As AI replaces cryptocurrency as the leading disruptor of corporate finance, leaders in the world of blockchain tech don’t see AI’s emergence as a detriment to their own industry. Despite regulators saying blockchain isn’t the end all, be all of proof of ownership, those who understand how both systems work from the inside-out appreciate the value blockchain technology and AI can bring to an organization if integrated properly.
For Ben Yankowitz, CFO of cryptocurrency payments platform RocketFuel, his experience both as a corporate finance attorney and CEO of an oil and gas company has led him to a part-time position as the finance chief within Web3 (the ecosystem that blockchain technology operates in). He has held this role for nearly a decade.
Yankowitz still holds a leadership position at a capital provider that specializes in surface reclamation projects of ore in abandoned gold and silver mines in the southwestern U.S., but he also has big ideas about how cryptocurrencies can impact both corporate finance and day-to-day operations.
Chief financial officer, RocketFuel
- First CFO position: 2014
- Notable previous companies:
- Parker Shumaker Mills LLP
- Proteus Energy Corporation
- Kaye Scholer LLP
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
ADAM ZAKI: In today’s tech hype, it seems as if blockchain has been replaced by AI. How can blockchain and AI work together, particularly in finance, to help solve some of the problems CFOs are having?
BEN YANKOWITZ: The convergence of blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) is creating a new era of possibilities, particularly in the financial sector. This blend of technology not only provides a secure, decentralized platform for extensive data sets but also enhances and automates decision-making processes. AI enhances blockchain by infusing decision-making capabilities into autonomous processes. For example, AI algorithms can rapidly analyze customer data stored on a blockchain, leading to unbiased decisions and predictions.
Conversely, blockchain enhances AI by strengthening data privacy and security. Its decentralized nature reduces data manipulation risks, while its transparency and immutability enhance trust in AI systems.
Together, these technologies can improve fraud detection, risk assessment, customer identification, optimize inventory via predictive analytics, and generate new revenue streams. The fusion of AI and blockchain can address numerous challenges CFOs face, from improving operational efficiency and accuracy to ensuring data security and privacy.
How can CFOs separate the idea of cryptocurrency and blockchain in their efforts to utilize the best technology?
YANKOWITZ: CFOs and other leaders can separate the concepts of cryptocurrency and blockchain by understanding that blockchain is the underlying technology that supports cryptocurrencies, but it also has broader applications beyond this.
Blockchain is a decentralized ledger system that provides transparency, security, and immutability, which can be applied to various business operations, including supply chain management, secure data sharing, and contract execution.
When hiring on your team, are you looking for those with crypto experience? With the space being so new, how do you even define/judge the credibility of this type of experience?
YANKOWITZ: When hiring for our team, while crypto experience can be a valuable asset, it's not the only factor we consider. Given the novelty of the space, "crypto experience" can mean different things to different people.
We tend to define it as combining practical experience in blockchain-related projects and a sound understanding of the underlying technology and its potential applications. However, given the rapidly evolving nature of the crypto landscape, we place equal, if not more, emphasis on transferable skills like problem-solving, adaptability, and a passion for continuous learning.
For instance, at RocketFuel, experience in the payments industry is also an added value.
Could someone with no knowledge of cryptocurrencies do your job as CFO, or as finance leader of a similar company in your industry?
YANKOWITZ: CFOs without substantial blockchain experience can still effectively familiarize themselves with the technology and its associated cryptocurrencies.
As cryptocurrencies increasingly permeate mainstream finance, understanding their underlying technology becomes pivotal. Blockchain, the technology enabling cryptocurrencies, offers transparency, security, and efficiency, which can streamline various business processes, not just financial transactions. Therefore, it's becoming increasingly important for CFOs to separate the idea of cryptocurrencies from blockchain technology and explore how the latter can add value to their organizations.
For a business leader who is curious about blockchain, what resources would you recommend?
YANKOWITZ: I recommend starting with books like "Blockchain Revolution" by Don and Alex Tapscott for a comprehensive overview, and "The Age of Cryptocurrency" by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey, for insights into cryptocurrencies.
Online platforms like Coursera and edX offer courses on blockchain fundamentals. Attending blockchain conferences or webinars can also be beneficial for networking and learning from industry experts.
However, no one can deny that anybody can have access to the world’s largest online university, YouTube, where people interested in blockchain can have access to all types of information.
What are your thoughts on other areas of Web3? What areas of the space interest you most?
YANKOWITZ: Web3 presents many exciting opportunities beyond just cryptocurrencies. These areas of Web3 are creating new ways for people to interact, transact, and govern themselves online, leading to a more democratized and accessible internet.
- DeFi: Will make financial products available on a public decentralized blockchain network, making them open to anyone to use rather than going through middlemen like banks or brokerages. This is one of the reasons why crypto payments are garnishing attention from merchants and shoppers.
- NFTs: These are unique digital assets that represent ownership of a specific item or piece of content, using blockchain technology to prove authenticity and ownership.
- DAOs: These are organizations represented by rules encoded as a computer program that is transparent, controlled by the organization members, and not influenced by a central government.
- Crypto payments: They are considered revolutionary due to their decentralized and transparent method of transferring value. Unlike traditional financial systems, cryptocurrencies enable peer-to-peer transactions without the need for intermediaries like banks, making cross-border payments faster and more efficient. According to Bing Ventures, this industry is projected to be in the billions.