Over the past few years, many employees—including finance professionals and CFOs—chose to leave their jobs seeking more meaningful or mission-driven work.
“It’s been a trend that we’ve seen with executives, as we’ve approached them on other opportunities,” Alyse Bodine, managing partner and global head of the Financial Officers Practice at Heidrick & Struggles, recently told me.
After a 10-year-career in finance and technology at IBM, Carmelle Cadet made a pivot to working toward financial inclusion. Cadet is the founder and CEO of Emtech, a New York-based fintech startup with the goal to rebuild central banking infrastructure for the Web3 era.
Cadet first joined IBM through an internship program and was hired as a financial analyst. But her path was headed toward leadership. “I became the deputy CFO of IBM’s Blockchain division when it launched,” she told me. “When I joined the division, I was on maternity leave, and cramming in Bitcoin lessons on YouTube while feeding the baby,” Cadet quipped. But when she returned to work, “I hit the ground running.”
Cadet thinks blockchain has transformational promise, with its ability to represent an asset virtually, with a clear understanding and transparency of who the owner is, and who holds it at any particular time. For example, “CFOs understand how difficult reconciliation is in finance,” she says. “That’s partly because every number is moving on different systems. Blockchain really changes that.”
In her role as deputy CFO she was responsible for facilitating the global product commercialization and financial management strategy. “We came up with a product that was targeting the digitization of money, and realized that there were still problems in the system,” she says. “The regulators and central banks did not really understand what the technology was.”
But for Cadet, this quest is more than just academic.
At age 16, she immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti and spent her first years as an unbanked person. If central banks used the technology to digitize paper currency, “we could make financial markets inclusive and resilient by design,” and create liquidity that benefits small businesses and individuals, she says.
Leaving her corporate job was a very big decision. “I spent a lot of years doing research before I jumped in,” she says. Cadet started Emtech in 2019. Her son was two-years-old at the time, and her husband was very supportive, she says. But it took her mother some time to come around. “I’m the only child and my mother told me, ‘No way you’re doing this to me when I can tell all my friends that you work at IBM. What is this blockchain thing?’”
Covid started spreading just a few months after she took the entrepreneurial leap. “It was definitely scary because we didn’t have any clients or products at the time,” Cadet explains. “But our first win was going to an accelerator in Silicon Valley.” Though the accelerator gives you the tools to grow your company, you still have to go and pitch your idea to VCs, she says.
Emtech is working with Bank of Ghana, Central Bank of Bahamas, and actively engaging several central banks including Nigeria, the U.S., and Liberia. “We’ve won two central banks as far as having a pilot, and onboarding them, built the technology, and launched it.” The banks wanted to digitize their regulation and compliance practices first, before introducing their own digital currency, Cadet says.
“We have raised $4 million now,” she says. “We are still a seed company. So, pre-Series A. About 70% of our cap table are Black investors and investors from Africa.”
The U.S. doesn’t have central bank digital currency (CBDC). However, in September, the U.S. Department of Treasury recommended advancing work towards CBDC as part of the White House’s framework on the responsible development of digital assets. But experts say businesses are buying in on blockchain. “Our projection is that by 2024, at least 20% of large enterprises will use digital currencies for either payments, stored value, or investments,” Avivah Litan, an analyst and vice president at research at Gartner said in June.
The path of a founder is fulfilling, but it isn’t easy, Cadet says. “A Black woman being a tech CEO that is VC backed is still rare,” she says. A new report by TechCrunch found that in Q3, Black founders raised $187 million, a steep drop from the nearly $1.1 billion they received in Q3 2021, and a decline from the $594 million the cohort raised in Q2.
Regarding blockchain, finance chiefs need to get on board as it’s the future, says Cadet. She’s the CEO of her startup, who can also easily put back on the CFO hat as well.
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This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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