wintermeyer renton merge
Lawrence Wintermeyer (right) joins Fintech Nexus chairman Peter Renton for a fireside chat at Merge in London on Oct. 17, 2022.

Digital innovators ‘at war’: Wintermeyer

If the audience at Fintech Nexus Merge in London thought keynote guest Lawrence Wintermeyer would waffle on his views surrounding Web3 and regulation, that notion was quickly dismissed by his direct comments.

“If you’re in the digital innovation space, you are at war, full stop,” Wintermeyer said at the fireside chat hosted by Fintech Nexus chairman and co-founder Peter Renton.

The two discussed the development of Web3 and the infrastructure challenges associated with global policy on Monday morning during the Paving the Way for Web3 Legitimacy session. 

“We have the emergence of great innovation, but it’s often in highly regulated industries, where regulators only have very blunt instruments to support that,” Wintermeyer added.

While regulatory roadblocks and hamfisted rules may be the main pain points for innovators, Wintermeyer noted we’re also trying to sail through a perfect storm of economic uncertainty.

“You know, sitting here today, this is probably the most volatile macro situation in the global economy we have seen. And there are a number of reasons for that,” Wintermeyer said.

“We can talk about global conflicts, which I think have a particular impact on government money, but at the same time, we’ve got all this volatility. If you’re in retail, even in the Western world, your clients will likely have their mortgage rates double in the next year or so. If you’re not coming up with some cap on energy costs, you will likely be unable to afford much energy. Some of the things happening in the market now are not serious compared to regulators, policymakers, and the blunt instruments in place.”

The scope

Wintermeyer suggested institutional and professional participants are more likely to use the innovation than retail participants.

Even though DeFi has the potential to lead to meaningful innovation, at the moment, its clear benefits are mainly for SMEs and institutions.

Data gathered by market research firm Chainalysis shows that most web traffic to DeFi protocols comes from North America, followed by western Europe.

Their research also showed that the average transaction size in DeFi implies that its current use is either with institutions or on a professional scale, as opposed to retail activity.

Macro environment

Renter and Wintermeyer then addressed unprecedented macroeconomic factors that underpin any conversation about the future of Web3. 

Wintermeyer emphasized the following macro trends:

  1. The global conflict that has led to money-printing problems
  2. Inflation and the energy crisis 
  3. A highly regulated innovation environment where regulators use blunt instruments 
  4. Cybercrime
  5. U.S. debt 
  6. UK instability, the chancellor’s U-turn on the budget makes it “look like a failed state.” 

According to the IMF, global economic activity is experiencing a broad-based and sharper-than-expected slowdown, with inflation higher than in several decades.

A cloud of doom hangs over the economy due to a cost-of-living crisis, tightening financial conditions, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global growth was forecast to slow from 6% in 2021 to 3.2% in 2022 and 2.7%in 2023.

Other than the global financial crisis and the acute phase of COVID-19, this is the weakest growth profile since 2001. Global inflation is also forecasted to rise from 4.7% in 2021 to 8.8%

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With government priorities adapting and changing, Wintermeyer believes Web3 devs can demonstrate and build a growing ecosystem. 

Lawrence Wintermeyer (right) joins Fintech Nexus chairman Peter Renton for a fireside chat at Merge in London on Oct. 17, 2022.
Lawrence Wintermeyer (right) joins Fintech Nexus chairman Peter Renton for a fireside chat at Merge in London on Oct. 17, 2022.

DeFi: Moving the Dialogue on Standards and Regulation Forward

Renton and Wintermeyer also had some time to discuss the ‘DeFi: Moving the Dialogue on Standards and Regulation Forward’ report written by Wintermeyer this summer. 

The report seeks a call to action for industry self-regulation. As part of these recommendations, the industry must demonstrate further that it can convene to develop standards, codes of conduct, and other self-initiated monitored outcomes that demonstrate the ability of the industry to operate with high levels of trust and predictability to users, investors, employees, shareholders, policymakers, and regulators.

“Most wholesale markets are pretty regulated. If you accept that, and if you accept collateralizing, like in some of the more popular products — we have standards for KYC and AML — with a whole set of standards for lending,” Wintermeyer said.

“We have standards for algorithmic finance. It will be important for most of us in the industry to demonstrate to policymakers and regulators in highly regulated markets that we can come together and abide by standards.” 

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Co-regulatory strategy 

Another question Renton raised was how we get regulators on board with the blockchain ecosystem.

This is crucial because they noted that regulators do not have many tools at their disposal to get involved, or as Wintermeyer put it, “they’re in the stone age and use blunt regulator tools.” 

Wintermeyer said blockchain and the nature of governance provide opportunities for better regulation, but the private sector is better positioned to fund such efforts.

Funding exploration would create a safe space for the mutual discovery of risks before it is sent to policymakers, but he acknowledges that these decisions can also be highly politicized. 

This is something that Wintermeyer recognizes Chris Woolard, Strategy and Competition Director at the FCA, started, but he said there’s more to be done. 

Cohort-based operations have been the hallmark of the Regulatory Sandbox since its launch in 2016.

The Regulatory Sandbox allows innovators, incumbents, and new players to access regulatory expertise. Firms from all sectors of the financial services market can apply, and they will be able to: 

  • Test products and services in a controlled environment
  • Learn how a particular technology works in the real world or whether a business model is appealing to consumers  
  • Reduce time to market at a potentially lower cost 
  • Support consumer protection safeguards that can be built into new products and services

Background

Wintermeyer is a “giant in the fintech space, a great mind in the space,” Renton said in his introduction.

With experience as an advisor, executive, and board member, he has worked with organizations of all sizes, including start-ups and established institutions.

Among other responsibilities, he oversees advocacy and lobbying activities on behalf of the crypto industry and its members as Chair of GDF (now known as GBBC Digital Finance after their recent merger) a not-for-profit membership association.

As Principal of Elipses, Wintermeyer oversees sustainable investment strategies, systemic investment management strategies, and digital ledger technologies (DLTs).

In addition, he is a regular Forbes contributor and former CEO of Innovate Finance.

  • Helen Femi Williams

    Helen Femi Williams is a freelance journalist and podcaster interested in fintech, politics, economics, and their intersections. She is the host of the letsgetlitical podcast, a fortnightly show interviewing guests from all different sides of the political spectrum, in partnership with the Mozilla Foundation. Prior to this role, she worked as an innovation consultant developing insurtech and fintech products and ideas for brands, startups, and major corporations. She studied International Relations at the University of Nottingham (UK and Malaysia).

This article is part 4 of 8 in the series Merge 2022