This is Kevin’s story about leaving the traditional banking world to work full-time in bitcoin. Kevin joined Unchained Capital in 2021 and currently serves as VP, Lending.

I worked exclusively in retail banking for my entire career up until March of 2021. At the beginning, it was preferable to the jobs my friends had and paid pretty well. I didn’t initially plan to stay that long, and I always thought I’d leave after finishing school to do something more significant. That’s not how this story goes, though: My performance made me stand out in my manager’s eyes, and I was offered the opportunity to take a promotion to be a banker shortly after graduation.

I was terrified of the idea. I had seen how upper management interacted with bankers and heard the stories of micromanagement and passive-aggressiveness that only resulted in steep anxiety for many. It reverberated throughout a given branch any time a higher-up dropped in for a visit. The collective exhale within the branch after their departure for the day was audible. Still, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and the pay was certainly better than my part-time teller wages, so I gave it a whirl. I developed relationship-building skills and found out I enjoyed helping people learn to manage their money.

A system of control

As time went on, it became apparent to me that the banking system on the whole was not set up to help clients make more of their money, but rather acquire clients and get them into some kind of investment product for the long-term. The primary goal was always “the bottom line.” To that point, if you didn’t invest or keep large sums of wealth on deposit, you were not the priority, and thus, didn’t receive the same treatment by the bank. Said another way, the people with the least paid the most for banking services.

The amount of control a bank has over a client’s money was stunning. Literal livelihoods are at the institution’s whim. They decide whether you can deposit, withdraw, cash a check, open an account, close an account, send a transfer—you get the idea. Clients would come in, baffled that their account was shut down, and I could do nothing to help them. I wasn’t even given a reason why their account was closed. Some were clients I had known for a long time and many were business owners, whose entire operations were jeopardized due to the giant wrench tossed into the machinery of their carefully- and painstakingly-constructed enterprise. I couldn’t believe that everyday people could be barred from access to financial services. And this is just one example of a reluctance to care for clients.

Additionally, the incentives created by inflation became increasingly apparent over time. The bank made no official mention of a remedy and just settled on a “let’s get them into the market to beat inflation” messaging. It was kind of a sales pitch, and it didn’t matter if they were investing in stocks or buying a house. It took too long for me to realize that this was predatory and unapologetically complicit in aiding the Cantillon Effect. The people who couldn’t invest watched as their bills rose and balances shrunk, eventually giving up on saving altogether and closing their account due to minimum balance requirements and the fees charged if those requirements were not met.

I found it hard to believe that banks even attempted to prevent money laundering and aiding criminals. Every solution seemed like someone slapped a giant piece of FlexSeal on the problem. Money laundering with cash? Just make IDs mandatory to deposit cash, and you can only deposit to an account that bears your name. Payments? Let’s get IDs for those cash transactions, too. Can’t have them dodging left when we’re swinging right. No ID? No luck, unless an employee can vouch for you. The FinCen Files confirmed just that—banks didn’t care and neither did regulators. As far as I could tell, fines for banks that held accounts for criminals were simply built into their collective budgets. So what were all these rules for? Couldn’t there be a better way?

Climbing the ladder

My colleagues, on the whole, didn’t seem to enjoy what they were doing. Many were just there for the paycheck and the benefits and would leave the instant something just marginally better came along. It didn’t help that the incentive plans kept getting slashed every 6 months or so, a sort of perverse version of inflation that was inflicted on the employee. Some great leaders were forced out since the advent of smartphones caused branches across the country to reduce staff by as much as 50%, which also made work/life balance nearly impossible and shrunk opportunities for advancement.

I was promoted in 2013 to assistant manager, went through the training program, interviewed, was hired to a branch in the new role, and then told that role was no longer available as the company had plans to eliminate it nationwide. My old job was already filled, and I was stuck in no man’s land feeling like just another number. Things ended up working out short-term, but it was a shot across the bow that made me think I should probably pick a different career. In the end, I decided I just needed to double down on my path and climb the ladder higher.

A couple years later I found myself facing a potential severance package due to more branch closures, and I thought that this was my moment—my opportunity to go. I informed my manager proactively that if there was a closure, I would take any severance in place of another job with the bank. I was offered a promotion instead, and I couldn’t resist climbing the ladder higher. It didn’t take long for me to realize I’d made a huge mistake.

I was desperate to find something else. Luckily, a completely different opportunity arose and I got to work with likely the best leader and friend I’ve ever met in a workplace, still working for the same bank, but in a much busier and noteworthy location. It wasn’t even a year before I faced another layoff. This time, I had prepared by saving money and enrolling in a programming boot camp. The timing of severance and the end of the boot camp would have worked out to allow me to search for a job for a few months before running out of money. I told the bank I wasn’t going to any other position and that I was ending my banking career.

But, amazingly, I wasn’t quite done yet. My manager saved my job single-handedly in a turn of events that probably never should have occurred. I continued working and finished the boot camp. I still wasn’t sure how I would transition to a totally new career, especially one that’s known for gauntlets of interviews—how was I to keep my current employer from finding out?

Enter bitcoin

I had heard of bitcoin before, but only in the context of the Silk Road or in anecdotal stories about how it crashed 50% plus from a given peak. I didn’t understand what cryptocurrency was or its implications for the financial industry at the time. It all sounded like QuiBids or a Ponzi to me. In the final job I almost lost, I had a coworker who would not stop talking about crypto.

After six months or so of incessant conversations coupled with the occasional spot on our Bloomberg TV in the private lobby, I caved and bought bitcoin in December 2017. Following the legacy model of ‘diversification,’ I bought some altcoins as well. I still didn’t know what made money strong or what network effects were. The only thing I knew about the financial system was that inflation is a certainty. The only thing I knew about bitcoin was 21 million. The market made a fool of me over the next year as bitcoin crashed in dollar terms, with the final gut punch at the end of 2018. Rekt.

I struggled to understand what I’d done with my money and thought it was wasted, but I couldn’t bear to admit defeat. I HODLed before I ever even heard the term, partly out of sheer stubbornness and partly because of a pact I made with my brother not to sell for at least one year. He didn’t end up keeping that pact. I still give him grief for it as much as I give myself grief for losing those sats to altcoiners earlier in the year. It was from this pit of misery that I vowed to learn what exactly was going on, because I could sense something was there.

I found a wealth of content and honed in on bitcoin, the network that had already been battle-tested and always emerged stronger, fiercer, and more decentralized. It always grew and continues growing to this day at a pace now faster than internet adoption in the late 90s. It is a fair system that anyone can opt into, and participants are opting into the hardest money known to humankind. The ledger of every bitcoin transaction is public, and therefore not very attractive for criminals who don’t want to be caught. There are no insiders, no pre-sale, and no CEO or foundation behind it. It is a system held together by durable incentives. It is the strongest foundation on which to build.

With bitcoin, you can truly control your wealth without having to trust someone else to guard it. No minimum balance fees, no censorship of your transaction no matter the distance it needs to go. No ‘business days.’ No holds on your account because the check you deposited came from out of state or the bank doesn’t ‘know’ you well enough. And you definitely don’t have to keep all your money in one place or rely on ‘banking hours’ to transact with your own wealth. Payments to others are quite simple after you send a few. Yes, you can buy coffee with your bitcoin, but who wants to do that anyway?

Enter Unchained

When I met Dhruv Bansal, I asked him the same question I asked everyone after I became a banker: “What do you do for a living?” I decided I wasn’t talking about anything but bitcoin when we met, which didn’t seem to be a problem for him. It wasn’t long before I was thinking constantly about working at a bitcoin company. Dhruv called me a while later because an opportunity had come up that he thought I might be interested in. I may have dropped my phone because by this time; I had learned enough to see where the financial system was heading. The overnight repo market had blown out only months before, which was a huge signal that something had gone awry in the debt-laden house of cards that is the current financial system. Two things became apparent to me: that the governments of the world are locked in a never-ending cycle of printing money, and that bitcoin would not be able to be debased.

I didn’t want to be a cog in this machine any longer. By this time I had nothing in common with the perspectives of leadership with regard to what a fair and inclusive financial system looked like, and I had only gone further down the bitcoin rabbit hole, so I took a phone call and an interview with extreme excitement, thinking, “okay, this is it. This is my time.” It wasn’t. For multiple reasons, it just wasn’t the right fit at the time and I was a bit disappointed in the outcome. Shortly thereafter, I was offered yet another promotion at the bank that I (of course) took against my inner voice’s wishes. Again, I was left with the feeling that I’d made a huge mistake. Again, I doubled down on the path I’d been on for more than 5 years that was making me unhappy. They’re still a new company–what if something bad happens? I have a family to feed and bills to pay. I couldn’t afford an interruption.

I thought a lot about Unchained and the opportunity I passed up over the coming months. I felt destined to be stuck doing something unfulfilling, and I alone was at fault for not betting on myself. One day, driving home from the bank listening to a podcast about jobs that would be coming to bitcoin companies over time due to the growth of the industry, I decided I’d had enough; that I was going to work at Unchained at the next available opportunity. The final domino in my head had fallen and the switch was flipped. I told my superbly supportive wife, who was all in on my happiness and career fulfillment. I had already orange-pilled my family, so I didn’t have much in the way of objections save for making sure I’d vetted where I was going.

Unfortunately, the first job I applied for didn’t immediately pan out into anything, but my application and email got the conversation going with Joe Kelly and the rest of the team that I now work alongside every day. Several months later, the timing of my exit from banking and entrance to bitcoin was finally in my hands. The patience, the learning, the yearning—it all finally paid off. It didn’t help my employer’s case that a high-ranking employee threatened to fire anyone who traded bitcoin. I put in my two weeks notice the morning after I received my offer.

Risk and reward

I slayed all my heroes upon joining Unchained Capital, because I’ve found some of the most caring, hardworking humans who accepted me into their world and trusted me immediately—after a few interviews, of course. They’re not infallible paragons by any stretch of the imagination; they’re humans like you and me who work hard every single day to bring about a bright orange future for all. I am most fortunate to have met them and cherish working alongside them to build a company that will endure in its mission to help people secure their wealth into the future for generations.

I’m writing this a little late, as I have been managing loan operations at Unchained Capital for over a year. I’ve attended several meetups both here in Austin and abroad. I’ve experienced bitcoin’s volatility in a completely new context. Every day brings challenges and situations with more nuance and complexity than I’ve dealt with before. It’s invigorating. I almost didn’t care to write this because I considered myself that far gone from my old life almost immediately. They couldn’t pay me double to go back. And you can take that to the bank (if it’s still there, I haven’t checked recently).

Every choice in life carries uncertainty, even ones that seem certain. Based on what I learned about bitcoin and Unchained Capital, the risk profile is right for me. Nobody gets what they truly desire in life without taking some chance on the unknown. They have to educate themselves wholly on all factors, which can take some time. I was lucky to have the support of my wife and family in all of this journey. People also don’t run into startup co-founders every day, but I only got this far by keeping an open mind, learning, working hard, and practicing patience.

I hope that those who read this and feel similarly about their career can find the wherewithal inside them to assess the tradeoffs and choose to do what will make them happy, even if it scares them a little bit. We only get one shot at this life, after all. Don’t just chase your dreams; seize them. It’s worth it.

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