Digital Asset Holdings Founder Eric Saraniecki, CEO of Ripple Brad Garlinghouse, Jeremy Millar, Chief of Staff of Consensys, Jeff Dorman, CIO of Arca (image via Twitter).

Inside the invite-only Cumberland Global Summit

We get the goods from crypto’s elite at the year’s most elite conference

As the crypto business matures, a robust—some would say never-ending—series of industry conferences has arisen to provide reasons for players in the space to gather in person. Perhaps the most elite of these is the yearly Cumberland Global Summit.

Cumberland is the cryptocurrency-focused division of DRW, the Chicago-based trading giant.

This isn’t an event that hobbyists can buy a pass to attend. There’s no convention hall packed with vendors giving out Starbursts and pens with company logos. This is an invitation-only conference that’s managed to attract a guest list packed with CEOs and founders. As it says on the materials attendees receive, “no shorts or sandals.”

This year’s Summit took place last weekend in Montreal, at the Hotel Le Crystal and at DRW’s offices right across René Lévesque Boulevard.

The event launched with opening remarks by DRW Managing Director Arvind Ramanathan and a fireside chat with DRW CEO Don Wilson. The CEOs of Flexa, Ground X and Decurret—Tyler Spalding, Jason Han and Kazuhiro Tokita, respectively—addressed “Corporate Adoption of Cryptoassets.”

While guests enjoyed cocktails at Scena on the banks of the stunning St. Lawrence River, that question of adoption lingered over the proceedings, and indeed over the entire three days.

As the executives unanimously strove to sound confident in their companies’ futures, more global questions about the future of the space lingered in the air. Is cryptocurrency even a business? What problem is it solving?

That question was put directly to Joe Lubin the co-founder of Ethereum and CEO of ConsenSys. Lubin was a late addition to the Saturday morning panel, “The Token Economy or a Few to Rule Them All?”

One questioner asked him, “You started out saying that Ethereum’s use case would be smart contracts. Then you pivoted to dApps. And then it was DeFi,” the questioner continued, referring to the trendy acronyms for decentralized applications and decentralizing finance, respectively. “Can you tell us what real-world problem Ethereum is eventually going to solve?”

Lubin replied, “We’re not pivoting. We’re expanding the narrative.” Some laughed; others groaned. One attendee estimated that Lubin used the word ‘narrative’ more than ten times.

After the event, Lubin’s co-panelist Arianna Simpson of ASP told Modern Consensus, “The industry’s pendulum swings back and forth between focus on bitcoin (which can be praised for being secure, and criticized for not being innovative) and focus on Ethereum and other platforms (which can be praised for being innovative and criticized for lacking security). The panel had strong proponents from both camps, which made for a very lively discussion.”

Other panels included: “Permissioned Blockchains and Central Bank Digital Currencies” featuring Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse and Consensys executive Jeremy Millar; “Lending, Decentralized Finance and Settlement Risk” featuring BlockFi CEO Zac Prince and Terrence Dempsey from Fidelity; and a Sunday panel asking “Is Regulatory Certainty on the Horizon” with Monex Group CEO Oki Matsumoto and Perianne Boring, the founder of the Chamber of Digital Commerce.

Asked whether attendees seemed more sober, given the reality of where crypto prices are, Simpson told Modern Consensus, “Certainly the mood wasn’t the unfettered euphoria of late 2017, but that’s likely for the best. Rational minds prevail.”

Prince, the BlockFi CEO, told Modern Consensus, “I think the market overall is more sober!  The upside of this is that it forces the industry to really hone in on what is working and also creating new things to drive adoption.”

By Sunday afternoon, when Ninor Mansor pinch hit for Michael Arrington for “Project Financing and Emerging Crypto Themes for 2020,” the 85 attendees were ready to head home, all of them seemingly pleased with what they’d learned over the weekend.

“I thought the vibe and quality of the conference was great,” said Paul Veradittakit, a partner at Pantera. “Much diversity and strong opinions mixed in with the perfect number of people to have meaningful conversation and build relationships.”

Jason Leung has neither title nor corporate affiliation.

One last detail: Jason Leung, who departed DRW as global head of Cumberland in June, was in attendance as well. The official list of attendees was packed with official titles, including many CEOs. That made the fact that Leung was listed by name only—no title, no corporate affiliation—stand out more, leaving many to wonder what’s next for him.

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Candice Greaux is a strategic public affairs and communications specialist in Washington. Her writing has appeared in the New York Observer and elsewhere.