Customer interview with Sean Waters!
Sean Waters is a Vice President at HeightZero. We chatted to him about why he holds XRP and where he thinks Web3 is headed.
Uphold: Hi Sean! Great to meet you. What does your firm do?
Sean: We’re a digital asset management platform for financial advisors and wealth managers. We make it easy for financial advisors to give their clients exposure to crypto by creating an experience similar to traditional asset management.
Uphold: What prompted you to move into this space?
Sean: I started my career at Fidelity helping build out a new financial reporting unit. For the first few years it was like working at a start-up but with all the security that comes with working for an established organization, like salaries, healthcare, retirement plans, all that good stuff… (laughs).
It was great, but after 12 years, I missed that feeling of getting down at the ground floor and building something.
So in late 2018 I ventured out on my own, creating a company focused on technology solutions for bars and restaurants. However, not long after, Covid hit and the business became unsustainable, causing me to look for new opportunities. As luck would have it, a friend was building a crypto asset management platform. What started out as occasional conversations about his business turned into a job. And that’s how I joined HeightZero!
Uphold: When was the first time you interacted with crypto?
Sean: End of 2019, early 2020. I’d been interested in it for a while, but that was the first time I took the plunge and made some actual investments in it. XRP was the first asset I purchased!
Uphold: Why XRP?
Sean: I’d love to say it’s because I understood the technology inside out, but no, at the time it was more speculative. I had a friend who was like you should probably get into this (laughs).
But once I’d made the initial investment, I started going down the rabbit hole, on Discords, Twitter, following the XRP army, really trying to understand the tech. That’s when I got hooked.
I’ve yet to sell - it’s been all buys, no sells - but I’ve enjoyed the ride so far.
Uphold: So what brought you to Uphold?
Sean: XRP! Back in 2019 you could still get XRP on Coinbase, where I bought it. But when Coinbase stopped support in 2020, I started looking at alternatives, and that’s how I came across Uphold.
I moved my XRP to Uphold - and once I was there I actually started using different things on the platform, so kudos to you guys. I started buying other digital assets, fiat currencies, I used your staking offering for a while…
Uphold: Do you still spend much time in Discord?
Sean: Yes - but not as much. My job is pretty all-consuming, so between that, and three young kids at home, sports coaching, carpools my time is limited… During the pandemic I had a lot more of it (laughs).
I still try to get as much info as I can from Discord, Twitter, and I subscribe to a ton of different newsletters.
Uphold: What are the main challenges of working in the digital asset industry?
Sean: There are nuances when dealing with digital assets that don’t exist in the traditional space, the first being custody. The concept of a wallet, private keys that need to be secured - these are complex issues that don’t exist in the traditional space, which we need to account for as a tech provider.
Uphold: And regulation?
Sean: Big challenge. Our platform’s designed to serve SEC-registered investment advisors, so everything we do needs to align with those regulations. We follow closely everything they put out. The more clarity we get, the better - for example, earlier this year they proposed new rules for investment advisors about the safeguarding of customer assets, which will hopefully provide some direction forward if approved.
Uphold: You’re a small team - how do you keep up with the changing regulatory landscape?
Sean: We’re only focussed on the US right now - for simplicity. With regulations being jurisdiction-specific we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin. Definitely interested in expanding to other regions down the line, just not at this time.
Uphold: Well it’s a good place to start, because it’s probably the toughest.
Sean: Yeah, exactly. If we can make it work there, we can make it work anywhere (laughs).
Uphold: Lots of exchanges are trying to appeal to institutional clients by adding pro trading tools, making the UI look more like Bloomberg terminals... Do you see that as a threat?
Sean: No, I see that as a positive. ‘A rising tide raises all the boats’! The more we go out and serve traditional investors, the more investors will move into the space.
Eventually, yes - the market could become saturated and we’ll run into more competitive scenarios. But it’s still early. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity and so it’s about growing adoption across the board, more than anything.
Uphold: Is Boston a crypto-friendly place?
Sean: Boston’s got a strong tech hub - you’ve got storied institutions such as MIT and Harvard as well as other engineering-type schools which have helped develop a solditech base.
Boston-specific crypto groups, like the Boston Blockchain Association, have regular meet-ups. There’s always an opportunity to do things in person.
Uphold: In the UK it seems the opposite: the government is taking a positive stance with crypto, but it doesn’t seem to be popular with young people.
Sean: Ha, I think it comes down to ‘you want what you can’t have’. The government being a little less open to crypto in the US has been a rallying cry for some people.
The whole point of blockchain is to empower people to make the choices that they want. So if you are drawn to crypto with that mindset, seeking freedom and autonomy, and then are told you can’t - that just breeds contention.
Uphold: Do you see that tension being eased any time soon?
Sean: I don’t know. I know Web3 can’t be the wild, wild west. And I’m certainly not rooting for the US dollar to fail - I think that would be a terrible place to be in.
There are lots of inefficiencies the blockchain potentially helps to solve - for one, making traditional finance more efficient, robust, and inclusive.
There needs to be a regulatory environment which encourages ingenuity and innovation, but which also ensures consumers are protected.
Uphold: What excites you most about the industry now?
Sean: There’s a sharper focus on the utility blockchain technology can offer. A lot of bad actors disappeared when the markets pulled back in 2022. I see that as a necessary pain we had to go through to clear the brush.
When you go to events now and see the number of passionate, smart people continuing to invest time, money, and resources in the space you can’t help but be optimistic despite the regulatory uncertainty.