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Crypto Firm Circle Hires New Top Lawyer as Regulation Looms (1)

Sept. 24, 2020, 1:40 PMUpdated: Sept. 24, 2020, 3:20 PM

Circle Internet Financial Ltd. has hired Flavia Naves as its new general counsel, filling a vacancy created earlier this year by the departure of former top lawyer Gus Coldebella.

Naves, whose first day at Circle was Sept. 21, has 15 years of experience with technology, payments, and financial technology companies. She most recently served as general counsel and chief compliance officer at Qwil Inc., an instant lending and liquidity startup.

“I’ve been involved with credit card payments and money transmission services, and I had an interest in moving into crypto,” the San Francisco-based Naves told Bloomberg Law in an interview. “It’s an easier, faster, and better way to make payments.”

Naves will now help Circle navigate the evolving regulatory landscape surrounding that argument.

“We’ve been working with policymakers and regulators around how to appropriately supervise this nascent industry,” said Circle co-founder and CEO Jeremy Allaire. “We’ve always viewed government as a collaborator in making this a more mainstream phenomenon.”

Allaire said Circle has been at the forefront of digital dollar stablecoins. In July, a cryptocurrency called USDC backed by Circle and Coinbase Inc.—a cryptocurrency exchange that hired Paul Grewal as chief legal officer that same month—reached $1 billion in value for the first time.

While stablecoins have their skeptics, the digital asset arena is heating up, particularly when it comes to the in-house legal and regulatory hiring necessary to convince critics about the security and stability of the cryptocurrency business.

Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks, a former general counsel at Coinbase, has been leading the way in transforming U.S. banking laws for the digital age. In late July, Brooks issued guidance permitting licensed U.S. banks and savings associations to hold cryptocurrencies for their customers.

Naves said since 2017 she’s served on a fintech advisory board panel for the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, while also contributing to the Federal Reserve’s Faster Payments Task Force.

“The regulations we have in place today were not built for the services that are offered,” said Naves, who plans to work with regulators so they understand the tools that companies like Circle have in place to protect customers.

“Regulation is good—it makes the system safe and sound—but when you overregulate it can cut back on innovation and access to payment services,” Naves said.

Payments Expertise

Allaire said Circle was looking for a general counsel with “significant experience with the different kinds of business models in the payment industry.”

Circle began its search for a new legal chief earlier this year after selling off its trading desk and retail brokerage businesses, moves that occurred in tandem with the departure of Coldebella, a former deputy general counsel and acting general counsel at the Department of Homeland Security who joined the company in 2018.

Coldebella, now general counsel for cryptocurrency-focused venture capital firm Paradigm Operations LP, was replaced on an interim basis at Circle by former deputy general counsel Lisa LoGerfo. She left Circle in June to become the first U.S. in-house lawyer at U.K. fintech company Salary Finance Ltd.

The departures of LoGerfo, Coldebella, and several other Circle in-house lawyers in recent months came as the company restructured its operations.

“We rejiggered and reoriented what the right legal and regulatory team needed to be for the go-forward business,” Allaire said.

The Brazil-born Naves, who is married to SiriusXM satellite radio host Brad Serling, is now part of Circle’s executive leadership team. The company’s legal group, she said, includes four other legal professionals. Mark duBose serves as Circle’s compliance chief.

Naves joined Qwil in December after the San Francisco-based company raised $24.4 million in equity and $200 million in debt financing, having previously been general counsel and compliance chief at Velo Payments Inc., a Sausalito, Calif.-based company that recently became the first fintech to receive an OCC bank charter, as noted by Circle in an internal statement announcing Naves’ hire.

Velo, whose new head of legal is former Travelex Currency Services Inc. general counsel Tania Alia, hired Naves in early 2019 after she held in-house roles at software giant and server message block payment solutions provider Intuit Inc. and Worldpay Group PLC, one of the world’s largest payments processors.

Allaire said the coronavirus pandemic has been a “massive accelerant” to Circle’s business as companies increase their pace of digitalization to improve their payments infrastructure and transact more over the internet. While declining to discuss the outside law firms that Circle uses for its various legal needs, Allaire said Goodwin Procter has long served as Circle’s primary corporate counsel.

(Corrects Naves' title in first sentence and headline and adds information on Circle's compliance chief in 17th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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