Rena Shah: Bitcoin Is Her New Oil

Oil was once the only industry Shah ever knew. She grew up in Houston, Texas, and her parents worked in the oil industry. She earned a degree in petroleum engineering and took a job at Chevron after graduating. She stayed in oil until energy took a hit in 2015 and then began looking for an out.

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key takeaways

  • Almost 10 years ago, Binance.US’ Rena Shah was a petroleum engineer working on offshore oil rigs
  • Today she’s the head of operations and business development

Almost 10 years ago, Rena Shah was a petroleum engineer working on offshore oil rigs. That’s when she was first told the oil she was drilling for would be used to mine “fake internet money” called bitcoin.

That put her on a learning journey that brought her to Binance.US a year ago, where she’s the head of operations and business development. 

“Knowing that a lot of Earth’s resources were being used for a fake money situation that could be a scam as opposed to giving people basic access to power and having their lights on — it got me thinking of what is drawing this large scale use of energy being diverted from normal human consumption,” Shah told Blockworks.

The road to crypto

After oil, she took a job in 2015 with the owner of the National Football League’s Houston Texans, managing all of the energy assets for his private equity firm.

Then in 2016 she made her first full-time foray into crypto, consulting on a cryptocurrency mobile investing app called Ember Fund and a blockchain energy rewards platform called Omega Grid.

Something was still missing from her experience though, and then the opportunity opened up at Binance.US.

“I’d always wanted to see the exchange side,” said Shah, who briefly worked at a stablecoin startup prior to joining Binance.US. “Coming from a hedge fund and a stablecoin  company, there was a large ask that was missing for me of not knowing what a marketplace business looks like.”

Binance.US serves both individuals and institutions, allowing them to trade more than 50 digital assets including bitcoin. It launched in 2019 as its own entity, fully operated and regulated in the US, it just licenses the technology from Binance Global for the matching engine.

“When you think of crypto, you don’t necessarily think of the project tokens or the dApps or interface on it,” she said. “The exchange is more of the hub where it inflows in and out for all communities. Plus they’re more on the forefront of creating the products that you actually would use. They build the products for your wallets, they build the products for decentralized finance, everything is built into one, and I wanted to understand the one before I would look into the others.”

Moving beyond oil

Oil was once the only industry Shah ever knew. She grew up in Houston, Texas, and her parents worked in the oil industry. She earned a degree in petroleum engineering and took a job at Chevron after graduating. She stayed in oil until energy took a hit in 2015 and then began looking for an out.

Today she sits at the heart of an industry constantly drawing criticism for destroying the planet through its mining operations, which require a lot of energy. The argument isn’t new, but new interest has been flooding the cryptocurrency world for the past few months — with the rise of institutions interested in gaining bitcoin exposure and the non-fungible token (NFT) phenomenon among retail investors and creators.

While it’s true that anything that relies on fossil fuels is probably bad for the environment, crypto mining has changed a lot since its birth due to technological advances, Shah said.

“Graphic cards have increased in their efficiency, they utilize less energy,” she said. “You also have more corporate initiatives that say they’ll only source mining ops if it’s powered by clean or renewable energy.”

Whether or not crypto mining is destroying the planet is up to the miners’ business practices, she added. “How are they running their operations? Are they using solar wind or green energy, or are they straight up using whatever their electricity provider gives them?”

Her environmental concern is with the “antiquated” American power grid, which to her knowledge, she said, hasn’t been updated to accommodate other new sources of power consumption that can overpower the grid. 

“I’m more worried about more mining operations overloading the grid itself, because you have more and more people wanting to mine a digital asset — whether it’s like a full commercial scale with servers or using your spare 10 laptops to try to mine in your house and put more strain on the grid,” she said. “I don’t know if our grid infrastructure has been updated for every aspect of America…. That’s really where I’m nervous for America.”

An engineering brain

Shah’s background in oil served her well for her future career in crypto. She cited her “engineering brain” as one of the most important skills that’s carried her work in her post-oil life and will continue to for years to come.

“When you run any sort of operations, whether it be on a drilling rig, or on a digital frontier, having that mindset of being methodical is always been the most important for me,” said Shah, who also has a sales role at Binance.US.

“Building those relationships and having those people skills, wanting to get to know [clients] and wanting to ask questions, as opposed to viewing things as a transaction, has been key.”

Shah said now more than ever, the company has “more corporate accounts coming forward than we can easily handle” and her onboarding team is trying to get “hundreds” through the door. 

For example, in the first quarter of 2021, Binance.US grew its registered users by four times and reported $1.4 billion in daily trading volume.

What corporates want

What corporates are looking for from Binance.US, she said, is a more diverse set of digital assets.

“We have more altcoins than other exchanges, to my knowledge. Getting that access to assets that you previously would not have been able to access if you were on an overseas exchange is really what people are looking for.”

The company also has a low fee structure, the highest fee on its trading order books being 10 basis points, and gives a 25 percent discount off of trading fees for holders of BNB, the utility token that powers the Binance ecosystem — for both institutional and retail clients.

“You shouldn’t be penalized, whether you’re a big fund or someone who’s buying $10,” Shah said. “You should be treated the same no matter what.”

Shah said the company wants people to be able to invest as they choose and that lowering fees so they can do that, also allows them to “be on their own path towards financial freedom and entering the digital frontier.”

One of Shah’s personal missions at Binance.US is to deliver the white glove service enjoyed by institutional clients to its retail users.

“My goal from now until the end of the year is to make sure we have built up the customer support team to make sure every customer feels like they’re a millionaire. They deserve the best level of customer support that you can get in America.”

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