Nomura Unit Preparing To Trade Crypto, Boost Staff by 45%

“It’s taken a while, a lot of work, and we’ve got to a point now where the firm is a strong believer,” CEO Jez Mohideen told Blockworks

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The crypto unit of Nomura — one of Japan’s largest banks — aims to grow its team to 55 over the next three months by capitalizing on talent in the world’s top financial cities. 

Laser Digital, established in September, is also seeking to trade crypto itself and launch a dedicated trading platform in the first quarter of 2023. Jez Mohideen, the firm’s CEO, told Blockworks that the operation will include high-frequency trading, market making and proprietary trading.

Nomura is Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, managing assets worth $442 billion as of this month. The bank first publicly announced its intentions to offer institutional clients the opportunity to trade crypto products in May.

The crypto unit functions somewhat independently of Nomura. It’s focused on deploying its own capital to establish cryptoasset management and venture capital (VC) investment engines.

Laser Digital is looking to boost its headcount across its Swiss headquarters alongside its other initial centers in Dubai and London. In stage two, it will explore setting up in Nomura’s home turf, Japan, and eventually in the US. 

Mohideen perceives its VC efforts as the firm’s most mature vertical. Nomura’s crypto journey began over four years ago by incubating and investing in digital asset custodian Komainu.

“The focus will be on investment pre-seed through to Series A in innovative Web3, DeFi, blockchain infrastructure, particularly which accelerates the institutionalization of digital assets,” Mohideen said.

As for Laser Digital’s trading platform, the firm plans to cater to institutional clients, family offices, high-net-worth individuals and hedge funds actively involved in the crypto space.

“As regulation comes through depending on the jurisdiction, then we will open up to a client base,” Mohideen said. 

Nomura was cautious about crypto at first

Mohideen’s stint at Nomura began in February 2018 when he joined as its chief digital officer, looking after commercially-driven digitization opportunities for the wholesale banking business. 

He holds another role as director at Komainu, of which Nomura is the largest investor. As of Sept. 30, he completely shifted focus to Laser Digital. Currently, the 38-member team includes 17 people who transferred from Nomura’s digital office while the rest come from a mixture of TradFi and crypto institutions.

“The deep skills that we’ve acquired in the area of quant, electronic-trading platform builds and rigorous risk management skill sets. So that’s what we hope to bring,” Mohideen said.

“I think that this sort of skill set is invaluable for the institutionalization of digital assets. There’s no question everybody’s waiting in the crypto ecosystem for institutions to come in.”

Still, Laser Digital will have its work cut out. Its planned growth comes as the industry eyes recovery following Terra’s collapse in May and the ensuing bankruptcy of high-profile crypto lenders Celsius and Voyager.

At the same time, broad macro-economic factors such as higher inflation, the Ukraine-Russia war, and energy issues in Eastern Europe are challenging both traditional capital market performance and crypto ecosystem participants, leading to high correlation.

Marquee crypto companies such as Coinbase, Blockchain.com and OpenSea slashed staff earlier this year in preparation for a prolonged downturn. Digital collectibles startup Dapper Labs and financial services firm Galaxy downsized staff as recently as last week.

With a long-term approach in mind, Laser Digital is currently awaiting regulatory approval in Dubai, alongside a long list of other crypto firms. In any case, Mohideen expressed that the firm isn’t in a hurry to become hugely profitable in the next year or two.

Nomura’s management was cautious about launching a segregated crypto business, Mohideen added, but is now clearly on board.

“For us, it’s taken a while, a lot of work, and we’ve got to a point now where the firm is a strong believer. It’s a project that needs to be done,” Mohideen said.


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