Claire Cummings, Founder and Managing Partner, Cummings Pepperdine

In 2012, Claire Cummings was in New York City, chatting with clients who were about to set up a business in the UK. Little did she know that this meeting would set her on an incredible journey into the world of digital money and blockchain. As the conversation flowed, they started talking about Bitcoin, which was a bit of a mystery to most folks then. Claire was immediately hooked. She recalls, “It’s one of those strange series of events that I think everyone has in their life. It’s luck, serendipity, good fortune, and so on just coming together.”

She was suddenly hit with a wave of curiosity that made her want to explore this new and exciting world. Reading books, doing research, and thinking about different intriguing concepts got her more and more interested. She remembers, “I was gripped by the thinking behind Bitcoin and started reading and learning and thinking more.” One book that really clicked with her was “The History of Money” by Jack Weatherford. Claire loved it so much that she recommended it to everyone who wanted to understand digital money. With every page she turned, her fascination with crypto grew.

Fast forward a few years, and Claire got a call from someone who was just as curious as she was. They shared a big dream: to create the first Bitcoin fund in the UK. It was a bold move, as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the UK was reluctant to accept the idea. However, Claire was not discouraged by the challenges. She recalls, “It’s one of those times when various strands of your life come together, and I found a new area that fascinated me.”

They had discussions, learned a lot, and came up with some groundbreaking ideas. Along the way, Claire realized that her past experiences studying trading and working in finance were helping her in this new adventure. She adds, “I started to see similarities with what I’d learned years earlier studying for the exams needed to trade futures and options and working for a CTA.”

The Power of Support and the Team Behind Success

It’s amazing how life can take unexpected turns and how the people around us can make all the difference. Claire is grateful for the unexpected events and unwavering support that led her to specialize in crypto and blockchain law. She says, “I was incredibly lucky that I found an area of work which really fascinated me and at exactly the same time that I was yearning for new challenges.”

This stroke of good fortune was further amplified by the support of her clients and contacts who believed in her vision. Claire shares, “They supported me when I tried out my ideas on them and gave me time, which was incredibly generous. I owe them a huge debt. They gave me work, made introductions, and many gave me their friendship.”

With this support, Claire embarked on the remarkable journey of setting up her own firm. However, as any entrepreneur knows, running a business while also serving clients can be a formidable challenge. Claire found a simple yet incredible solution. She shares, “The greatest challenge has always been running a business while also doing client work. But the answer to that has been quite simple – build a team of the right people.”

Indeed, it’s the people who make the difference. Claire recognizes that with the right team, the possibilities are boundless. She adds, “Without the right people, you can’t do anything, but with the right people, then the sky’s the limit.” Claire has built Cummings Pepperdine into a unique offering for alternative investment managers and positioned the firm at the forefront of the crypto and blockchain revolution.

Regulatory Clarity and Meeting Investor Needs

Claire’s work includes advising on FCA, AIFMD, MiFID II and EMIR issues, advising on cryptocurrencies, token issues/ICOs, setting up funds and drafting fund documentation, acting for brokers, negotiating derivative documentation, setting up fund managers and drafting shareholder and limited liability partnership agreements. “The first thing I say to clients is that their customer is always right. Find out what the investors want and try to give it to them,” shares Claire.

Claire believes that it’s crucial to listen to your audience, comprehend their requirements, and customize your approach to meet those demands. Her philosophy is based on customer-centricity, which she applies not just to her clients but also to the complex realm of cryptocurrency investments. This principle is also applicable to the selection of jurisdiction, which is a crucial decision in the crypto landscape. Claire advises, “It is essential to consider which jurisdictions might be best for your strategy and to find an efficient one that will accept it.”

In the evolving crypto terrain, where regulatory nuances can make or break an endeavor, Claire’s insight is crystal clear. She states, “My main insight would be to spend time with your potential investors working out what they want while at the same time talking to a lawyer about how it will work in practice.”

Claire underscores the enduring appeal of established hedge fund jurisdictions. She explains, “The hedge fund jurisdictions of Cayman and BVI, to a lesser extent, are very busy using the regulations they’ve built over the decades for hedge funds for crypto funds, and Cayman remains the choice for most funds.”

Insights from the Digital Asset Frontier

Claire is on the advisory boards of a crypto exchange and a strategic communications firm specializing in digital assets, blockchain, Web3 and AI and the main board of an NFT firm. Such deep involvement with client firms offers her a unique vantage point into the daily challenges faced by businesses in the vast and ever-evolving world of digital assets. “Being involved in client firms really helps me understand the issues faced on a day-to-day basis by crypto businesses in different areas of this wide digital asset world,” shares Claire.

In this dynamic environment, exposure to challenges naturally leads to the discovery of innovative solutions. Claire emphasizes that her role allows her to witness the birth of groundbreaking ideas firsthand. She says, “To be in meetings with people who build new products and the teams around them, and to be just one person in the room and listening to people who are really at the top of their game, brimming with ideas, discuss their plans and explore ideas for the future is eye-opening in the extreme.”

Claire marvels at the brilliance and creativity of these individuals, who possess the foresight to envision possibilities far ahead of their time. Claire admits, “I mean, these people are so clever and so creative and can see possibilities so far in advance I’m in awe of them. I do a lot more listening than talking, I can tell you.” The insights gained from these interactions become invaluable assets in Claire’s advisory work for her clients. She elaborates, “And then, of course, that means I can bring that understanding to my work advising clients. The insights I gain in those meetings bring all kinds of ideas for finding solutions for clients and setting their businesses in a much wider context.”

It’s this dynamic industry, where innovation knows no bounds and possibilities are limitless, that fuels Claire’s passion. Her eagerness to engage with, learn from, and contribute to this vibrant ecosystem is palpable. She states, “It’s a captivating industry, and to be able to see, work on, feedback on, and double up on experience and solution-finding gets me out of bed with a bounce every morning.”

Educating the Complexities of Crypto Regulations

As a leading expert in crypto, Claire is a sought-after speaker and has published multiple articles on the legal and regulatory issues surrounding cryptocurrencies and the crypto ecosystem.  She is also the founder of the Centre for Digital Assets and Democracy. With her extensive experience and legal acumen, she shines a light on the pressing need for regulatory clarity in the ever-evolving landscape of digital assets and financial markets. She opines, “There is a screaming need for regulatory certainty, and most of the time, I’m asked to consider and comment on regulation and the legislative underpinning.”

In a world where the rules of the game are continually being shaped, Claire acknowledges the challenges that come with navigating the regulatory terrain. She notes the 2023 Financial Services and Markets Act as a significant development but highlights that uncertainty still lingers in some areas, anticipating a wave of consultations that will shed light on regulators’ perspectives.

Claire’s key insights are a guiding compass for her clients. She emphasizes the importance of starting with existing regulation, recognizing the different regulatory silos that may apply to a business. Her advice is clear: “Never skip the regulatory starting point, as this is where you will build the foundations of your business.”

Furthermore, she dispels the notion that the term “regulation” should lead to tunnel vision, reminding us that the law applies universally to all businesses. Claire underscores the gravity of legal compliance, highlighting that laws such as those governing fraud, theft, bribery, trafficking, and tax evasion are applicable regardless of the industry. Claire’s unique perspective, informed by her legal background, encourages questioning and curiosity, traits inherent in lawyers. She understands that this approach, although potentially challenging in personal relationships, is a valuable asset when it comes to building solutions for complex regulatory issues.

A Vision for Inclusivity

Claire was named a Top Influencer in London for hedge funds (2&20) in 2022 and 2023, and in 2022 was included in the CityWealth Crypto Top 100. Claire is a CityWealth Woman of the Year 2023, and the Cummings Pepperdine Crypto Questions Podcast is a winner of the CityWealth Podcast of the Year 2023. These are not just personal achievements but recognition of her dedication and contributions to the legal and financial sectors. She says, “Personally, I was very surprised, but I did really like the idea that someone’s noticed me and what I’ve been doing. But really, it’s like I said earlier. It’s all about the team and not me alone.” This humble acknowledgment underscores Claire’s commitment to collaboration and teamwork, emphasizing that her accomplishments are a collective effort rather than a solitary pursuit.

When it comes to the advancement of women in these sectors, Claire acknowledges the existing disparities but also highlights a broader perspective. She explains, “On the advancement of women, that’s trick some. There’s no doubt that there are more men than women in these areas and that more men rise to the top. There’s also no doubt that men get to share things that I’ve found myself excluded from.”

However, Claire’s approach is not centered solely on gender but extends to inclusivity in all its forms. She recognizes that various individuals, including those with physical or mental health challenges and neurologically untypical people who may be shy or introverted, can benefit from support and opportunities for advancement. Claire’s personal philosophy is one of action and empathy rather than complaint. She shares, “For my small part, I try to listen and watch and take my time to see where people can play to their strengths and fit best in a team and see if I can help with introductions.”

Her approach to helping others echoes her gratitude for the support she received earlier in her career. “I said earlier that I have a huge debt to those who helped me when I set up when I was younger. I guess I try to repay that by doing my small part now,” concludes Claire.

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