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In conversation with Ian Simpson

Peter Camenzind recently joined Bitcoin Suisse as its Chief Operating Officer (COO). Previously, his career spanned over 20 years at Vontobel, where he held various roles including Head of Transaction Banking, Head of FP Structured Investments and most recently Head of P&S Banks Switzerland. He studied at the University of Berne and received an MBA from the University of Rochester – Simon Business School.

 

1. When did you first hear about Bitcoin or crypto and what did you think back then – honestly?

Thanks Ian, what a tough question to start with…. But I remember exactly – it was in early spring 2013 at a Swiss Finance Institute workshop. The price of Bitcoin was somewhere around USD 100. It’s also a painful question because I didn’t look into the topic deeply enough. The speaker was not very competent, and I thought to myself: Okay, they had their hype from 2011 to 2013 with a hundred-fold price increase. I invested much later and became painfully aware of this wrong assessment back then.

2. We often talk about how crypto sits at the intersection of technology and finance – your background has been more finance and banking, but also technology? What do you think about this paradigm shift?

Although I’ve been with banks for my whole career, your assumption in regard to my background is probably wrong. Over the last 15 years at Vontobel, the mix has been about 90% technology and 10% banking and finance. Transaction Banking, the area I built up at Vontobel, is a low-margin business. You can make good money with it, but only if you have a highly scalable platform. Our USP was highly efficient technology with smart order routing together with algo trading strategies, which are still leaders in Switzerland today. Technology is exciting. Banking is boring. And I prefer to devote my limited time to the exciting things in life.

3. What do you think about Switzerland’s position in the changing world of finance and technology? Can this Crypto Valley ecosystem be a world leader? How do we do that?

Politics must enable and ensure the conditions that make Switzerland not only attractive but also competitive. The canton of Zug is certainly a leader, but Switzerland itself still has some catching up to do. But, as we learned with other areas, rather than blame politicians for dragging their feet, we need to lead into innovation. We are the Crypto Valley ecosystem! And Bitcoin Suisse is the leading organization in this valley. Clearly, we need to work on efficiency and optimize administrative functions. But most importantly, we as an organization must never lose our innovative drive. We have to do everything possible to continue to be the fastest and the best in the market. I will do my part.

4. What excites you about coming to work at Bitcoin Suisse?

I am most looking forward to working with the people at Bitcoin Suisse. It’s the employees that have made this company the leading provider of crypto-financial services.  I got a taste of it in Davos [at the Bitcoin Suisse company event]. I was welcomed in such an enthusiastic and open way, and the people are bubbling over with ideas and drive. Their dedication to Bitcoin Suisse is fascinating and I can’t wait to be part of it.

5. What is the critical lesson that you have learned in your career?

Empowerment and ownership! I know that sounds a bit like corporate drivel. But it’s absolutely critical to foster a culture where people take ownership, and I see a big part of my role is empowering people to do just that. Control-freakery and micro-management are, rightly in my view, firmly in the past.

6. How do you balance being a leader with being a learner (in new technology, new industries, and new businesses)?

Good leaders have to be constant learners. You can’t have one without the other. There are areas where I like to share my expertise and experience with my team and others, like creating an environment to excel, technology, structured processes, and business strategy. These things I believe I can bring to the table on a daily basis. But the number of fields where I can learn from other people is infinitely bigger. I can’t promise a suitcase full of miracle recipes guaranteed to move Bitcoin Suisse forward. But I do undertake to work tirelessly on these ideas together with the team. And to never stop listening and learning.

7. Favorite music to get fired up? To work by? To relax?

I like electro music. Deep house to get fired up and chilled lounge to relax. But I also like classical music and often go to the opera in Zurich. Although I come from a very musical family, I am absolutely talentless myself, when it comes to music. The good Lord gave all the talent to my brother… However, personally the only place where music is a no-go for me is at work. Here I want to have all antennas focused on reception and communication.

8. Bitcoin or Ethereum (and why)?

For me it’s “and” not “or”. As a pure investment instrument, the two are certainly equivalent.  Bitcoin obviously is a bit further along in finding wide acceptance. As a platform for smart contracts Ethereum, however, offers further development possibilities not only as a means of payment but also for the exchange of property, shares and much more. You all know that better than I do. However, I see slight longer-term advantages for Ethereum, but I might be proven wrong after my start on November 1.

9. How do you “think beyond”?

I try not only to think beyond, but above all to go beyond. Ideally, I try to combine these two concepts. The best time to think is when I’m “going running”. I’m a passionate runner, and have done 12 marathons, including the king of city races, the New York Marathon, 5 times. In preparation, I spend a lot of time jogging through the Swiss forests, on country trails and along the lakes. This is not only good for the body, but it also activates completely different parts of the brain. The best ideas always come to me then.

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