At Crafty Counsel, we regularly focus on getting to know more about one of the members of our in-house legal community. This week, we speak to Anna Grafton-Green, Global Head of Regulatory, Legal at Blockchain.com.
Anna is a member of High Growth, our group for legal counsel or those working in legal teams in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are scaling up. The group meets regularly for virtual and in-person events.
Anna’s legal career began as part of Freshfield’s transactional Finance team, focusing on banking and restructuring work. When Anna made the move in-house she applied her transactional skills to the legal work involved in supporting the “operational side of the business” helping the bank implement complex regulatory changes. This gave her the opportunity to work on some key regulatory changes shaping financial services – MIFID, ring-fencing and Brexit. It also taught her a lot about UK and EU financial services regulation, including Brexit.
From a Brexit lawyer to a crypto lawyer
Working on Brexit, Anna helped articulate and manage operational challenges faced by financial services firms operating from the UK into Europe. She noticed how difficult it was for them to move from operating in “a harmonised and clear, regulatory landscape across Europe to one that was fragmented and product specific.” In early 2021, with attention focusing away from Brexit and the “Brexit lawyers” less in demand, Anna started looking for the next, big regulatory challenge.
Starting to delve into digital asset regulation, Anna quickly noticed that the crypto industry was positioned in a “really cutting edge area of quasi-financial services regulation.” It called for a similar skill-set to her Brexit work – untangling businesses along product lines, designing operational systems facing off to multiple regulators, and countless license applications. In the meantime, crypto regulation, especially in Europe, was evolving and there was talk of moving to a harmonised framework by way of the new MiCA regulations. To Anna, this was a quasi-Brexit in reverse.
It took another lockdown to make the change but at the start of 2022 Anna moved from tradfi to crypto, leaving behind the safety net of a big UK bank to move to an international crypto exchange. The work Anna does today, sees her deploying existing skills to face new challenges. With crypto hit hard in the last 6 months with multiple big players facing insolvency and a scandal rocking one of the biggest exchanges in the world, FTX, Anna anticipates that the regulatory journey for the industry is far from over. There will be difficult questions asked about how regulators should manage financial stability, evolve market abuse regulation, address the thorny issue of consumer protection requirements, and what disclosure requirements should be imposed on the notoriously opaque and private crypto world. The industry is already grappling with the maturity required to manage existing operational resilience and risk management obligations imposed by a number of global regulators.
“I’m proud to work at a company with robust legal and compliance teams that prioritizes sound governance, regular third-party audits, and an experienced board of directors. Blockchain.com has all of the checks and balances that a global financial firm should have.”
Although both her new industry and new employer are very different to her last, she still spends a lot of her time answering the same complicated question: “how do you operate a complex, multi-product, multi-jurisdictional business in a way that flows seamlessly across borders?”
Favourite part about your role?
Her colleagues and the industry she has found herself in are the highlight of the job for Anna. The tight-knit crypto community is one that includes really engaging, fascinating, and incredibly talented people, she says, and it is also an exceptionally collaborative one.
What is particularly exciting about Anna’s role is not just being part of the crypto regulatory landscape, but having a ring-side seat to real changes in English law. “It fascinates me that the people publishing first edition books on how the law of property applies to crypto assets are the academics that lectured me on property law 20 years ago. Being at the cutting edge of not just regulation, but, actually, the evolution of English law is really, really interesting,” she says.
Anna says that her industry is constantly playing offense, where crypto participants are constantly trying to find new markets, new customer bases, and “push the envelope with what you can create” As such, it’s an ever-changing, unpredictable, and global role. It’s is a tough industry, the assets are volatile and industry participants are young and hungry to grow, where “the highs are higher but the lows are lower.” Anna observes, “and occasionally you see some blinding explosions where industry participants have tried to fly too close to the sun.”
What is something you’re really proud of?
Beyond her work, Anna says her “biggest life passion” are her three young sons, aged three, six, and seven. She says she is proud of making the jump from the safety of a “predictable law career” into the FinTech and crypto space. “I am proud that I’ve made that jump and have done it with really young children at home. The whole family has rallied around. They have been really supportive and engaged. My husband, in particular, has juggled being an amazing role model to the boys as an extremely engaged and present dad with being a huge emotional support for me in this rollercoaster industry” she says.
Work-life balance can be challenging, but Anna is very committed to spending quality time with her boys and the “grown-up job” of being a parent. “My boys and my family are absolutely my life’s passion and my most important job” she says.
What’s one cool thing that you’ve seen in legal recently?
“A lot of my peers are taking steps to do things that are different. I love the fact that there isn’t one career path for a lawyer anymore. I particularly love the fact that there is a real diversity of brilliant roles outside private practice.”
One of Anna’s favourite career transitions is Crafty Counsel’s founder Ben, whom she remembers from his days at Clifford Chance. “He probably has the coolest job of us all,” she adds.