Women in crypto: Ophelia Snyder
Ophelia Snyder on her transatlantic upbringing and why the speed of innovation excites her
Ophelia Snyder’s upbringing stands in stark contrast to most. Growing up between Rome and New York, much of her childhood consisted of transatlantic travelling before she settled down in the US to complete her undergraduate studies.
Snyder studied at Stanford University to complete her undergraduate degree, before moving back to the east coast to complete her Master’s degree at New York University.
She says: “It’s a bit of a winding path. I grew up between New York and Rome, so it’s been a little bit all over the place from the get-go.”
Fast forward to today, Snyder now values having a strict daily routine that helps manage her time and productivity, despite still spending most of her time between two continents in a perpetually jetlagged state.
“My daily routine is very important to me, and I’m very disciplined about it now,” she says.
The early days
Growing up between Europe and the US, Snyder credits her international upbringing for broadening her horizons with regard to the different opportunities and career paths she could explore.
After graduating from NYU, Snyder worked as a marine biologist and produced documentaries for the Discovery Channel, before switching gears and working for a venture capital firm. By her mid-twenties, she found her way into the world of finance.
“I did this for a number of years before finding my way into finance and falling in love with it. I really love financial infrastructure, which I realise is not a common interest. But I love the system of it. It has a wonderful rhythm and cadence.”
In 2018, she co-founded her firm 21Shares, a crypto investment firm based in Zug – an emerging crypto hub in Europe and the Silicon Valley playground of Switzerland – with Egyptian-American businessman Hany Rashwan. That same year, the firm pioneered the world’s first cryptocurrency index listing on the SIX Swiss Exchange. The goal, since its inception, has remained simple: to make investing in crypto assets as easy as buying a stock.
Both Snyder and her co-founder then went on to set up Amun, a cryptocurrency issuer named after an Egyptian god, in 2020. “When you understand how things such as structured products work, they click, and they’re really beautiful.”
At just under 29 years old, Snyder has been recognised in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for her work in the finance sector, and now manages over $2.5bn worth of assets. She’s recently teamed up with American investor and Ark Invest CEO Cathie Wood to bring a Bitcoin ETF to the US. Her firm, 21Shares, currently operates as the world’s largest issuer of crypto exchange-traded products.
Making her mark
Synder’s interest in the world of finance began with a curiosity about current banking infrastructure and the ability to facilitate multi-currency transactions and digital currencies around the world, 24/7, with speed, low costs, and efficiency.
Her first encounter with cryptocurrencies came from a discussion with her mother in 2013, who she says had been talking to her about cryptocurrencies and digital spending “since forever”.
“My co-founder and I had also been friends for a long time, and one day we got chatting and realised that one of the major problems in this sector is accessibility, both in terms of people feeling comfortable entering the space, as well as practically getting access to investable assets. We decided we wanted to try and fix that, and that’s how we started our company.”
Globalising digital currencies
While her fascination stemmed from digital currencies, the concept of globalised money was what incited an instant sense of opportunity within the world of finance.
“For me, the spark that always made sense was around globalised money, one that’s not attached to governments,” she says.
“Certainly, given recent events, I think we now understand the real impacts governments have on our financial infrastructure as well as on monetary policy, whether that is what we’ve seen coming out of Covid-19, or what we’re seeing most recently with sanctions. So how much global trade relies on those types of relationship?
“You’ve got goods coming in and out of every country, and you’re expected to somehow pay people in all of their local denominations, but run your books in a single one. How are you hedging and managing that? What does it actually cost to do that? Just this piece of your infrastructure, it’s enormous.”
For Snyder, the idea of a globalised money supply was attractive and interesting. “I love economics and I love history. So in the context of globalisation and the evolution of financial systems, it was always incredibly cool to me.
“It also took me a little while to get beyond the conceptual and actually ask the ancillary questions on what decentralisation really means, what is a blockchain, why does any of this matter, and what’s the best way to do this?”
Embracing female empowerment
When discussing the lack of female leadership in the crypto sector and how to encourage greater female involvement, Snyder says that anyone with a genuine interest in the sector should be curious, eager to learn, participate, ask questions, and be ready to fully immerse themselves into the sector.
She says, “This sector has a weird reputation from the gender perspective, and I don’t think it’s well-earned. Crypto is a fundamentally open community: people are willing to share information, they’re willing to teach and show you how things work. If you’re open to it, excited and want to learn about the space, you will find no shortage of people who will want to welcome you.”
Her advice to attract greater female involvement would be to not be afraid of being open and vulnerable. “I actually do believe that this community is incredibly welcoming, especially if it comes from a place of genuine interest and really wanting to understand what this sector is about. I’d also like to add that we as an industry are incredibly lucky, and that maybe we don’t say this often enough.
“We’re talking about bringing more women into the space, and about what innovation looks like, but when we look at the calibre of the people we get to work with, and the types of problems we get to solve, and the engagement we get out of communities… these ideas come from people from all around the world, with different backgrounds and mindsets, fundamentally working together to build something incredible.
“I consider myself unbelievably lucky to get to do what I get to do every day. It’s a good time to be in the industry – and trust me, I’ve also been in this industry when it was a bad time to be in this industry. And I still considered myself very, very lucky.”
Looking to the future
Recent statistics show that more than half of Americans believe cryptocurrencies and other digital assets will become the “future of finance,” according to a new poll, with this belief particularly strong among younger generations and first-time investors.
Snynder agrees – and while she recognises that the tech industry has accelerated the pace of innovation over the last few decades, she says we’re still barely scraping the surface of what’s to come.
“The speed of innovation excites me,” she says. “It’s so painfully early still. It’s the next stage of going from where we are today to crypto becoming a ubiquitous financial infrastructure, which essentially means it has to be invisible.
“So an invisible financial infrastructure, how we run things, whether it’s insurance and smart contracts, or exchanges, or money or payments, or whatever use case we’re interested in, how do you go from where we are today to complete ubiquity?
“That’s the path that’s so exciting, because it involves discovering new use cases, new applications, and really engaging the community on a global basis to really open up this infrastructure.”
Snyder believes that while some categories in crypto are really well defined, a lot of grey areas remain that are still unknown and uncertain.
“I’m incredibly excited about what’s to come, as there are still so many new use cases that we haven’t found a product market fit for. I’m also excited around this idea of actually progressing the core characteristics of a blockchain with more specialisation, and finding the technology that’s fundamentally suited to its development.
“That makes me incredibly excited about the future and where things are going.”