Petry, a former accounting major who has made her career in financial services, is CFO of the bitcoin exchange itBit.
After bitcoin began trading in 2009, pundits predicted that the virtual currency would shake up financial systems. They may still be right, but not the way they thought. While bitcoin lost its magic, excitement has been high—not over the currency, but over blockchain, the technology powering it. Many believe that blockchain could transform Wall Street and banking. “It is a very efficient technology that takes all the noise out of trade processing,” said Kim Petry ’91, CFO of itBit, a bitcoin exchange which will soon launch an array of blockchain-based services for the financial industry. “There is no wait time, no settlement time; it happens simultaneously when you do the trade—that’s really where the value is.”
JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Google Ventures are a few of the firms that invested in the technology, while numerous start-ups are launching blockchain-powered products.
Created by a Japanese technologist as open source software, bitcoin is traded on bitcoin exchanges globally, including itBit. After topping $1,200 at the end of 2013, bitcoin’s value plummeted to under $200 in late 2014. It has since recovered to the $400 range. Bitcoin transactions are immediate, anonymous and occur directly between parties. They get recorded in a distributed ledger and bundled into blocks, which are repeatedly verified by connected computers. Each block has a unique number which “chains” it within a string of blocks, hence “blockchain.” Petry said the technology “can be used for insurance contracts, for mortgages—this can expand to cover a whole host of products and services.”
Petry joined itBit in 2015, as itBit—founded in 2013 as a bitcoin exchange—began shifting its focus from trading bitcoin to the technology. The first U.S. bitcoin exchange to do so, itBit became chartered by New York State as a trust company. Former Senator Bill Bradley and former FDIC Chair Sheila Bair serve on its board. Using Bankchain, its brand of blockchain, itBit will soon offer gold trading, which Petry said is fast, efficient and, unlike the “antiquated” trading still practiced, does not require physically moving gold. Trading is “tokenized”—clients trade a representation of the value of the gold, which is stored in a warehouse. Gold is “our use case” to be followed by other services, she said.
At least initially, itBit’s products will target the world of finance, which Petry said urgently needs overhaul. Petry should know. “I’ve been in financial services for over 20 years and I’ve seen how it is being done in terms of the processing, the settlement, the clearance…and it is very archaic.”
A Valley Stream, New York, native, Petry always aced math, and since high school knew she wanted to study accounting. Adelphi offered her scholarships and was close by. Her Adelphi experience “was fantastic,” she said. “It wasn’t just the classroom. It was also a lot of clubs and activities that really got you exposure to the industry.” Petry made contacts at the major accounting firms and upon graduating in 1991 got an offer from every one. She joined PricewaterhouseCoopers as an auditor in financial services, then moved to US Trust, where she served as a managing director of finance. She earned an M.B.A. before joining TIAA-CREF as head of finance. Next, at American Express, Petry was controller of global credit, then CFO of corporate cards. When recruited to join the Manhattan start-up itBit, Petry was CFO of global operations and technology at Broadridge, which provides trading settlements and other services to the financial industry.
“Seeing it from the other side in terms of how archaic it really is, I just thought it was such a compelling opportunity to make a huge, positive difference.”
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