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Former Senior Executive of Russia’s Largest Bank Leaves for Crypto Startup

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Mainstream finance professionals are making the move into crypto in growing numbers, from middle-size asset managers to the high ranks of the Financial Action Task Force. A Russian bank executive is the latest to make the leap.

Konstantin Shulga, former head of brokerage at Russia’s largest bank, Sber (formerly Sberbank), joined crypto over-the-counter (OTC) service Finery Markets in late March as its new chief executive. The firm is building an institutional peer-to-peer trading marketplace, Shulga told CoinDesk in an interview. 

He went full crypto after more than a decade in institutional finance in Russia, including at a branch of UniCredit, the Moscow Exchange and Sber, which is the leading retail bank in Russia and is half-owned by the country’s government. 

Related: Publicly-Traded Fintech Firm Acquires Chinese Mining Farm for $9M

Sber itself is actively exploring the blockchain space and recently announced launching a digital settlement token for corporate clients, but Shulga wouldn’t say if those efforts sparked his curiosity for crypto.

He first bought bitcoin during the bull run of 2017 but sold it at around $18,000, he said, with no second thoughts afterward. 

“I don’t really have time for gambling, so I don’t regret [selling],” Shulga said.

He joined Finery at the invitation of his former coworker at the asset manager ATON, Finery co-founder Ilia Drozdov. Finery’s small team, according to LinkedIn, now employs a handful of former ATON and Moscow Exchange employees. 

Stirring crypto liquidity

Related: Crypto as a Payment System? Here We Go Again

Finery Markets is a Cyprus-based startup that aims to be something like LocalBitcoins for institutional investors. Except it’s not just bitcoin – Finery is offering funds and asset managers trading pairs between a number of cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies including U.S. dollars, euros, pound sterling, Canadian dollars and Japanese yen, Shulga said. 

He said that since its launch in April 2020, Finery has brought on 30 clients so far, including asset managers, high-frequency trading firms, crypto exchanges and crypto-related services, mostly in Europe. 

Using Finery, the firms’ trading volume in March reached $200 million, Shulga said. Growth has been steady: in January, volume was only $100 million, Shulga said.

Finery’s main competitors are centralized exchanges and OTC desks, Shulga said, which are also catering to institutional investors. However, “we want to convert them into our allies,” he added, explaining that integrating with Finery would provide them with more liquidity options. 

EDIT (April. 2, 7:45 UTC): Previous version of this article mistakenly said that Sber is half-owned by the Bank of Russia. Sber is half-owned by the government of Russia.

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