Excellence in Blockchain: Caitlin Long, Symbiont
Caitlin Long was recognized for Excellence in Blockchain at the 2016 Women in Finance Markets Choice Awards.
Describe the highlights of your career to date and your role/responsibilities at your current firm.
Spotting big trends early and bringing them to fruition has been my life’s work. Blockchain technology is the third such trend on which I’ve worked during my career, and it will be the most impactful. I’m now chairman and president of a blockchain technology start-up called Symbiont, to which I jumped after a 22-year Wall Street career. I started looking into bitcoin in 2012, but initially didn’t think it would impact my day job in pensions at Morgan Stanley. Then, about 10 minutes into a meeting with a blockchain company in January 2014, I remember blurting out, “Oh my God, this is going to tip!” And boy, did that ever elicit confused looks from my colleagues, who were just hearing about the technology for the first time! From that point on, I began doggedly educating and exploring uses of the technology within Morgan Stanley, whose CTO pulled me into a group of 5 people to vet opportunities.
There are parallels between blockchain and the previous “big idea” of my career — pension transfers. I’d figured out that insurance companies could provide pensions to corporate retirees more cheaply and safely than the companies themselves. It took a few years to educate about why and to figure out the logistics of transferring huge pension obligations from ERISA regulation to insurance regulation, and at first I was greeted with many of those same confused looks! But persistence paid off and the dam eventually broke. At Morgan Stanley, I advised on the transfer of about $40 billion of pension obligations to insurance companies from GM, Verizon, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Motorola, JC Penney and Timken. That followed the first “big idea” of my career – demutualization of insurance companies – which was a similar, multi-year effort that gave me the opportunity to help place the IPOs of MetLife, Manulife, Prudential, Principal and John Hancock.
What did you (and by extension, your team and organization) do to achieve Excellence in Blockchain?
I’ve helped educate about blockchain technology and bring institutional applications of it to market, initially as part of Morgan Stanley’s working group and now as chairman and president of Symbiont. At Symbiont, we are the technology provider to the most complex, multi-party pilot application of distributed ledger technology — syndicated loans – in a project that involves a group of 15 financial institutions. Symbiont is also the technology provider to the Delaware Blockchain Initiative, through which the State of Delaware is using our platform to store many of the foundational documents of finance. These include incorporation documents and UCC filings, which form the foundation for securities issuance and secured lending, respectively. Delaware is by far the most important state for incorporations and UCC filings, and I believe the Delaware Blockchain Initiative is the spark that will trigger the automation of administrative functions across wide swathes of financial markets. In the process, counterparty risk will be substantially reduced and title will again reside with the rightful owners of assets.
What is your perspective on being a successful woman working in financial markets, and what is your advice to those who may strive for this?
There’s no question that being a woman in finance has its ups and downs, but for me they’ve essentially evened out. I’m grateful to have been able to pursue these big ideas, and also grateful to the bosses who have given me the runway to bring them to fruition — especially John Mack Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley, and Mark Smith at Symbiont (with whom I worked informally for more than two years before making the jump). My advice to young women is to find a boss who will give you the runway you need in order to succeed. If you find yourself reporting to a boss who doesn’t appreciate you, get out fast! Find a boss who supports you and values your work!
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