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On the Block: Why True Digital’s new CEO left the hedge fund world for crypto

Quick Take

  • True Digital’s new CEO, Tom Kim, shares what motivated his move
  • He speaks of his conviction for the firm’s work; betting on banks moving en masse towards digital assets

The path from Wall Street into crypto – and indeed vice-versa – has been well-trodden by now. But what is it these traditional financiers are looking for? What is it about this alternative space that draws them?

The Block sat down with Thomas Kim, True Digital’s newly appointed CEO, about what motivated him to leave his managerial role at Bridgewater – one of the world’s largest hedge funds – for a fintech startup.

In the driving seat of innovation

For Kim, the move away from the hedge fund world was an “easy decision.” He made up his mind about True Digital after meeting its founder, Sunil Hirani, who spoke about the firm’s project to help banks like Signature tokenize fiat via a blockchain payments system which generates a 24-hour tradable token representing a dollar. It was “a wow moment,” Kim said.

“What True Digital is actively doing right now, is not just a conceptual thing.”

He also believes the firm, founded less than a year ago, has had its finger firmly on the financial system’s pulse, pre-empting banks’ collective interest in digital assets and providing the necessary infrastructure; for instance, building accurate OTC pricing indices.

“[Crypto] is a part of the future. In particular, the impact payments and transfers can have on the banking sector,” he says. “I think it’s a movement.”

In short, leaving Bridgewater, he says, puts him at the helm of such a movement, “to have an impact” and to do “big things.” 

Ideological pull

Kim cut his teeth on Wall Street, including a stint at Lehman Brothers. His breadth of experience in institutional finance gives him a unique perspective heading into his new role.

“If you look at today’s current banking structure, there’s a lot of friction when dealing with payments and transfers…I’ve been in and around, and thinking about, and a part of this problem more broadly,”

His time overseas has also clearly been formative in his journey into crypto, having observed real demand for change.

“It started way back when. We’re talking decades. I have seen first-hand the cost of moving [remittances] in third-world countries…It’s so expensive and inefficient. I’ve always been on the side of “there’s got to be a better way to do this.”

His calling now, he says, is to effect change at the institutional level by building the necessary ecosystem, which he believes is vital for scaling and societal uptake.

“In my mind, it goes much further than the corporate level.”

Corporate leadership

Finally, Kim expects to have a firm grip of the reins at True Digital, with co-founder Sunil stepping back into the chairman role. And, there’s plenty he wants to see through. Not least, the launch of the first CFTC approved, physically deliverable Bitcoin-USD swaps, which Kim says will be live “real soon.” The firm is targeting institutions and at this rate, will beat Bakkt to market.

Beyond that, he wants to lend True Digital’s technology to help banks “around the world” issue tokens “across different currencies.” Currently, True Digital uses a fork of Ethereum to create private blockchains (and tokens) for each bank, believing that they can deliver much faster than those who chose to “do-it-themselves,” like JP Morgan and its JPM Coin.

The path may not be easy however. Sources close to The Block say the recent wave of Wall Street departures may have been triggered in part by irreconcilable differences between the traditional and the new.

“You have a lot of former Wall Streeters who have tried to build [crypto businesses] as they would in traditional financial services met with opposition or impediments,” one insider said. “It is very much a cultural battleground.”

Kim acknowledges a move like this is not for everyone.

“It depends on the size of the opportunity, the conviction behind that, the ambition, and the desire to do something greater than just running a company…It’s about impact.”