August 04, 2022
CMU alumna Annabelle Huang helps global investors connect with cryptocurrencies
By Elizabeth Speed
It’s easy enough to buy a hot stock like Apple or Amazon with a phone call or a few clicks in your online financial account.
But adding bitcoin or other non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to your investment portfolio requires a steep learning curve for individual consumers — and even big hedge funds or investment groups. Investors must research to find exchanges, discern between different kinds of cryptocurrencies and manage wallets, keys and online security.
Carnegie Mellon University alumna Annabelle Huang is helping lower barriers to entry for investment opportunities in crypto. In 2019, she joined Amber Group, a Singapore-headquartered company.
“We’re a financial services firm with a focus on crypto or digital assets, servicing institutional and high-net-worth clients as well as consumers,” says Annabelle, who graduated from Tepper School of Business in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and mathematical sciences.
“Now if you go into traditional banks, they still can’t really offer much in the way of trading or custody services for crypto. But there is increasing demand from companies, hedge funds and individuals to own and trade it. Amber Group is here to provide those solutions for them.”
“The crypto market is still quite nascent, and it’s very fragmented. There are tons of exchanges, but they lack global standardization and regulation. For example, if you’re a hedge fund manager who wants access to deep liquidity across different markets, you might need to create 100 different accounts on different exchanges — each coming with their own potential concerns.”
Crypto for All
Annabelle’s first order of business was cryptocurrency user-friendliness for individuals.
“When I started, I was leveraging my trading and derivatives background to build out our options book within the immature crypto market, and then I led a product team to launch our consumer-facing app in 2020,” she says.
That flagship app is now a platform called Whalefin, and it empowers everyone to easily buy, earn, trade and invest digital assets. Now, as a managing partner with Amber Group, she’s more focused on global business development and sales and managing a global team that offers 24/7 services helping users demystify digital asset investing.
“The crypto market is still quite nascent, and it’s very fragmented,” Annabelle says. “There are tons of exchanges, but they lack global standardization and regulation. For example, if you’re a hedge fund manager who wants access to deep liquidity across different markets, you might need to create 100 different accounts on different exchanges — each coming with their own potential concerns.”
“If you trade with Amber, we handle the backend and offer very simple product streaming, making it easy to access economic returns in crypto without the operational hassles and risks.”
“I did both math and finance because math is the more theoretical part of the problem-solving mindset, and finance is the actual, real-life application. I thought I was in for a very typical kind of banking career after school.”
Diverging from the Traditional Path
When Annabelle started at Carnegie Mellon in 2011, cryptocurrency wasn’t really on her radar. She came to campus from her hometown in Guangzhou, China, with more practical goals centered around math and business.
“I did both math and finance because math is the more theoretical part of the problem-solving mindset, and finance is the actual, real-life application,” she says. At CMU, she networked with Tartan alumni leading to an internship and full-time role at Deutsche Bank in New York City.
“I thought I was in for a very typical kind of banking career after school,” she says.
That changed in 2018 when Annabelle started trading the cryptocurrency Ethereum in her free time. She also was chatting with two fellow Tartans who made an offer: return home and take a job as the Asia lead with their startup AirSwap.
“I thought, why not give it a go?,” Annabelle says. “There is the CMU commonality between us. We all work hard, we're smart, so I took a leap of faith. If it wasn't for the CMU alumni network and that trust, I don't think I would have made the jump then because it was quite a risky move.”
“Back in 2018, nobody understood what decentralized finance meant, and everybody thought it was crazy to leave a Wall Street job to start working on some magic internet money.”
AirSwap opened up other opportunities, and within a year, she jumped to Amber Group, despite the bear market at the time.
“For Gen Zers and beyond, they are born digitally native, so I think they are used to living lives in a digital format. This technology can be the cornerstone for digital applications for younger generations."
Ready for Change
For Annabelle, the future is digital, exciting and boasts a higher representation of women.
“At CMU, many of my courses were heavily male-dominated, so it helped prepare me for a career in finance that trended the same way,” she says. “Especially in the early days of crypto, the gender imbalance was even more extreme. I was one of the only women in a lot of places. At Amber Group, we are trying to change that. On my team alone this year, I've hired a lot of incredibly capable women, and I'm so blessed to have them.”
In another big change, those entering the finance world now have digital asset-focused career aspirations.
Annabelle welcomes and encourages the shift.
“For Gen Zers and beyond, they are born digitally native, so I think they are used to living lives in a digital format,” Annabelle says. “This technology can be the cornerstone for digital applications for younger generations.”
“The value proposition here really is utilizing technology to make things more accessible and efficient and unlock new ways of creating value. I’m excited to see what’s to come.”