PwC’s Pierre-Edouard Wahl: Blockchain Can Bring Positive Competition to Swiss Banking Space
Head of blockchain at PwC Switzerland Pierre-Edouard Wahl speaks about the need for smarter crypto regulation globally.
Wahl, who noted that PwC Switzerland worked closely with main Swiss stock exchange SIX on their announcement of a future distributed ledger-based digital asset exchange, elaborated on his beliefs that crypto must be used in order to go mainstream enough to give people back control of their digital footprints.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Molly Jane: Could you tell us how you got interested in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space?
Pierre-Edouard Wahl: I’m an engineer by schooling. I’ve been in the blockchain space for several years now, and I discovered a Bitcoin community that was very ideologically driven. The community drove me to the technology, not the other way around.
And so I decided to start a B2B Bitcoin exchange and got into some trouble, because at that time, it was very difficult. There was no clear regulation around exchange operations, and I looked for a big banking partner. Unfortunately, at the time, every time you mentioned Bitcoin, there were closed doors — so that did not work out.
But Credit Suisse asked me if I was willing to jumpstart their blockchain department, so I happily did. I spent three years at Credit Suisse and after that left, thought I was going to get back to the startup world, but really thought I had an opportunity at PwC to make an even bigger difference than in the startup world. Because we have a reach that is pretty amazing — a very high level of established business, executive suite. So, yeah, that was the exciting part.
MJ: When did you first hear about cryptocurrencies?
PW: The first time I heard about Bitcoin was in 2010. I dabbled with Bitcoin really for the first time in 2011, and got into the space full-time in 2012.
I feel like it is an industry that has such a huge potential, and I wish I could have spent more time there. But yes, relative to the existence of this industry, I have been there for a while.
MJ: Do you actually invest in the industry, do you own Bitcoin?
PW: I am fully invested. I’ve asked my employers to pay me in crypto, but it hasn’t really worked yet.
I don’t only talk the walk, I try to walk the talk.
MJ: Since you say you have been investing in the market for a while, have you ever bought anything with Bitcoin? Like a pizza?
PW: I try to spend Bitcoin wherever I can. I see it as a way to spread the cost. So, yes, I have spent Bitcoin.
In the meetup in San Francisco — the SF Bitcoin-dev meetup — we used to organize what we call “Bitcoin bombs.” All of the participants go to a bar and ask if we can pay in crypto, in Bitcoin — and if we couldn’t, we could go to the next bar, until we found the first one that would accept it.
MJ: So how long did it take you to find a bar that would accept Bitcoin?
PW: San Francisco is pretty open, so generally it went pretty quickly. And we were a crowd, so they had a good incentive. And at that time, there was already BitPay, so if they wanted to receive dollars, they could easily get their dollars rather than Bitcoin.
MJ: Do you have any fear that in the next 10 years Bitcoin will go to a million, and you’ll be that guy that spent his Bitcoin on a cocktail?
PW: Well, it will only go to a million if it gets used. So, it’s cool if the price goes up to a million, but it is not my priority. My priority, really, is to try to support a world where people have more sovereignty over their digital footprints, have more sovereignty in terms of freedom of speech, freedom of movement.
And public blockchains need a token for incentivizing various parties, and if one of those tokens goes to a million of dollars, it’s great for the investors and those tokens. But the million dollars is not the end goal — the million dollars is just the means to an end.
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MJ: Switzerland’s main stock exchange, SIX, recently announced that they would be launching a “fully regulated” cryptocurrency exchange next year. Could you talk about PwC Switzerland’s role in the announcement?
PW: We’ve been involved in that project and are very proud to be a partner in this new adventure for SIX. We hope that it is going to have impact not only on the Swiss financial place, but really on the global level.
I hope other jurisdictions will follow, if they do not precede us — it is possible that a few jurisdictions will launch on their own, I’d say, major exchanges, before we actually launch ours. But we are really excited about it. We think that it will definitely provide much easier access to the institutional investors. And we can’t — I can’t — wait to see it happen.
MJ: Are you expecting a lot of enthusiasm and energy from the Swiss community for SIX’s digital asset exchange?
PW: This project grew from demand from the industry. There was a lack of infrastructure in our financial service industry — like big banks, small banks — and a lot of demand from their clients. So it really came from the clients themselves who wanted to get into the space.
SIX basically belongs to the banks here in Switzerland, so it wouldn’t have happened without their approval — or the announcement wouldn’t have happened — without the approval of the major stakeholders and the major banks in Switzerland.
MJ: Do you think that SIX opening a digital asset exchange in Switzerland will help the country embrace more blockchain companies?
PW: Oh, we definitely hope so. Whether it will or not, I do not know. But hopefully banks will be more enabled with more infrastructure to actually start handling those new asset types. I do expect so, but I do not kn