In the shadow of Dubai’s sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel, crypto executives rubbed shoulders with Emirati royals, Wall Street bankers and Instagram influencers.

The festivities in late March were organized by Binance Holdings Ltd. in its de facto home of the United Arab Emirates, which is fast becoming a global hub for digital currencies. Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Changpeng ‘CZ’ Zhao skipped the event as he recovered from Covid, but he was top of mind for partygoers who said they aspired to replicate his rapid ascent from software developer to one of the world’s wealthiest people.

Following Zhao’s lead, many are flocking to the UAE, which he has called the “Wall Street of crypto.” The euphoria even has local bankers, lawyers and big tech executives pondering career pivots of their own to cash in.

“We see a lot of interest from employees in traditional financial institutions who want to work for us,” Richard Teng, the head of Middle East and North Africa at Binance, which is the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Dubai office. “We’re actually recruiting a number of them.”

Career Pivots
In February, Binance tapped Vishal Sacheendran, a former Bank of New York Mellon Corp. banker, as its UAE-based director of MENA. Robbie Nakarmi, the firm’s senior counsel in Dubai, joined late last year after almost a decade as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer.

They’re far from alone.

Ahmed Ismail, a former banker at Bank of America and Jefferies in Dubai, pivoted in 2017. He launched HAYVN, an Abu Dhabi-based digital currency investment bank, with Chris Flinos, a fellow BofA alum. He said several banker friends recently quit their jobs to launch crypto investment funds.

“It all starts from the top,” Ismail said in e-mailed comments. “We have witnessed the UAE making a huge push in developing world-class infrastructure and a regulatory environment for crypto firms to thrive and call home.”

Amir Tabch, former head of global markets at Emirates Investment Bank, is one of the more recent folks to decamp. He became CEO of DeFi brokerage Securrency Capital in Abu Dhabi last June after 16 years in the traditional banking sector. In his new role, he said he’s looking to hire more bankers to help “bridge the gap” between traditional and digital finance.

Surging inflation is compelling more investors to consider investments in digital assets as a potential hedge, yet many who’ve piled in recently have been stung by steep losses. Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, has almost halved in value since its peak last November.

The UAE’s crypto-friendly policies -- in contrast to tightening regulations in other jurisdictions -- have lured the largest firms. In an interview in late March, Binance’s Zhao said Dubai is the firm’s HQ by any common interpretation. “Wherever we go, the industry players do tend to follow.”

Crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital said last month it’s planning to move its headquarters to Dubai from Singapore, which has been more conservative with its regulatory approach toward virtual currencies.

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