Experian booth at conference
Photo: Owen Thomas/Protocol

A tale of two conferences

Protocol Fintech

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Fintech. This Wednesday: SALT and Finovate compared, Celsius’ comeback plan, and BitGo versus Galaxy Digital.

A tale of two conferences

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in New York City — so long that the 7 subway line extension to Hudson Yards hadn’t opened yet. If it weren’t for that tongue of the MTA sticking itself out in the general direction of New Jersey, I don’t think I’d have managed to shuttle back and forth so seamlessly between SALT New York and FinovateFall. The two conferences, which both opened Monday and wrap up today, embodied different axes of the modern fintech industry.

SALT went full Web3. Founded by Anthony Scaramucci’s SkyBridge Capital in 2009, the conference series returned to New York this year with a huge crypto presence.

  • FTX was a presenting sponsor, with CEO Sam Bankman-Fried as a keynote interview. It soon emerged that he was more than that: FTX Ventures has taken a 30% stake in SkyBridge, with an option to buy a majority stake. (The SALT conference itself would presumably come with that.)
  • Blockchain.com provided a coffee bar dishing up dirty matcha lattes and macchiatos. Solana was a top sponsor as well. Panels delved into NFTs and digital assets. I moderated a discussion on sustainable approaches to bitcoin.
  • But seats often went empty in the breakout rooms. The action was all in the hallways, with people clustered in pairs or trios talking deals — or plans for the evening, much of which involved packing into Hudson Yards venues with views of the Javits Center and the waterfront.

Finovate was more practical. The views were mostly of the Marriott Marquis’ soaring atrium and dizzyingly fast elevators.

  • If you were a bank shopping for technology or a startup hawking it, the expo floor was the place to be. Even champagne flutes didn’t seem to distract from the technical briefings.
  • Protocol Fintech’s Ryan Deffenbaugh took in a highly technical lunch briefing by the CFPB on mortgage compliance data collection. Lenders seemed eager to give regulators an earful on the headaches their rules created.
  • Only a handful of crypto companies, like NYDIG and CryptoFi, presented. In midtown, traditional finance dominated.

Both events had a whiff of frenzy to the deal-making. “It’s three years of FOMO packed into three months,” a colleague commented on the busy conference season. Zoom has its charms, not least of which is avoiding germs. But SALT and Finovate both made clear there’s a hunger to get out there and press the flesh. No risk, no reward.

— Owen Thomas (email | twitter)

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On the money

Citadel, Fidelity and Charles Schwab are planning a new crypto exchange. The envisioned entity, to be called EDX Markets, is a sign that Wall Street continues to see opportunity in digital assets despite this year’s slump.

Celsius is betting on crypto custody for a comeback. The bankrupt crypto lender outlined a plan — code-named Kelvin (get it?) — to employees last week.

Traders' reaction to the federal inflation report caused FTX to wobble. The cryptocurrency exchange was unusable for some customers Tuesday around the time of the closely watched economic report. The company acknowledged services were slower for some users but did not crash.

Fintech firms slid on Wall Street after the inflation report. Shares of AI lender Upstart, “buy now, pay later” provider Affirm and Block fell quickly on Tuesday after federal data showed a surprise monthly increase in inflation.

BitGo hits back

BitGo has made good on a promise to sue Galaxy Digital for abandoning its plan to buy the crypto asset custody and management company for $1.2 billion.

BitGo said Tuesday it had filed a lawsuit against Galaxy Digital. It accused the crypto financial services company of “improper repudiation and intentional breach of its merger agreement,” the company said in a tweet. BitGo said it is seeking more than $100 million in damages.

Galaxy Digital hit back, saying in a statement that BitGo’s claims are “without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.” Galaxy reaffirmed that the company abandoned its acquisition bid because BitGo “did not provide certain BitGo financial statements needed by Galaxy for its SEC filing,” a spokesperson said in an email.

Read the full story on Protocol.com.

— Benjamin Pimentel (email | twitter)

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Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!

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