UBS Loses Blockchain Head to Fintech Startup
UBS’s head of blockchain and UK group innovation has left to join a fintech startup, the latest example of a City tech executive choosing a career in Shoreditch over banking. Peter Stephens left the bank in October to become chief information officer and head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at DrumG, a blockchain business, according to his LinkedIn profile and a person familiar with the matter.
Stephens, who did not return a request for comment by press time, has not been replaced at UBS yet, the person added.
Stephens, who was blockchain and innovation lead at the Swiss bank for just under two years, is the latest tech exec to swap banking for fintech. Elly Hardwick, the head of innovation at Deutsche Bank, left the German lender in June after less than two years in the role. She recently joined the board of Axis Capital, the specialist insurer.
Other high-profile innovation departures include Alex Batlin, who left BNY Mellon in November 2017 to start Trustology, a crypto custody business; Ed Budd and Julio Faura, formerly in charge of innovations at Deutsche Bank and Santander, who founded blockchain business Adhara; and Oliver Bussmann, the former chief information officer at UBS, who has since launched his own fintech advisory business.
Stephens, who spent 15 years at UBS in total, and who also held roles at IBM, the consulting and computer group, and PwC, the professional services firm, warned about the “hype cycle” surrounding banks’ use of blockchain technology in an interview with Financial News last year.
He said: “People blew it out of all proportion. There was a lot of blue-sky thinking and now we are in the realism phase”, which inevitably takes much longer, he said. “It is the long, slow, hard yards of making something actually work rather than just pontificating in a conference or drawing a few PowerPoints. Now you actually have to make the thing work, and that’s hard,” he said.
Despite companies investing billions in blockchain, there are very few examples of the technology being used yet. The security risks are considered to be high and banks tend to be slow to adopt new technologies.
Bussmann told FN in September that “as long as the banks are profitable there will be no change in behavior. At the moment the threat level is low because there is not enough competition. So why would you change your business model?”