The Mountainview, California-based wealth management crypto platform Abra announced that it tapped veteran finance executive Justin McMahan as its first CFO.
McMahan was managing director and global treasurer at high frequency trading and technology firm Tower Research Capital, and previous to that was a managing director and head of operations of treasury and client services at Serengeti Asset Management. He also spent 13 years in various roles at Morgan Stanley.
A growing number of executives are leaving more traditional finance companies to helm the finances at crypto-focused firms including former Royal Bank of Canada CFO Rod Bolger who joined embattled Celsius as its CFO last month and last year John Dalby left hedge fund giant Bridgewater Associates to become CFO of New York-based Bitcoin investment and tech solutions firm NYDIG.
Justin McMahan's move to Abra offered him the opportunity to fully focus on crypto, which he expects to have a transformational impact on the financial sector, he said in an interview.
“It’s the thing that will change the industry the most in my career. I wanted to be fully immersed in it,” he said, adding that he gained crypto experience at Tower where it was one of the asset classes traded.
Since taking over as Abra’s CFO late last year, McMahan has been focused on setting up the financial systems and technology and hiring the talent needed to make sure Abra’s got the proper foundation to handle continued growth. Founded in 2014 by Bill Barhydt, last year Abra grew its active users more than three-fold from 2020, while transaction volume increased more than six-fold, according to the company.
Navigating the frothy labor market in the crypto space, which has a shallow talent pool due to it being a young industry, has kept McMahan very busy, he said. “I spend half or three-quarters of my time doing interviews and talking to recruiters,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of growth in a very short time.”
He declined to say how many new hires the company has recently brought on but a spokesperson said Abra now has over 80 employees. The company is looking to hire in the engineering, sales and finance and credit trading areas. Asked whether the company would consider paying workers in crypto-currency to potentially lure more talent he said it has not done so to date but might consider it.
Abra doesn't limit itself to just employees with crypto experience, recruiting from both the mainstream and crypto finance sectors, he said. “We have a really good blend of traditional experience and crypto experience which I think is really critical as the industry evolves and matures,” he said. “You’re going to get a lot more convergence ... and it’s going to start to look more traditional so you want that experience.”
The crypto sector also requires more due diligence when it comes to finding vendors and setting up new finance systems, he said. “You have to be very choosy,” McMahan said. “We don’t want to be educating our vendors on the products that we’re trying to manage.”
Traditional systems used in equities and fixed income don’t necessarily translate perfectly for use in the crypto space, McMahan said. When it comes to accounting, as you move away from foundational systems and into sub-ledgers and warehouses some systems have to be more customized for crypto, he said.