Annabelle Huang is a partner at crypto finance firm Amber Group. Courtesy of Amber Group.
Annabelle Huang is a partner at Hong Kong-based crypto finance service provider Amber Group.
Huang bought her first ether at $20 while working for Deutsche Bank and Nomura.
She discussed her path to success with Insider and shared two blockchain opportunities on her radar.
Annabelle Huang's life before and after switching to digital assets couldn't be more different.
In 2017, while working in foreign-exchange structure first for Deutsche Bank and then Nomura in New York, Huang bought her first ether — the cryptocurrency of the Ethereum network — at about $20.
"I started telling all the other traders on my desk about this thing and they never paid much attention to this until maybe later 2017 when the market started going crazy," Huang, a partner at Hong Kong-based crypto finance firm Amber Group, said in an interview.
As the crypto bull market of 2017 gained momentum, and Huang's former colleagues started buying ether at between $300 and $400, only to see it going up every day.
"We traded euro/dollar or sterling/dollar, and they barely move," she said. "So for us, this was a whole new world."
Huang also bought more bitcoin at about the same time before trimming her position as the bull market came to an end. But her belief in cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology only grew from there.
In 2018 she left the traditional financial-services industry to lead the Asia expansion of AirSwap, a decentralized trading network that enables users to trade peer-to-peer on the Ethereum blockchain.
"When I joined AirSwap, there was the option to elect for bonus payments in ether and all that," she said. "That's when my exposure to Ethereum was much more so by working at AirSwap, being in the Ethereum community, and going to these global events with all the developers."
Ether, the second-largest cryptocurrency behind bitcoin, had risen to a record high of $2,100 as of Monday afternoon, which meant Huang's first investment in the token at around $20 had generated a stunning return of more than 10,000% in just four years.
The intersection of technology and finance
As in the US, more institutional investors in Asia have embraced bitcoin as a digital store of value, but ether is increasingly becoming the more prominent cryptocurrency in terms of its use cases.
Billionaire investor Mark Cuban said on a recent episode of "The Delphi Podcast" that his portfolio is made up of "60% bitcoin, 30% ether, and 10% the rest," adding that ether is the "closest to a true currency."
Huang said the biggest draw of Ethereum is its ability to allow for the creation of smart contracts — computer code that executes agreements automatically — that are in turn used to build most decentralized finance projects.
DeFi refers broadly to blockchain-based trading, lending, or exchange platforms that are automated by software instead of being executed by human employees.
"I really do think that the traditional finance system itself is due for an upgrade," Huang said. "We saw what the internet did to the markets 20 years ago. Before, traders were calling each other, punching in cards and writing orders down. Now it's all done in a digital fashion."
In her view, DeFi could well drive the next stage of growth in the financial-services industry, allowing investors to work toward a more efficient market that has faster settlement, more connectivity, less friction, and fewer middle layers among transactions.
In a way, Huang's Amber Group, which manages more than $1 billion in assets, is already doing that in the crypto market.
Founded in 2017, the crypto finance firm, which engages in trading, lending, market-making, and asset management, serves more than 500 institutional clients and has traded more than $330 billion across more than 100 electronic exchanges, according to its website.
Emerging blockchain opportunities on Huang's radar
The case for bitcoin and ether has been made, more or less, as institutional support for the digital tokens continues to ramp up.
Looking at the state of the crypto market, Huang said it's got a little bit frothy, with prices unsustainably high, over the past few months. (Bitcoin was trading at around $20,000 in December and above $59,000 as of Monday afternoon; ether was hovering around $980 at the beginning of the year.)
"I don't think this trend could continue forever. It's not sustainable," she said. "So I wouldn't be surprised if we see a correction maybe later this year, but that doesn't mean I'm bearish about this market."
What it does mean is that investors should have a long-term perspective on their crypto investments, much the way they view their traditional stocks and bonds portfolios.
"If this is just part of your cash you're not looking to use for the next few years and you just want to invest it," she said, "then I think it doesn't matter if you bought it today or maybe a month later because, in four years or eight years, I think the growth will always be exponential."
As more crypto-native innovations come out of the woodwork, Huang also shares two emerging areas of the crypto market she is excited to uncover.
One is bringing more assets on-chain, whether through issuing stablecoins pegged to the US dollar at a one-to-one ratio or bringing artwork and other content online via nonfungible tokens.
Another opportunity is bringing more data on-chain in a way that would allow users to have control over their own data instead of sharing them with tech giants such as Google and Facebook.
"Right now, data is being owned by so many of these bigger platforms for free," she said. "There's so much that can be done there. Imagine what happens if we actually have control over our own data, especially in the world of 5G where so much more personalized targeted data will be sent around."