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Crypto, digital nomads return to work in big cities

As the financial hubs of London and New York buzz back to life post-pandemic, crypto workers are giving up the digital nomad life and returning to offices

Digital nomads working in financial and cryptocurrency services are returning to financial capitals like London as pandemic restrictions and the cryptocurrency crash have increased the cost of living on the road.
Digital nomads working in financial and cryptocurrency services are returning to financial capitals like London as pandemic restrictions and the cryptocurrency crash have increased the cost of living on the road. (AP)

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Over the years, Oliver Gale’s workplace view has included the palm-lined promenade of Miami Beach, the sandy shores of Barbados and the turquoise waters of Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Now, the 36-year-old crypto entrepreneur is back in London, working out of hotel lobbies. Gone is the gentle sea breeze, replaced by the humming sounds of air conditioners trying to keep the British capital’s unusually warm summer at bay. 

Gale is one of many crypto nomads who have started trickling back into major cities like London and New York, as financial hubs start buzzing back to life post-pandemic. As a subset of digital nomads, roving crypto workers spent the past several years hopping from country to country, persuaded to leave large financial centres as living costs soared. The nomadic life is especially well suited to the crypto crowd, with its 24/7 market and ethos of a digital, borderless monetary future. But pandemic travel restrictions, followed by a crash in cryptocurrency prices have made it less practical and too expensive a lifestyle to maintain.

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“People want to be where business is happening and opportunities to expand their network are present,” said Mary Elizabeth Elkordy, who launched her fully remote company Elkordy Global Strategies during the pandemic. “With crypto integrating into more aspects of traditional businesses and industries, being in a major city like New York or London is beneficial from a networking standpoint as well.”

Gale, who is also the co-founder and CEO of blockchain project Panther Protocol, returned to London in March 2020 to start, a consumer credit platform formerly known as PayMachine. “London is considered the fintech hub of the world and has great tax benefits and fundraising incentives,” said Gale, who holds British and Barbadian passports. 

The population of London rose 4% in July 2022 from the same month two years ago, according to NHS Digital data. Offices are starting to see workers return, although not to pre-pandemic levels just yet. About 60% to 70% of workers in London are back at their desks, according to data compiled in June by Google, which tracks the movements of some of its users.

Migration out of many New York City neighborhoods is also reversing as more households are moving to Manhattan than before the pandemic in 2019, according to Melissa, a global data intelligence and address analytics company. 

Kenzi Wang, co-founder of Symbolic Capital and former vice president and general manager of crypto exchange Huobi Global, relocated back to New York in April after traveling around Europe and Latin America. “I’m staying in NYC because the bear market reduced a lot of noise and unnecessary networking in the market,” said Wang. “I can stay focused on building and hiring for my company."

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The current crypto winter reminds him of the previous crash when cryptocurrency prices plunged 80% and it became “a highly efficient time to build” new products and services. The price of one Bitcoin is down 50% this year from its all time high of nearly $69,000 in November 2021. 

Wang’s nomadic life included partying with Hollywood actor Vin Diesel during the 2021 Venice Film Festival and strolls on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas. Now he has been slipping back into a life of socializing, playing basketball and expanding his crypto ventures in the Big Apple. “I’ve also gotten into 20-hour daily fasting and lost a bunch of weight after losing the nomadic conference lifestyle,” Wang said.

Other nomads have hit pause on travel to get their financial bearings. “This most recent turn of economic events and the consequent bear market has hit my finances a little,” said 37-year-old Sukanta Sekhar Das, the chief executive of information site CoinMarketBag. “So I thought it would be prudent for me to recoup some of my losses, regain my composure, and move back to a city I love for a permanent residence.” 

Das, who spent the better part of the last five years traveling around the world, recently settled down in Seoul, where he says the “crypto scene” is great. “I’m saving a fortune in travel costs -- not to mention the absolute nightmare that travel has been over the past 12-18 months,” he added. 

Even as room rents in London rise 15% from last year, according to data compiled by roommate search website SpareRoom, and Manhattan rents climb to new highs, some nomads are returning to big cities for more stability. Many of them are, after all, growing older and finding that the lure of being a nomad is not always easy to reconcile with the demands of starting a family. 

“My wife, then girlfriend, was unhappy and wanted me to travel less, and I also found that I wasn’t very productive work-wise when I was constantly on the road,” said Lane Rettig, a 39-year-old former Ethereum core developer who spent more than four years on the global road before returning to New York in 2020. Rettig, now a core developer at crypto project Spacemesh, purchased a condo in the New York neighborhood of Harlem and is “grappling with how to stay plugged into a super global, nomadic community with a newborn and a mortgage.”

To be sure, some people will never stop roaming. Burning Man, an annual arts festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock City around the US Labor Day holiday, is on Gale’s agenda. “Entrepreneurship is a game of balancing your responsibility and what you wish to do,” he said. “It is an important part of my life to go on adventures -- work and play -- strike up a lifestyle which is dynamic and creative.”

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