DeCenter spoke with Alysa Xu, who’s working as the chief strategy officer (CSO) for crypto exchange OKEx. In an exclusive interview, Xu revealed reasons that brought her to the cryptocurrency market, shared insights about the plans of one of the top firms in the trading business, and underscored the importance of the crypto space for nations with developing economies.

Alysa Xu

CSO at OKEx

Could you tell our readers about yourself and your past experiences?

Firstly, thank you so much to the amazing DeCenter team for having me! My name is Alysa, and I am the Chief Strategy Officer at OKEx. My previous experience is very much focused on the traditional financial markets space, serving as Chief of Research at several large brokerages in China. I first discovered crypto/blockchain in 2015, after falling into the so-called rabbit hole when touching on cryptography and blockchain in my research. It really sparked my interest, and I started to take on some major research projects for regulators and institutional firms across Asia, on topics such as blockchain applications for securities, insurance, and cross-border payments.

What brought you to OKEx, and what goals have you set for the company as the CSO?

When the opportunity arose last year, I really felt it was a perfect fit with OKEx being at the stage it was in. Personally, I was very ready to make the jump into crypto as a career and devote my time and energy to growing this space. My previous experiences in research and strategy were in bringing relatively developed companies to the international market, which was (and still is) a big objective for OKEx, so it was just a great fit.

I have always told my peers that setting goals for a company like OKEx is very difficult. Strategizing for a company that grows as fast as we do, in an industry that changes as fast as crypto/blockchain does, you really have to constantly adapt and rethink both long-term and short-term objectives. When I joined the company over a year ago, we were at around 700 employees. Now globally, we have over 1,000 employees, with new arms of our business being formed regularly.

To answer your question, our goals for this year are largely focused on international expansion. We have done well in Asia in building a complete trading ecosystem for our users from exchanging fiat to crypto, to a wide variety of trading products such as futures and derivatives. The next step is to expand to more new countries by localizing our product and creating new channels for users in these countries to buy and sell crypto.

What are some recent developments at OKEx that you are most excited about?

There have actually been so many big developments for OKEx since the beginning of 2020 that I was worried people might not have a chance to keep up! I’ll do my best to highlight some interesting ones for everyone.

First of all, we added BTCUSD options trading to the platform just this past month, which I am extremely excited for. We registered a volume of USD176 million in our first month, already putting us in the top two in terms of volume for BTC options trading platforms. The timing could not have been better with a strong wave of both retail and institutional investors coming in to begin 2020, and we’re hoping to add even more to the product portfolio in the coming months.

The launch of OKChain testnet is also a huge step for us this year. It has been a long time coming and a huge credit to our product team achieving this milestone. OKChain is our very own commercial public blockchain and our contribution to the community in the hopes that it will enable more people to build decentralized applications. Along with OKChain also came the launch of OKEx DEX, the first decentralized application built on OKChain. This DEX will support real-time settlement in a trustless environment, on top of our user-friendly interface and strong security.

What will OKEx aim for in 2020 in terms of development?

One of our top priorities this year is to develop the ecosystem of our exchange token, OKB. We have added a lot of cool use cases for traders on OKEx recently. For example, trading fee incentives. Unlike other exchange tokens, we will not require our users to hold and lock up hundreds of thousands of the exchange tokens in order to enjoy trading fee discounts. There is only one trading fee discount program for OKB holders on OKEx, in which users only need to hold anywhere from 500 to 2,000 OKBs to enjoy discounts. For our professional- and institutional-level traders, we have a tiered fee discount scheme that is based on trading volume and offers the highest fee discounts in the industry.

We also just announced that 700 million unissued OKBs [OKBs that have not entered into circulation yet—DeCenter] will be bought back and burnt, with all future quarterly OKB burns being bought back on the secondary market. As a company we will hold none, and even future OKBs that we distribute to our staff will be repurchased from the secondary market. This was not an easy decision for us to make, but we want to put our money where our mouth is and show our commitment to growing this ecosystem in the long run.

What about expansion into developing economies? What opportunities and challenges do you see in these crypto markets?

As you know, many developing countries face similar economic obstacles such as hyperinflation and large unbanked populations. With more than two billion people worldwide currently being excluded from basic financial services, I see crypto and blockchain as a valid solution. One way OKEx can help is through expanding our C2C (or peer-to-peer) crypto trading markets. By increasing access to cryptocurrency through different local currencies, people in these countries have more control over their money, whether we are talking about store of value, transferring money, or even investing and earning passive income.

What are the short-term and long-term plans for expansion into Russia? Is OKEx eyeing any partnerships in this market?

It’s no secret that Russia is a key market for OKEx this year. We have seen growing volumes here for a while now with little marketing and brand presence at this stage. In the short term, we are looking for strong local partners to grow together in the Russian market. We want to provide Russian users with a way to buy crypto with Russian Rubles in the near future and are already in talks with several partners to do so. In the long term, we will likely have an office based in Russia and do much more hiring both on the tech side and business side.

What about regulation, what is OKEx’s policy on working with regulators (worldwide and locally)?

We have always believed that the right way to expand into any new market is by actively initiating discussions with local regulators. As this is still a young industry, there will always be a learning curve with regulators, and we want to be part of the solution. A few months ago, we initiated an industry call-to-action by creating a Self-Regulated Organization (SRO) aimed at standardizing exchange practices and policies. As an industry, we are definitely making progress in the right direction and for OKEx, we are on track to obtain licenses and approvals from regulators in several countries in the near future.

Could you share your thoughts on some of the hottest trends in crypto?

One trending topic from this past year that I am really excited about is staking, and I think the staking ecosystem will continue to grow significantly in 2020. I love that staking offers retail traders access to passive income and as a major exchange, we want to remove all the technical complexity out of the process and give users an easy way to earn and benefit from their underlying investments. My guess is that this year, we will continue to see huge growth in the staking ecosystem, and as the market matures, I want to expand our services beyond just gaining staking rewards to things like governance features or validator selection.