Massive amounts of capital have been pouring into blockchain and cryptocurrency companies from venture capital and direct investment in recent months, and the momentum has continued unabated, despite the recent crypto market correction.

In Asia, Hong Kong-based crypto derivatives exchange FTX this month made history with a US$900 million series B fundraise — the largest for a crypto exchange to date — which gave it an US$18 billion valuation. And other Asian unicorns have been born. Blockchain gaming company Animoca Brands this month closed a US$138.88 million capital raise. Fellow unicorn crypto financial services company Amber Group completed a US$100 million series-B fundraise in June, boosting its valuation to US$1 billion — 10 times its series-A funding round in 2019. 

As cryptocurrency adoption grows, crypto companies — many flush with capital — are expanding their operations. And as these companies scale, a battle for talent is playing out.

‘Insatiable’ demand for crypto talent

“The appetite for crypto talent globally has been insatiable, and has been our biggest growth client demographic … But nowhere has this been truer than Asia,” said Bethan Howell, vice president of quantitative research and trading at Selby Jennings, a specialist recruitment agency. 

“We have seen this digital asset expansion spread across Asia, not only the key financial hubs Hong Kong and Singapore, but also Taiwan, South Korea and Shanghai,” Howell said. “Across the board, we have seen a huge demand for talent — from sales to technologists. 

“Everyone is trying to automate and digitalize their processes at the moment, so they are looking for the same type of talent,” Howell added. “The good candidates have at least five offers on hand to pick from, so the competition is very high.”

Crypto companies that Forkast.News spoke to said that they were actively hiring across a wide range of roles and locations.

Hong Kong-based Amber Group CEO Michael Wu told Forkast.News that the company had ambitious growth plans and intended to boost its global headcount to 1,200 from around 300 currently, with vacancies spanning roles in trading, technology, engineering, finance, operations and business development across Asia, North America and Europe.

Cryptocurrency exchange Gemini, whose Asia-Pacific headquarters is in Singapore, this month announced plans to set up satellite offices in Australia and Hong Kong, and it plans to increase its headcount from 30 to 50 by December. 

Coinbase — the largest cryptocurrency exchange in the United States — is building out its India tech hub and hiring “hundreds of world-class engineers in the near term,” as well as personnel for its product and design teams and support functions such as recruiting and human resources. The exchange intends to hire “from all parts of India in order to find the best talent wherever they are or choose to work from in the country,” and provide a hybrid work environment with physical offices in key cities.

Talent shortage, skills gap

But recruiting has been notoriously difficult for the crypto industry due to a shortage of talent and gap in skillsets — not to mention increasing competition from banks, investment firms, hedge funds, fintech companies and even governments.

“Since crypto is still in its nascent stage, there aren’t adequate numbers of candidates with relevant experience,” Wu said. “Meanwhile, as the crypto market becomes more mature, crypto firms and even traditional financial firms like Goldman Sachs are scaling their crypto team. Given the relatively limited talent pool, this makes recruiting even more challenging.

“However, with the accelerating growth of Asia’s fintech and internet industries, more talented individuals are showing an interest in joining start-ups like Amber Group, where we offer plenty of opportunities for them to grow and flourish,” Wu added.

Jeremy Ng, managing director of Gemini Asia Pacific, an alumnus of Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, told Forkast.News: “If you want to find someone with strong crypto knowledge, that wouldn’t be easy to come by.”

Singapore, long a melting pot for talent, has become an emerging blockchain hub in Asia, with many crypto companies setting up shop in the financial hub thanks to its progressive regulatory regime. Amber Group too, is looking to move its base to the city state.

Access to talent was one of the reasons why Gemini decided to open its office in Singapore. “Having a presence in Singapore allows us to take advantage of an Asian financial hub that brings young and budding talent looking to enter the space,” Ng said.

“As more people become acquainted and interested in the crypto space, we can attract more talented professionals and fresh-thinking graduates,” he said. “Retention is a top priority of our team. It is a combination of providing best-in-class benefits and a safe space for people to grow and develop their skills.” 

Gemini offers benefits including unlimited vacation and a profit-sharing program to attract talent globally. 

Chia Hock Lai, co-chairman of Blockchain Association Singapore told Forkast.News that “good packages and flexible working environments are common. Working in Singapore where the blockchain environment is vibrant and conducive is also a draw.”

Building the tech talent pool

As the industry continues to flourish, industry groups are also stepping up efforts to support the ecosystem. Blockchain is one of the most in-demand skills, according to LinkedIn, but there exists a gap between available jobs and qualified talent.

Blockchain Association Singapore has been providing various blockchain engineering courses over the past two years, said Chia, adding that currently in-demand roles in Singapore mainly included blockchain software engineers as well as roles in compliance and product development.

Binance — the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange — has 261 job vacancies across a range of roles based in Singapore, out of 964 available roles globally, based on a Forkast.News check on LinkedIn. Binance is looking to establish a new headquarters or regional headquarters as it navigates increased regulatory scrutiny. “Local talent is a big factor as well. Where we have a HQ, then we would naturally hire locally for talent like blockchain developers,” a Binance spokesperson told Forkast.News.

Compliance is increasingly another sought-after skill in the industry, given heightened regulatory scrutiny of crypto around the world. Binance, which has grown its international compliance team and advisory board by 500% since last year, intends to double its compliance team’s size by the end of the year — and look for a new CEO with a strong regulatory background.

See related article: Binance chief ‘CZ’ seeks regulatory expert to lead as exchange looks to boost image

Blockchain Association Singapore has partnered with the Global FinTech Institute and Elliptic Singapore, a blockchain analysis company, to provide a digital asset compliance training program and certification for financial institutions, crypto businesses and law enforcement. The program, to be launched in August or September, has received considerable interest, Chia said.

Another industry group, the Association of Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Enterprises and Start-ups Singapore (Access), is also trying to help bridge the gap. Last month, Access, in partnership with PSB Academy, a private education institution in Singapore, launched a Diploma in Blockchain program, supported by the Ethereum Foundation, to grow the blockchain developer talent pool in Singapore and open up opportunities for people beyond the country’s borders. 

“Access for blockchain talent has to be built on both sides of the ecosystem, developer talent and business talent. Over 70% of available blockchain roles are remote roles, hence increasing opportunities for jobseekers abroad,” said Aga Manhao, an Access board member. “This increases talent competitiveness, enabling a Singaporean developer to work on a blockchain project in Israel or in the U.S., for example.”

Expanding employment in the ecosystem

“When it comes to business talent for the blockchain space, we are seeing an increasing need for product builders and service providers from legal firms to marketers, that can help build and scale innovative applications with blockchain technology teams,” Manhao added.

As the trends of digitalization and decentralized technologies increasingly shape how we live, work and spend, governments are realizing that national interests — and livelihoods — are at stake. The Singapore government last December launched a S$12 million (US$9 million) Singapore Blockchain Innovation Program to strengthen the country’s blockchain ecosystem. The national industry-led initiative aims to engage close to 75 companies in blockchain technology research to drive commercialization and adoption and grow the tech talent pool.

“As the architect of Singapore’s digital future, we are constantly pushing the forefront of innovation in areas such as blockchain … Our intent is to proliferate blockchain adoption to a much broader set of industries, beyond just finance,” said Lew Chuen Hong, chief executive of Singapore’s ​​Infocomm Media Development Authority in a statement. “This includes leveling up industry manpower and know-how. These efforts allow Singapore to build a strong blockchain ecosystem and establish our role as a trust hub.”