A newcomer’s view of the weird and wonderful world of cryptocurrency

JESSICA RICHARDS: "If you want to make your first crypto investments, there are several barriers - the first is finding services you trust"

It’s Monday morning in Canary Wharf, London. The suits stream up escalators from the overheated sardine cans of the Jubilee line. Everything is grey, shiny and a little bit detached from reality. This is the hub of the traditional finance industry. Yet where I’m heading, you don’t need a suit. And what we do is anything but traditional.

Welcome to Level 39 – ‘London’s most connected tech community’. Owned by the Canary Wharf Group, Level 39 occupies three floors in One Canada Square. Members rent office space for small teams. It’s been the base of several FinTech start-ups, such as the recently graduated star pupil Revolut. It’s also the UK base of HOLD. And it’s here I am working as a User Experience (UX) consultant.

I started my career in market research agencies, moving on to a b2b publishing and data company. I was a UX practitioner and progressed to lead the design team. After many years in corporates, I finally landed in the start-up space.

A mystifying industry

As a newcomer to the world of cryptocurrency, I’ll be documenting my journey in this column. In line with Coin Rivet’s mission, I want to help demystify what at times seems to be a mystifying industry. My goal is to make technology products easier to use for the general population. To do that we need people from diverse backgrounds involved in their creation and I hope this will encourage more to join.

My first observation about working in the crypto start-up world is that you learn a lot very fast. I started learning on day one by attending a seminar. Chatting to fellow attendees, I noted many people were in their first year of working in this field. Crypto years are like dog years, as must be the case in any nascent industry. After a few months, your confidence grows. Find accessible information sources to help get you started. I recommend the 11:FS Blockchain Insider podcast for insightful debates about companies and trends.

My second observation is that learning involves jargon. A word that immediately enters your vocabulary is ‘fiat’. It means real world money: pounds, dollars, euros etc, as opposed to cryptocurrency. Trying to bridge the gap between crypto and fiat is a mission for many companies. And it will be until you can use Bitcoin to buy a pint of milk. User research is always a good way to identify the jargon in any industry. During interviews you can always ask users to explain what terms mean to them. The crypto glossary on this site is also a great help.

All about image

My third observation is that the reputation of cryptocurrency needs work. Blockchain’s image is innovative, new and neutral. But crypto’s image to outsiders is far less positive. The cliché is it is all scams and hackers. Those people might be out there, but my experience has not been like that. Many people working in this industry are financial services veterans. They have spent years working with regulators and developing financial products. They are also innovators and many are keen to develop new products that solve real problems. We need to hear more of those stories.

Both finance and technology suffer from a lack of diversity in their employees. It is unsurprising that FinTech needs greater gender diversity. The FinTech Census of 2017 found that the split of UK employees in FinTech companies is 71% male and 29% female. It’s a similar trend for users. 75% of those who have bought cryptocurrency are men, according to a study by wallet service Uphold in the FT. Other stats put that percentage even higher. I’d encourage more women to consider working in this area. If we improve the accessibility of crypto products, it needs to be by and for everyone.

Finally, it is clear that there is work to do on the user experience of crypto applications. If you want to make your first crypto investments, there are several barriers. The first is finding services you trust.

Gaining trust

Trust is a key driver of the use of financial products. Crypto apps need you to trust companies you’ve never heard of with your personal data. You might be asked to scan your passport or other identity documents and upload selfies before you have seen what the product can do. This is part of the identity verification process but it should be integrated at the appropriate point.

The process of using wallets and transferring currency is improving, but is still prone to errors and delays. Users need to be informed about what is happening behind the scenes. Regular research and testing will iron out problems and allow for continual improvement.

So that’s where I will be focusing my efforts. Keep reading for more updates from the world of user-centred design in crypto!


Jessica Richards has more than fifteen years of experience bringing new products to life. As an advocate for design, innovation and community, she champions the voice of the user. Her regular column will give you the lowdown on bringing usability to cryptocurrency.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author should not be considered as financial advice. We do not give advice on financial products.


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