Naeem Ishaq

Veteran finance executive Naeem Ishaq has an affinity for companies that help their clients grow. His role as chief financial officer, treasurer and executive vice president at Circle gives him his biggest opportunity yet to have an impact.

Circle is a provider of investment and peer-to-peer payment services. Among its major investors is Goldman Sachs. Earlier this year the company received $110 million in venture capital to develop an Ethereum-based coin backed by the dollar.

The crypto industry “has enormous disruptive potential that will not only generate a lot of value but change many people’s lives on meaningful ways with new, more inclusive and democratic models for consumer finance, credit, lending and financial record keeping,” Ishaq told ThirtyK in a recent conversation.

Circle’s four product categories include Circle Trade for institutional investors and Circle Invest for retail investors. Its acquisition of the Poloniex cryptocurrency exchange for $400 million earlier this year heralded its intent to become the first regulated cryptocurrency exchange in the U.S.

“We want to lower barriers to entry, including trading commission fees typically associated with crypto investment products,” says Ishaq.

Ishaq came to Circle from Boxed, where he served as CFO. The online retailer specialized in offering bulk deals to companies and individuals. He also once served as head of finance and risk at payment service provider Square.

ThirtyK: Why is Circle so committed to making the crypto investment process easier?

Ishaq: The rise of crypto assets represents one of the most exciting opportunities for wealth creation in the past several decades. The underlying blockchain pattern is enormously disruptive and beneficial for bringing radical efficiencies to the financial sector. But, to date, the process of gaining exposure to this asset class has been complex and intimidating for the uninitiated.

We believe that there is a large underserved segment of retail investors who would get in if some of the complexity and friction was removed, which is really core to our mission, democratizing access to platforms and services that enable the creation and transfer of value in a way that’s instant, global and free.

Crypto Investing for All

ThirtyK: You don’t charge a fixed trading fee. Why was that an important decision for Circle?

Ishaq: We’re serious about the democratization of crypto investing opportunities and encouraging mainstream adoption. To that end, we want to lower barriers to entry, including trading commission fees typically associated with crypto investment products. So we removed trading commissions from the equation. This is one of many differentiators that sets Circle Invest apart from the competition.

ThirtyK: What are some other things that make you different?

Ishaq: Others include no minimums, instant deposits, more assets available to investors, a “buy the market” feature for one-tap acquisition of top assets weighted by market cap. Just this week we launched “recurring buys,” giving investors the ability to set automated, time-triggered investment levels. And we’re just getting started. All of these features are intended to remove aspects of the investor flow that may have prevented retail consumers for gaining exposure in this exciting new asset category.

ThirtyK: What are you looking for when bringing on new coins?

Ishaq: We recently published the Circle Asset Framework, which lays out the criteria we used to evaluate new listings. Basically, we look at five dimensions for each asset: fundamentals, technology, people, business model and market dynamics. This week we introduced a new listing on Poloniex, EOS (EOS). You can expect to see more listings across Circle products in second half of 2018.

Combating Fraud

ThirtyK: What about risk? What are you focused on there?

Ishaq: Connecting new crypto products to traditional financial platforms certainly introduces some unique challenges from a risk perspective. At a very basic level, crypto transactions have the benefits of enabling the global, pseudo-anonymous, irreversible transfer of value. Of course, fraudsters know this all too well, so we spend a lot of time building risk infrastructure that helps combat fraudsters looking to take advantage of this dynamic.

ThirtyK: As CFO, what are you most focused on right now?

Ishaq: Right now, it’s all about growth and scaling operations. We have a portfolio of four products that spans retail and institutional customers and … multiple geographies. These customer segments have unique requirements. In high-growth sectors, scaling is always challenging. For us, this involves working with banking partners around the world, managing liquidity in multiple currencies and regulatory jurisdictions, while onboarding customers and providing support, always aiming to achieve the highest levels of service and satisfaction.

Nick Bastone
Nick Bastone worked in startups at Square and Indigo Fair. He now covers tech for and writes for publications across the Bay Area.