• Ariel Ling started her career on Wall Street at KPMG, she ended her stint in traditional finance at Deutsche Bank almost 20 years later
  • Ling and co-founder George Cao started AscendEX, formerly BitMax, to revolutionize crypto trading

“I grew up on Wall Street,” said Ariel Ling, co-founder and COO of crypto asset exchange AscendEX, referring to her career in traditional finance. 

But after nearly two decades spent working for firms from Lehman Brothers to Deutsche Bank, Ling and a colleague saw where the future of finance was headed. 

“We talked about crypto back in 2017,” she said. “The differences and the similarities between crypto trading, which was on the rise, versus equity trading. We saw a lot of similarities in terms of trading mechanisms and volatility.” 

Ling’s last role on Wall Street was at Deutsche Bank, where she served as the American head of liquidity and investment products. The position granted her front row access to how financial institutions and corporate clients were approaching their investment strategy. She noticed a business opportunity. 

“The idea behind AscendEX was to leverage what we’ve learned and what we’ve gained from a Wall Street perspective and see whether we can make some impact on this new industry,” Ling said. 

Ling and her co-founder George Cao started BitMax in 2018. The company was rebranded to AscendEX in March 2021. 

“When I look at what intrigued me back in 2018, or at the end of 2017, when George and I were looking at this industry, there are a couple of things,” Ling said. “The way I look at it, blockchain has the potential to have revolutionary and evolutionary impacts on our life.”

Ling said her banking background led her to look at blockchain from a payments perspective. There were ways the technology could be used to streamline the process and maximize profits.  

“We do look at blockchain technology, even on the banking side,” she said. “The technology reminds me of the internet. I’m always intrigued by the technology, and I thought that there was huge potential back then.” 

Crypto trading at the time, Ling said, needed a revamp, too. 

“I noticed a lot of deficiencies, the market structures and integrations, all sorts of things,” she said. “I think it’s a very interesting, emerging asset class and it could have a pretty good future, if it goes the right way.” 

The crypto environment has been a welcome change for Ling as she continues to build AscendEX. 

“I was pretty happy after 20 years as a corporate environment, working with different investment banks and going from a VP all the way up to running the entire liquidity business,” she said. “I’ve assisted with a lot of entrepreneurial pursuits with different planning, but I’ve never done something myself. It’s been interesting, jumping out of the corporate suit and into a very chaotic entrepreneurial setting.” 

The startup culture is just what Ling and Cao were looking for. 

“People who know me well know that I really wanted something different,” Ling said. “Having gone through so many organizations, especially large firms, I see the structure, the institutional aspects, and the limiting factors. Coming up with your own business gives you a clean slate, the sky’s the limit.” 

Today AscendEX is a global cryptocurrency exchange offering spot, futures and margin trading. The platform also provides wallet and staking services to clients. 

Through growing the business, Ling’s understanding of the asset class has expanded.

“I used to think bitcoin was only for volatility, now I’m a lot more neutral about it,” she said. “I do think it’s a longer term play. And it is also an investment that you can play into your portfolio.”

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  • Blockworks
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    Casey Wagner is a New York-based business journalist covering digital assets and macro economics. Prior to joining Blockworks, she reported on markets at Bloomberg News. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Media Studies.