Debbie Hoffman is CEO of Symmetry Blockchain Advisors, Inc. and is an experienced businesswoman, entrepreneur, and attorney. The team that she leads at Symmetry includes experts in all of the key facets of blockchain enterprises. We talked to her this week about the legal and regulatory landscape in the blockchain world, as well as her approach to helping organizations take advantage of blockchain opportunities.
BitIRA: What is your background, how did you hear about blockchain, and what made you interested in the technology?
Debbie Hoffman: I have been an attorney for 20 years, both in-house as a General Counsel and, prior to that, at a large Wall-Street firm where my clients were primarily financial institutions. Like many in this crypto/blockchain space, I have known about bitcoin since about 2012. However, a few years ago, when I learned more about blockchain technology, I realized the tremendous potential it could bring to many industries.
The businesses, in particular, that I focused on were those that are record heavy and in need of a better tracking and transparency in documentation. I was immediately able to relate this and see the efficiencies blockchain could bring into the mortgage financing industry, as well as the legal industry. Again, for this with an appreciation of blockchain, I soon saw the global potential was much greater than just these two industries and I obtained an appreciation for how blockchain could change the world.
BitIRA: What is the mission of Symmetry Blockchain Advisors, and how does the firm fit into the blockchain ecosystem?
Debbie: Symmetry works on education, strategy, compliance and implementation of enterprise blockchain endeavors. We start with education because many industries and companies have heard about blockchain and the buzzwords of bitcoin, but do not understand the greater realm. Thus we train executives and speak at events to allow executives and professionals to understand blockchain and what it means for the growth of their businesses.
Next, we offer strategy workshops to help our clients with the details of how blockchain actually fits into their operations and processes. This includes a deep examination of their current infrastructures and what is needed to either modify them or to implement a complete overhaul into the new technology. Lastly, when clients are ready for full blown implementation, we work alongside our client company tech teams to implement the new technology framework.
Each client has a different set of needs, particularly when it comes to blockchain questions. One of the unique things Symmetry Blockchain Advisors brings to the market is helping our clients understand the unique questions that come into play as they develop their businesses. Given my legal background and focus on compliance, we are particularly adept at identifying and working with our clients to issue spot where they need guidance from legal counsel. In many cases, our advisory services help connect our clients with a variety of other expertise and talent. In addition to partnerships with attorneys, we work alongside blockchain architects and developers and PR/marketing teams that, collectively, help each project go live.
BitIRA: Given your extensive experience in both law and finance, what do you think are the main regulatory and compliance challenges for companies in the blockchain industry?
Debbie: With any nascent technology, there are going to be regulatory hurdles due to the ambiguity in the legal guardrails. There are few, if any, hard and fast laws that address blockchain and the emerging uses it brings to market. Thus, lawyers need to review law that has been promulgated in a manner which does not contemplate blockchain use cases. This means there has to be some interpretations of the law that might not be exactly on point, and thus, to those that are risk-averse, this could be concerning. It has not been tested by courts and there is little common law to look to for further interpretation.
The other challenge that we face in this area is simply the global nature of the technology. In the history of the U.S., we have had to address where law crosses state lines and, in such cases we look at both federal and state laws. However, in blockchain, almost every transaction is global – bringing in not only federal and state law, but international law as well. Lawyers are generally trained to be jurisdictional in nature. We take bar exams and practice only in states where we are licensed. Thus, with the emergence of blockchain technology, attorneys have to form partnerships with other legal advisors worldwide to make sure to address the global nature of the businesses.
Lastly, there is simply not one type of “blockchain law” that needs to be followed. When firms are working with a legal advisor, they need to make sure there is support for a wide variety of legal expertise and that such expertise is not simply limited to one area of law. For instance, the company might need legal expertise related to tax, securities, corporate, intellectual property, real estate, finance and capital fundraising. Companies must have blockchain counsel that has teams or partnerships that enable them to address the various types of law posed by the business.
BitIRA: What advice would you give to companies that are just entering (or thinking about entering) the blockchain space?
Debbie: First, learn as much as possible about the use cases of the blockchain technology. Unless you are tech savvy, and you want to learn the details of how the technology works, first focus on the characteristics of blockchain and how it is transforming businesses particularly related to record keeping, supply chain and identity. You can read articles, watch videos and listen to podcasts. Our company’s website, symmetryadvisors.net, has a tab dedicated to resources for those seeking more knowledge.
Next, collaborate with the other leaders and professionals in your firm. Make sure the leaders understand blockchain, including the CEO and the lead technology person. You may need to host a series of corporate education sessions on blockchain if the firm needs more direction. As the team becomes educated, you can then collaborate with the leaders to discuss potential use cases in your business. A greater understanding of blockchain technology will held lead to deeper discussions about use cases. The firm may need an outside blockchain expert or facilitator to help lead some of these discussions.
After the leaders in the firm have some ideas of where blockchain can be utilized, you could either work with outside blockchain strategists or you can develop your own working group. It is at this point where you are going to develop a strategy and timeline of implementing a Proof of Concept (PoC). It is also here where you need to think about your ecosystem – partners and clients – who would be willing to work with your firm on your PoC.
You may need to engage legal assistance if there are regulatory compliance variables in your industry or in your process. You will need to test and retest your security and controls before you launch – essentially trying to “break” what you have built. After testing, you will be ready to launch your PoC, and when you are ready you will scale it and build upon it.