Woman plans to open nation’s first digital bank in Cheyenne

CHEYENNE – After 22 years of success on Wall Street, Laramie native Caitlin Long returned to the state last year, bringing along big dreams of capabilities of blockchain in Wyoming.

Long announced Monday that she plans to open Avanti, a bank solely for digital assets like cryptocurrency that could be the first of its kind in the nation. And as the company’s founder and CEO, she plans to open it right here in Cheyenne.

On why she decided to start a bank for digital assets, Long said, “Well, it doesn’t exist right now.”

Currently, the U.S. is losing ground in the industry because digital assets don’t fall under the current regulatory structure, which means they end up falling through the cracks. Since the regulators in Washington, D.C., haven’t kept up with changing technologies, Long said Wyoming’s recent approval of bills at the state level has positioned it well to attract the industry.

“With banks not being able to service this industry, that gives Wyoming a huge opening,” Long said.

Those who own digital currency or security tokens would be able to house the key to their assets with Avanti while still maintaining ownership, the same way a valet takes care of cars. Traditional banks in the U.S. don’t have the capacity for such services, so Long is hoping to fill the niche.

Avanti will “serve institutional investors wanting to invest in this new asset class – digital assets,” Long said.

With plans to submit an application and open up shop in early 2021, Long said the operation could eventually create between 30 and 40 jobs in Wyoming. While Avanti will employ some remote workers like many other tech companies, a number of on-the-ground employees will be hired for jobs like customer service and bank compliance.

Long also said the ability to hire remote workers will allow Avanti to hire employees who live in rural parts of the state, so long as they have an internet connection.

“That’s going to give us an opportunity to hire Wyoming people, even if they don’t live in Cheyenne,” Long said.

And Long, who is self-taught in the field of digital assets, suggested any Wyomingites interested in working for the company should start learning now.

“If there are people who are looking to gain new skills and enter into a new industry, my message is there’s plenty of time to learn the regulations and learn how digital assets work,” she said.

This is only the beginning of what the blockchain will become in Wyoming, according to Long.

Wyoming distinguished itself as the nation’s leader after forming a Blockchain Task Force in 2018. Since its inception two years ago, Wyoming lawmakers have passed 13 bills to attract the industry to the state.

And while a number of states like Rhode Island and Colorado are learning from lawmakers here, passing legislation that mirrors Wyoming’s, David Pope, a local CPA and co-founder of the Wyoming Blockchain Coalition, said Wyoming still has the “first-to-market” phenomenon.

When credit cards became increasingly popular, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was ahead of the curve. And while other places followed suit, Sioux Falls’ early pursuit of the industry led to a number of new companies in the city. Long said Sioux Falls still has about 16,000 jobs in the financial industry.

And the hope is the same thing will happen in Wyoming with blockchain.

The new bank would be considered a special purpose depository institution, which was enabled by Wyoming House Bill 74 last year. The other pertinent piece of legislation legally defined what a digital asset is, making Wyoming the first state in the nation to do so.

“When you define something and you give it a specific exemption like we did in Wyoming ... then people have a certainty in the legal treatment of that particular item,” Pope said.

By laying out the specifics in state law, companies who come here to do business understand their responsibilities, and judges have ground to stand on in case of a legal dispute.

“That also means that the contracts have clear, legal clarity, and that was an important building block,” Long said. “Without that legal clarity, there’s no way that a bank would be allowed to do business in this industry.”

The Wyoming Banking Division has received a handful of applications for special purpose depository institutions, although none have been approved as of yet.

Ultimately, the hope is such institutions will increase the number of corporations that call Wyoming home, but more importantly, will increase the revenue flowing into the state. As Wyoming grapples with a $200 million projected budget deficit from the decline in the minerals industry, and as state lawmakers focus on diversifying the economy, the financial industry shows promising potential.

“We didn’t want just for there to be a lot of corporate revenue, corporate registrations within the state,” Pope said. “What we wanted was an ecosystem that brought capital in and helped it remain at work within Wyoming.”