bitcoin king

By Yuji Nakamura, Hideki Sagiike, and Takahiko Hyuga

Yuzo Kano is trying to build a global cryptocurrency powerhouse, one former financier at a time.

The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. alumnus, who turned bitFlyer Inc. into Japan’s largest Bitcoin exchange, is scooping up traders and bankers from both his old employer and former rivals as he embarks on an ambitious international expansion. Kano’s team, which includes a former fixed-income desk head at Barclays Plc and an ex-senior private banker at Credit Suisse Group AG, has doubled to more than 150 people in the past six months and is on pace to top 300 before year-end.

While he’s far from the only crypto boss to poach talent from Wall Street firms, Kano has been among the most aggressive in taking advantage of recent Japanese regulations that make the finance-to-crypto leap less daunting. The nation’s virtual currency exchanges are now licensed by Japan’s securities watchdog, giving the venues an official stamp of approval that’s largely absent from countries like the U.S. and Britain. For Kano, that makes Japan the ideal base for an increasingly global operation.

“My target is to be number one in the world,” the former derivatives and convertible bonds trader said in an interview from his office in Midtown Tower, the tony Tokyo skyscraper that’s also home to Blackstone Group and Bain & Co. “To get there, I need to grow headcount. And those with the best skills come from global banks.”

Kano’s four-year-old exchange is already the world’s fourth largest crypto venue by turnover, after BitMex, Binance and OKEx, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from exchanges, Coinhills and Transactions on bitFlyer averaged about $2 billion a day during late April and early May, thanks in large part to Bitcoin margin contracts popular with Japanese day-traders. The venue’s users have tripled in the past year to 2 million.

On top of existing locations in Tokyo, San Francisco and Luxembourg, Kano is eyeing new offices in Africa, South America, Australia and other parts of Asia. He’s also expanding beyond crypto trading to businesses that include digital payments and a brokerage-advisory service for investors and startups interested in initial coin offerings. The strategy is similar to that of Mike Novogratz, another Goldman alum who recently started a New York-based crypto merchant bank.

Kano, bitFlyer’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said former traders and bankers are ideal for crypto firms because they understand how to operate in regulated markets -- a skill set that’s becoming more important as governments around the world scrutinize an industry notorious for security lapses and money laundering risks. Last month, bitFlyer tightened its anti-money laundering rules after the Nikkei newspaper reported that users could perform some limited functions without fully completing customer verification.

“Crypto companies need finance guys to fill roles across the board: business development, sales, account management, operations, and compliance just to name a few,” said Razin Ashraf, head of Tokyo-based recruiting firm Divine Solutions Japan.

Of course, technology matters too. Kano’s hiring spree also includes coders, who can make $100,000 at bitFlyer with a high school -- or even middle school -- education if they’ve got a track record of success at hackathons or coding tournaments.

Kano, 42, said bitFlyer’s ideal finance recruits fall into one of two groups: experienced bankers in their 40s tired of corporate bureaucracy, or younger associates in their 20s who’ve become disillusioned with the industry and are hungry for a taste of startup life.

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