By Marc Lijour

Finally, the world is unfrozen, and big conferences are back in town! People are flocking to Toronto to experience Canada Crypto Week this Monday, August 8, 2022.  

To mark the event, I will be sharing important research insights from ICTC and  highlighting our key creative programs that address some of the most pressing challenges in crypto/Web3—for example, how to attract diverse talent to this burgeoning industry.  

You can find me at the Blockchain Futurist Conference this week!

Welcome to Canada! 

For those who have just landed in Toronto, wherever you’re from, chances are we’re discussing the same hot topics you’ve been hearing about back home. Inflation is rampant, especially the prices of food, gas, and rent, leaving very little discretionary spending.  

Our central bank, the Bank of Canada, reacted boldly with a 2.25% rate hike over the last four months (including a full 1%—100 basis points—a couple of weeks ago). While Canada’s Minister of Finance attempts to ease inflation, our GDP growth is also slowing, but we’re still on track to achieving 4.5% growth by the end of the year.  

Currently, the labour market is running hot. Unemployment is at 4.9%, the lowest since 1970. Wages have increased by more than 5%, year over year. Employers are looking to ever more creative ways of attracting and retaining employees, and ICTC’s TADE program, funded by the Government of Alberta, is helping them with hiring and retention guidance and best practices. 

Canada’s digital economy is booming. The country is well positioned to attract foreign direct investment. Tech employment has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels, according to ICTC research. The digital economy represents 11% of all employment in Canada, compared to 9.5% before the pandemic. In fact, Canada is a hotspot for startups and business expansion, given its educated workforce, excellent quality of life, and access to the U.S. and global markets.  

Moreover, Toronto ranks as one of the best places to live in the world, with Calgary and Vancouver also making recent Forbes Top 10 cities lists. 

Diversity and Inclusion  

Part of what makes Canadian municipalities like Toronto great places to work and build businesses is their multicultural flare. Toronto includes over 250 ethnicities and 170 languages, with half the population identifying themselves as a visible minority.  

English is predominantly spoken in Toronto, but French-language government services are also guaranteed by legislation in the city and the rest of Ontario. Afterall, francophones were the first Western European settlers of Ontario more than 400 years ago. Since then, many more cultures have converged on Toronto (which literally means “meeting place” in the Indigenous language of Huron-Wendat). Today, Toronto is a festival of world cultures, proudly sharing and contributing to this lively city, including, of course, the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultures. 

And yet, the tech sector has not reflected this diversity to date. Fewer than 5% of crypto entrepreneurs are female, and men are twice as likely as women to invest in crypto. Ample academic literature shows that a diverse company workforce is good for business and profitability. As more tech companies understand this and our society evolves, there has never been a better time for women and people from marginalized groups to enter the tech field.  

Tech careers offer flexibility and a solid future, with good salaries, impactful projects, quality of life (digital nomadism, hiring perks, etc.), and the prospect of working in Web3 to build the infrastructure of the 21st century. There are still barriers for women and other underrepresented groups, but new solutions and best practices are emerging, as identified by ICTC research. My team, for example, is running two programs to advance the career standing of women in the tech sector. 

Decentralized Finance 

One of the topics I am passionate about is the rise of innovative solutions that expand and enhance financial services, which has given birth to the FinTech space. While innovation in this field is still mostly iterative and slow, decentralized finance (DeFi) is disrupting the current paradigm. 

By assuming that banks and the traditional financial sector have become obsolete since the introduction of blockchain technologies, DeFi defines itself in opposition to the traditional financial services (CeFi), which is centralized by design. DeFi leverages blockchain technologies to address five key problems with CeFi, identified by Harvey, Ramchandran, and Santoro (2021). 

  • Centralized control: CeFi is akin to a walled garden, where switching from one institution to another is difficult, and only a few players represent a large part of the financial system. 
  • Limited access: 1.7 billion people are still unbanked, while many services are still too costly to operate with legacy financial technology, leaving out some potential customers in need (mainly small businesses and entrepreneurs). 
  • Inefficiency: Current systems are not designed to work with modern use cases including smart cities, smart agriculture, and smart manufacturing, which could benefit from microtransactions. 
  • Lack of Interoperability: Due to a design that has persisted since the early days of the (mainframe) computers, bank operation is prioritized over customer service. Customers have to deal with multiple different services from different vendors. Customers, however, expect their banks to make their lives easier. 
  • Opacity: We don’t know much about the financial health of our own banks, despite the “too big to fail” paradigm birthed more than a decade ago. While this might not be a major issue in Canada, whose banks withstood the 2008 crisis, other parts of the world (e.g., Europe) may have reason to be concerned. 

Although some crypto/blockchain/Web3 purists will happily entertain the vision of a world without banks or other CeFi institutions, traditional institutions can play a valuable role as they reposition themselves strategically. Building on their strengths, leaving the low-margin business to more efficient players, and incorporating innovative value-added services can significantly enhance their competitive edge.  

As the financial sector matures, new approaches and technology innovation is bound to bring changes to how money moves throughout our society. 

Join me at the Futurist Conference on Tuesday, August 9, at 12:35 pm in the Purple Room to discuss decentralized finance or other tech innovations that interest you.  

About Marc Lijour 

Marc Lijour is part of the core team at DeFi Toronto, IEEE Blockchain chapter lead, and a part-time professor at George Brown College, where he initiated the first one-year college postgraduate certificate for blockchain development. During the day, Marc is the Vice-President at ICTC, responsible for capacity building and innovation readiness. Marc started his career teaching high school in several countries before joining the Ontario Ministry of Education to lead the technological education curriculum revision and other key initiatives. Then he joined Cisco, and later ConsenSys to accelerate technological innovation in the private and public sectors. 

About ICTC 

The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) is a not-for-profit, national centre of expertise for strengthening Canada’s digital advantage in a global economy. Through trusted research, practical policy advice, and creative capacity-building programs, ICTC fosters globally competitive Canadian industries enabled by innovative and diverse digital talent. In partnership with an expansive network of industry leaders, academic partners, and policy makers from across Canada, ICTC has empowered a robust and inclusive digital economy for over 30 years. 

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