Swaps Pioneer Masters to Lead Virtual-Currency Startup

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Blythe Masters
Blythe Masters, who helped develop credit-defaut swaps two decades ago, was named Tuesday as chief executive officer of Digital Asset Holdings LLC. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

Former senior JPMorgan Chase & Co. executive Blythe Masters is heading a cryptocurrency startup that aims to overhaul the way traded assets are settled and recorded.

Masters, who helped develop credit-default swaps two decades ago, was named Tuesday as the chief executive officer of Digital Asset Holdings LLC. The New York-based company plans to use bitcoins and blockchain technology for settlement and record-keeping of the likes of stocks, mortgages or loans.

Bitcoins are part of an anonymous, decentralized network protected by cryptographic codes that works outside the banking system. Computers communicate with one another to verify transactions on bitcoin’s public ledger, called the blockchain. Cryptocurrencies have been criticized for their potential in illicit deals and are known for their embrace by libertarians.

Digital Asset’s vision is to keep the speed and digital efficiencies of bitcoin and blockchain while adding a layer of disclosure that would reassure Wall Street banks and regulators. The venue will provide a closed system that only vetted members can use.

“Trading takes place at warp speed -- settlement doesn’t,” Masters said in an interview. Masters, who rose from a JPMorgan intern to global head of its commodities arm over 27 years, stepped down from the New York-based bank last year after completing the sale of units she oversaw.

Helping Banks

Digital Asset’s aim isn’t to cut out such banks from trading and settlement processes, but to improve their back-office operations, in which settlement cycles can take more than 20 days for some assets, she said.

The company has reached out to regulators, Masters said. Digital Asset has about 10 employees spread across Chicago, New York and Tel Aviv. The company was founded last year by Don Wilson, founder and chief executive of DRW Trading Group, and Sunil Hirani, CEO of TrueEX LLC.

“Blythe’s unique vision, leadership qualities and dynamism were the key ingredients that we looked for in a CEO to help re-invent the aging, costly and hack-prone legacy processes and infrastructure of settlement services,” Hirani said in a statement from Digital Asset.

Masters rose to prominence in the 1990s after helping develop credit swaps, the derivatives that enable investors to hedge risks on bonds. She ran several credit desks and became the investment bank’s chief financial officer before being named to run the commodities business in late 2006.

(An earlier version of this story was corrected to fix the spelling of TrueEx.)

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