Since the 2017 mania, every year in the crypto and blockchain space has been increasingly eventful. 2019 was no exception: Along with Facebook’s Libra project and China’s digital yuan endeavors, Intercontinental Exchange’s digital assets platform Bakkt was finally launched. Its CEO, Kelly Loeffler, ensured a smooth start for the exchange, then swiftly left her business to pursue a political career by the end of the year. She now represents the state of Georgia in the United States Senate, and as one of the most influential people affiliated with the crypto industry, she could potentially pave the way for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in Washington.
From an Illinois farm to Atlanta’s highest business circles
Loeffler was born in Bloomington, Illinois on Nov. 27, 1970. She grew up on her family’s farming estate in Stanford, working the soybean fields. “We lived simply,” Loeffler recalled at a recent press conference. “Life revolved around farming, church, school and 4-H.” She allegedly became interested in stock markets as early as the age of 10; her mother kept track of commodity prices on a kitchen napkin every day before lunchtime.
In 1988, Loeffler graduated from Olympia High School, where she partook in various sporting activities — namely cross country, track and basketball (she has since purchased the Atlanta Dream of the Women’s National Basketball Association). Her peers from high school have described her as “very bright and articulate and just kind of a beacon of light in her class.”
In 1992, Loeffler graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. She then obtained a master’s in business administration from Chigaco’s DePaul University in 1999.
In 2002, she joined the Intercontinental Exchange, or ICE, after working at Toyota, Citibank, financial firm William Blair, and private equity fund manager The Crossroads Group. Back then, ICE was a two-year-old, Atlanta-based startup with a focus on energy products (crude and refined oil, natural gas, power and emissions), and Loeffler started handling investor relations there. Two years later, she married the firm’s CEO Jeffrey Sprecher, who calls their relationship her biggest risk “because if it didn’t work out, she’d be on the short end of the stick.” Together, they made ICE what it is today: an operator of 13 major international exchanges that include the world’s largest, the New York Stock Exchange. Currently, ICE’s market cap is estimated at $52.5 billion, while Loeffler and Sprecher live in Atlanta’s most expensive piece of real estate — a mansion spanning 15,000 square feet with a $10.5 million price tag.
Loeffler’s quick but eventful career in crypto
Loeffler’s views on crypto are elaborate, as she prefers technological breakthrough over flashy numbers:
“Notably, 2018 was the most active year for crypto in its brief ten-year history. This was evidenced by rising investment in distributed ledger technology and digital assets, as well as by blockchain network metrics such as daily bitcoin transaction value and active addresses. Yet, these milestones tend to be overshadowed by the more narrow focus on bitcoin’s price, which has been seen by some, as a proxy for the potential of the technology.”
Thus, in 2018, Loeffler entered the crypto industry by becoming the CEO of Bakkt, a digital assets platform launched by ICE and backed by Microsoft and Starbucks, among other investors. “We are collaborating to build an open platform that helps unlock the transformative potential of digital assets across global markets and commerce,” she declared in Bakkt’s announcement. Bakkt’s trademark feature is physically delivered BTC futures contracts, while BTC futures traded by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange are settled in cash.
The platform’s launch was delayed numerous times, and when it finally took off in September 2019, the initial results were lackluster: Despite analysts’ bullish forecasts, just 71 BTC (worth about $700,000 at the time) were traded in the first 24 hours.
Nevertheless, the numbers soon started to pick up the pace. By Oct. 26, the platform traded as many as 1,183 Bitcoin futures contracts — worth roughly $11 million — in a single day.
Bakkt then decided to capitalize on the positive development. On Dec. 9, the platform unveiled two new Bitcoin investment products: Bakkt Bitcoin (USD) Monthly Options and Bakkt Bitcoin (USD) Cash-Settled Futures. According to Bakkt, the monthly options product is the first Bitcoin futures contract regulated by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Furthermore, Bakkt has teased a consumer app developed in collaboration with Starbucks and aimed at helping consumers “unlock the value of digital assets, as well as ways in which they can transact or track them,” in its quest to integrate crypto into the mainstream.
Still, despite the fruitful start that marked one of the key milestones for crypto last year, Loeffler has left the digital assets platform to pursue a career in Washington, D.C. In December, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp appointed the Bakkt CEO to a seat in the U.S. Senate, replacing Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who retired due to health concerns. Loeffler is the second woman in history to represent Georgia in the Senate and now the crypto community’s highest-placed political advocate.
Consequently, Loeffler has stepped down from ICE’s crypto-focused platform. “We are grateful to Kelly for her many contributions to Intercontinental Exchange spanning 17 years and will miss her wisdom and counsel on the executive team and leadership of Bakkt,” an ICE spokesperson said in a press release.
Washington and potential conflict of interest
Despite leaving Bakkt, Loeffler may continue to participate in the crypto industry’s growth as a lawmaker. Indeed, John Todaro, director of digital currency research at New York-based data provider TradeBlock, previously told Cointelegraph: “Kelly Loeffler obviously understands the space and is a proponent of it, and so, where applicable on matters before her in the Senate, I would imagine she would be a proponent of bitcoin and other digital currency platforms.”
Loeffler started her career in the Senate with a bang, supporting six bills in her first week in office. So far, all her moves have been strictly conservative (Loeffler and her husband have donated a total $3.2 million to political committees, most of which were Republican). As Loeffler put it herself, she is “pro-Second Amendment, pro-military, pro-Wall and pro-Trump.” Ironically, some earlier media reports indicate that Trump is not a fan of Loeffler and preferred to see a different candidate in the U.S. congressional seat.
Most recently, Loeffler has joined the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees the CFTC, a regulatory agency with significant oversight of cryptocurrency-based commerce. This sets up a potential conflict of interest, as her husband is still the CEO of ICE, an exchange operator that is “subject to extensive regulation by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission,” as per its annual report.
To that, Loeffler has stated that she would recuse herself “if needed on a case by case basis.” She told The Wall Street Journal, “I have worked hard to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the Senate’s ethics rules and will continue to do so every day.” Loeffler will serve in the role until a special election is held in November 2020, when she will have to win the vote to remain in office. To this end, she plans to spend $20 million of her own funds.
Kelly Loeffler is ranked #3 in the first-ever Cointelegraph Top 100 in crypto and blockchain.