You want to jump on the hot new tech wave. Maybe you are starting your career or are thinking about changing industries to join the blockchain revolution. How do you prove your acumen in this fast moving space?
A conversation with Arno Pernthaler, co-founder of the DEC Institute, an association launched and backed by leading academic institutions with strong focuses on Blockchain Technologies. They aim to shape the certification landscape for professionals working with Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs) and Digital Assets. This episode aims to educate listeners on chartered certifications, as well as the movement to support quality education and professionalism in this young and growing industry.
"Continuous learning is a commitment for professional excellence"
Lauren Weymouth (00:00):
This is Lauren Weymouth, your host of All About Blockchain. Today we'll be hearing from Arno Pernthaler, co-founder of the DEC Institute. DEC Institute is an association launched and backed by leading academic institutions with a strong focus on blockchain technology. UBRI partners, University College London (UCL) and IIIT Hyderabad helped develop the DEC Institute, which aims to shape the certification landscape for professionals working with distributed ledger technologies or DLTs and digital assets. AND “breaking news” National University of Singapore (NUS) Fintech Lab just joined DEC last week as an active member. I think we’ll see more and more top universities climbing aboard in months to come.
So a little bit about Arno, he is a corporate venturing and business development expert in the space of DLTs, digital assets, and Web3. Arno is spearheading the movement to support quality education and professionalism in this young and growing industry. A year after launch, the DEC Institute has closed a million in seed funding to expand partners and offer wider variety of products and services. So exciting. Arno, thanks so much for joining us today.
Arno Pernthaler (01:09):
Thank you very much Lauren to have me here on your podcast. It's a pleasure to be here.
Lauren Weymouth (01:14):
Arno, where are you located right now?
Arno Pernthaler (01:16):
I'm located in Zurich in Switzerland. the DEC Institute has its headquarter actually in the crypto valley,which is the Valley, close to the Canton of Zug which is famous for hosting a lot of foundations, crypto foundations, such as Ethereum Foundation or the Cobana foundation are located here. it's a large ecosystem of crypto projects that have been launched here.
Lauren Weymouth (01:37):
How would you describe the vibe of blockchain and digital assets in Switzerland compared to the rest of the world?
Arno Pernthaler (01:46):
I think there are certain countries that have a specific strategy in how to deal with new emerging technology. Switzerland,being a financial hub, definitely has created a culture to adopt regulation to bring leading corporates into their country. And there are certain countries out there that have a similar strategy such as Dubai, for example, is also such a country that has really smart, public administrations that try to create, uh, playground that makes it really attractive for larger corporates to settle in that specific area. And I think Switzerland is really similar and they understood that quite fast.
We have a regulation that allows us to create securities in form of digital assets, registered on a distributed ledger and it's considered a financial instrument represented as a token, which is quite significant, right? We also have in Switzerland the Swiss Digital Exchange, which is the first globally regulated, financial exchange, that is run on DLT. So there is a lot of investments and serious projects happening not only on a crypto level, but also on, let's say more, incumbent adoption level.
Lauren Weymouth (02:59):
Arno, thanks for taking the time to join us in your nighttime. So we always like hearing how our guests first became interested in blockchain. What, was your lightbulb moment when you knew it was something that you wanted to be working with?
Arno Pernthaler (03:11):
The first touch point I had, was actually when I was writing my master thesis, after my master in management and strategy. Back in the days I was working on this research paper, at the Business Model Innovation Lab at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, and the focus was business model innovation in FinTech and how this could potentially disrupt the classical financial services industry. And that's where the first time I was reading about blockchain, and crypto assets, but I didn't fully get it yet.
This was just my first touch point and then later on when I started working in consulting specifically at Deloitte Consulting, then the first engagement started to, come on my desk and Deloitte Switzerland has sent me to the Blockchain EMEA Center of Excellence in Dublin, which was the first big four, company that has actually launched a Blockchain Center of Excellence for the wider, community of the company and clients. And that's where I started working on specific blockchain engagements for enterprise clients.
Lauren Weymouth (04:10):
yeah, so you're at a consulting agency. They're starting to get action in blockchain and you got to work with the industry pretty early on. What year was this?
Arno Pernthaler (04:18):
That was in 2017. So that was practically in the times when the ICO boom started to kick in. This was the time when the first proof of concepts were created by larger international multinational enterprises to understand if blockchain can be valuable for potentially their supply chain or their customers or to prove some kind of providence or authenticity of products. So this was the early stage where enterprise was more or less trying to find a problem for a solution.
Lauren Weymouth (04:50):
So was it from this engagement that had you wanna to promote education and professionalism within the industry?
Arno Pernthaler (04:57):
Um, correct. So it started everything in this consulting and work environment but I soon recognized that most of the clients did not really understand the key components and the potential of the technology. So every engagement has started, practically with an educational session, slash workshop, where we try to bring the people up to speed so that they understand terminologies and they all use the same words in order to actually have a fruitful conversation.
But I would say my motivation to promote education started actually a little bit earlier. That was actually 2015. I was doing an internship at Malik Management Consulting, which is a leading management consultancy in Europe. And there, I have learned practically the fact that within an organization, professionals and executives need to speak the same language, right?
So as long as people speak to the same language, they can effectively communicate and make things happen. And that's what is recognized and working in blockchain engagements. I understood quite soon, okay, everyone is speaking a different language, right? Between different expertise from tech to legal to business. and that's why education was, for me key, and that's why we started to have educational engagements with companies.
Lauren Weymouth (06:05):
So that's how you came up with the idea to create a standard so that people can effectively work together. Now you launched last year, in 2021, DEC Institute has two charterholder programs available. Can you explain the two programs to our listeners?
Arno Pernthaler (06:19):
Sure. So the first program is the Chartered Blockchain, Expert level I, which is the CBX in short, which has been launched mainly for enterprise professionals. The other one is the Chartered Digital Asset Analyst, which is a charterholder oriented more for people working in financial services and asset management. So that's the key difference there.
So if, if you wanna prove your expertise in, in the area of use cases related to enterprise use cases, might it be a supply chain transparency product or self-sovereign identity, also public sector use cases, then the CBX is the right one for you to approach. If you are more interested into the transaction of value in how new financial services are being developed, on decentralized protocols, if you are interested more into the space of decentralized finance, then the CDAA is the correct one.
Lauren Weymouth (07:12):
And what resources do you provide? If I'm someone that doesn't have any background in blockchain, but I want to get information, study up, be able to take one of these certifications to have something on my resume, something on LinkedIn, what kind of materials do you provide?
Arno Pernthaler (07:26):
The DEC Institute is a consortium of universities, right? So we don't necessarily want to compete with educational courses from the university, but we want to enable universities to provide additional resources to their students in order to teach them how to navigate this radical, decentralized blockchain space, right? Which is very quickly growing and expanding.
So we provide preparation material that professionals can use as their library of different kinds of resources. So it's not a centralized book as you can imagine it from the old world where you get practically a study book, uh, from an organization and that's pretty much it. you need to study. It's more, a set, a library of different resources be it academic papers, industry reports, videos, blog articles, everything that has high quality content, from different organizations or even private individuals, that have made their name in this industry.
Lauren Weymouth (08:22):
So that someone answers, I was gonna ask, so there are universities like Cornell or organizations like Udemy, who are putting out certificate programs out there. How would you say the DEC Institute exams and certificates are different?
Arno Pernthaler (08:36):
So we are practically enabling academic organizations or education providers to reach a certain standard. As you can imagine, there is most of the times within a university a leading professor who is setting up a course or a training, right? So each professor has his focus of expertise, might it be economics or might it be legal or might it be tech. So the course you get from a university has most of the times a certain flavor, a certain characteristic that's being shaped and driven by the people who are teaching that specific course, right? That's one difference, right? We collaborate on the syllabus of C- CBX with different academic institutes and different professors from different domains in order to make a holistic exam, which covers all the topics that are necessary for you to learn and understand. That's one key differentiator.
The other differentiator is that we are like a decentralized organization. We are not a centralized university, that is providing you a course. And then at the end you get a certificate of participation. in the DEC Institute you're more focused on the exam, right? So it's more focused on the preparation, that you learn, the material in depth that you not just attend an online course which takes six to 12 weeks. it's really something to navigate people and to make them become curious and to make them become researchers on specific topics to find their most interesting in.
Lauren Weymouth (10:01):
So what I'm hearing is, and you mentioned the word characteristics, that standalone universities will put out a breadth of education or exams that are specific to that professor, that department, whereas what you are building is in partnership with so many universities and other institutes and even industry. So you're trying to cast a much wider net on the characteristics (laughs) of the information of the exams so it's more well rounded. Would you say that?
Arno Pernthaler (10:26):
Correct. it's more well rounded and it's a collaboration and effort across different universities and also industry members and that's also a key differentiator here, right? So we have corporate industry members from the crypto and blockchain market, that are covering their specific area of expertise, be it a custody provider or a DeFi protocol or a staking service provider. they all have their requirements if you want to work in their specific area, right? And we try to capture those requirements and to capture this knowhow by collaborating with this active members of the DEC Institute and they're practically shaping, this standard, in order to actually not just educate someone, but just to make someone become a professional, an expert that can actually really apply, a job and enter into the specific blockchain and domain and then it's the kickoff career.
So it's also there, the differentiation to university class is also the target audience. Currently DEC institutes alumni have an average age of, of 35, right? Which is not the case at the university. So you can clearly see here that this is a certificate, a charterholder for professionals that are either working already in the industry or that are looking to enter into this specific market.
Lauren Weymouth (11:39):
That's an interesting demographic about your typical clients who are taking your exams. What are other, demographics of the people that are taking your chartered exams?
Arno Pernthaler (11:48):
so the age is definitely one of the most interesting one which we are really, also were surprised of, that there's such a high interest from people who are in their mid-career to make a career move into something new and something more exciting and something more emerging and disruptive
Lauren Weymouth (12:04):
I think it's awesome what you're doing, right? 'Cause you're providing decentralized education for decentralized industry. And, you know, I did a little homework before we're getting on a call with you. And when I type blockchain certificate into Google, Blockchain Council organization will come up and then there's a medium blog post from over two years ago of what they're calling is the top 10 certificate programs that are currently out there. But what you're doing is you're partnering with all of these universities in the industry to continually upgrade questions and answer sets to create a gold standard of education and Charterholder. Now, something I often hear from professors is how tough it is teaching this material because every couple of months it changes drastically, right? We're rapidly evolving and they're constantly having to update their materials and their syllabi. And so how are you going about that with the team of people that you work with?
Arno Pernthaler (12:56):
That's definitely a challenge universities and academic institutes are facing is that the industry is moving much quicker than academia, right? That's why we are here, right? We are collaborating with certain, experts and industry leaders, to have the newest topic in the preparation material. So I think a university course will always cover its specific topics, but I think it's a nice add-on for students to receive material they can then study and prepare at home.
And as I said, it's less about creating a book. It's more about teaching people how to navigate in this blockchain space. And there are different companies that are providing knowhow. There are different ecosystems that are not necessarily so easily to access if you are either a student or if you have been working since 10 years in a larger bank, right? for this decentralized, I would say, course book, or learning material, you also learn to understand, okay, who are the players in this market? Whom do I need to follow? Where do I get the resources if I have a problem and I need to solve it within a quick timeframe?
Lauren Weymouth (13:58):
Now it's funny Arno, 'cause I often tell friends, family colleagues, people I meet that wanna know more about blockchain, listen to my podcast. Listen to All About Blockchain because we talk about all kinds of use cases and a great way to understand this technology is what's actually being built on it and how it's gonna change our lives over the next five, 10 years. What do your clients do with their certification, efforts granted? So now they're charterholders. They, studied your materials, they took the exam, they passed it. Now they are a charter blockchain expert. What can they do with this?
Arno Pernthaler (14:27):
So I would say they have entered to pass the first stage. It's practically they prove they have a level of expertise that allows them to have a professional conversation around a specific project, right? So they understand how large the spectrum is. They understand where they need to go if they want to have a more deeper understanding of something.
The next thing, an alumni of DEC Institute will have is first of all the access to other alumnis for networking. We are planning events specifically only targeted to DEC Institute alumnis in order to exchange expertise around specific topics. That's one thing.
The other thing is they have access to our corporate members. That's also something really interesting for industrial companies that have joined. DEC Institute is also for recruiting and talent access purpose. so we have a database of our alumnis that might be very interesting for certain companies that want to build blockchain or crypto teams internally.
Lauren Weymouth (15:20):
Well, I can think of a lot of reasons why having a standard-
Arno Pernthaler (15:23):
Lauren Weymouth (15:24):
... proof of blockchain knowledge is important, but thank you for sharing those additional resources that you're providing. I think that's awesome. Once you've become an alumni that you can have connection points and continual education and events. That's great. I have a stat here that says, 57% of charterholders have a background in banking or financial services. I wanna dig deeper into who are taking the exams what are the profiles of the people taking exams, and how is this upgrading their professional life?
Arno Pernthaler (15:51):
So we have, as you said, around 57% of the charterholders are coming from, directly from banking or financial services. And that's for me obvious. because with digital assets and crypto assets, we are speaking about the transaction of value, right? that's why, I guess people work in the space of value transaction (laughs) are the ones that potentially see a certain threat or a potential opportunity for them to jump on a vegan that is bringing them into a new space, into a new career step.
The industry which is most affected by, by blockchain crypto assets and DeFi is definitely financial services and asset management. and you can see there the differenceacross countries actually. In, in Europe, for example, mainly UK, Germany, and Switzerland, I think are the three leading countries that try to reinvent the wheel and also are funding and investing heavily in, into this space because they are the key financial services countries in, in Europe. I think if you are a professional from that domain, it's very interesting and you might have good opportunities to make this strategic move.
Lauren Weymouth (16:54):
And can you give us any insight into what new programs DEC Institute will be producing in the upcoming months?
Arno Pernthaler (17:00):
So in the upcoming months, we will mainly focus on improving the preparation material because we understood that's a key value for participants to have a really structured guidance on how they can pass and become a charterholder of those two DEC certifications. Then we are working now on the level two examinations. So that's also something interesting for people who would then like to really demonstrate their subject matter expertise, right?
So this is not general knowledge. This is really deep expert knowledge that you need to prove their so at the end of the year, you will be able to start getting involved for the level two examinations, which will clearly show the difference between you know, the larger group of experts to what's, subject matter experts.
Lauren Weymouth (17:42):
So you almost have something for everyone. If someone who's looking to change careers and start from scratch and someone who's been participating in the field for a while and has a foundation and wants to take it to the next level?
Arno Pernthaler (17:55):
Lauren Weymouth (17:56):
So is there anything I haven't covered that you'd like our listeners to know?
Arno Pernthaler (18:00):
I think the only thing which we did not really cover is, is that I think people and also investors are underestimating the potential of a charterholder program in the blockchain crypto asset industry. Not just because existing charterholder programs or certification programs in other domains related to technology are massive and are creating a completely new phase of the industry. If there is a large amount of people who are getting involved in preparing themselves and studying and becoming part of a like-minded group of professionals.
That's, I think something really important because as long as we don't have that, there are too many different groups being created which are really hard to access. So this will bring a new face into the general blockchain and crypto market if such a charterholder is emerging internationally.
And then also I think the size of this market is really interesting. If you look at comparable programs that exist in, in different domains as an example A Cloud Guru, right? which is preparing experts for cloud specific topics or the corporate finance expert, or there is also an organization called the Academy to Innovate HR. I mean these are certifications and education platforms that to me seemed very specific, right? And they are now reaching, all of them, reaching the number of one million alumnis.
So if I look at blockchain and crypto and Web3, if we manage to create an international charterholder over the next few years, that is receiving the trust that it requires for such, I would also say controversial industry sometimes, right? This will bring a huge shift into, into the trust of, of the technology, into the trust of the people who work with the technology and potentially also a larger adoption for the mass.
Lauren Weymouth (19:44):
Yeah. I mean, I think we can hear the future of this and not all investors are not seeing potential, right? You just closed around the financing. So you had investors believe in you and believe in this future here that you're talking about. Maybe you can say a couple words about what that was like, you know, going out and fundraising for the DEC Institute,
Arno Pernthaler (20:00):
Yeah. So that's, as always an interesting and hard time. Raising funds is not something easy, especially, if you wanna raise smaller amounts (laughs) because I guess you know, at the end, the effort is the same. It doesn't matter if it's one or 10, you have the same story to tell. It was hard for us at the beginning because we went to the wrong kind of investors. we were really closely speaking to investors looking to invest into blockchain protocols and, DeFi protocols and generally into tech investors, right?
This is not a tech use case, right? This is an education or ed tech use case which has a completely different in- investment profile. Also the experience and what it means to invest in such a charterholder platform. So that was the first learning we had, what's your ideal investor that has the experience and understanding and where this journey could go. And, we were quite lucky. We managed to get the angel investments from, family office that trusted into our program, um, yeah.
Lauren Weymouth (21:00):
That's great. I mean, I'm really happy that you found the right investors and I can see how, when you're out there pounding the pavement, you really have to distinguish who your audience is that really wanna invest. So people can go to decinstitute.org to find this material and the exams, is the education open?
Arno Pernthaler (21:18):
Correct. DEC Institute it's open initiative, meaning that thought leaders enterprises, as well as education providers, academic institutes can apply for membership. We are trying to onboard, as many thought leaders as possible that would like to contribute in driving this standard and adopt the standard in their internal programs and the education programs.
There are different ways also how private individuals can get involved. You can apply as a research fellow, if you would like to,spend more time in going into the rabbit hole of a specific topic, for example or also as an advisor if you think you can bring specific subject matter expertise into something that's potentially missing at DEC Institute syllabus.
Lauren Weymouth (22:00):
=and this makes me think, you know, undergrad, grad students are in the mode of consistently taking courses and taking exams and passing on to different levels. But once you get out in the world and you're no longer in school, unless you're reminded by your company's HR department to do some professional development, you don't necessarily always think to upgrade, up level yourself, but it is a good reminder.
I know Ripple, my company offers a thousand dollars to all full-time employees, a year to take professional development in something that matters to them that could be important to them or their careers, whether in the exact position that they're in or in general. And I think that this is an open call for people to use their professional development funding or tooling to get this blockchain digital asset certificate.
Arno Pernthaler (22:43):
Correct. it's the continuous learning is a commitment for professional excellence. That's how we try to say at the DEC Institute, right? if you stop learning, you practically provide the same service and quality for the rest of your life. but we want to incentivize people, not only working in this industry, but also working in, in related industry with blockchain to really take the time, not just attend the course and listen, uh, and be happy with a certificate of participation, but really download the material, study it at home, take it with your holiday to really get the full experience.
Lauren Weymouth (23:17):
I couldn't agree more. Well, thank you Arno, for being a pioneer, promoting a global standard for blockchain professional education. As blockchain continues to become more mainstream, it is so important that there are ways for individuals to access education that guarantees them a specific degree of knowledge in various areas. Now, through the UBRI program, I work with Ripple to promote academic research and also curriculum at universities all over the world. It's good to see that there is this collaboration happening amongst universities and industry to create this gold standard. Arno,
we're so glad we had the opportunity to host you today on All About Blockchain.
Arno Pernthaler (23:54):
Thank you, Lauren. It was a pleasure being here with you.
Lauren Weymouth (23:56):
And thank you listeners for your time, your comments on my LinkedIn and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org is greatly appreciated. Until next time.