant who specializes in financial technology firms.

But with the growth comes some challenges. For one, there’s still a significant knowledge gap outside of financial firms. “There’s a shortage of skills, but also a shortage of understanding of what this is,” says Andrés Tapia, Korn Ferry’s ESG and DE&I strategist. That lack of knowledge could steer leaders to make bad business or hiring decisions.

At the same time, the crypto industry is overwhelmingly White and overwhelmingly male, Vyas says. That is somewhat ironic, because cryptocurrencies were initially thought of as a way to empower underrepresented groups who couldn’t easily access big financial institutions. “If we’re actually going to have a revolution with cryptocurrency, we’ll have to pay attention to diversity in the space as well,” Vyas says.