Meet Juliana Heunis, Global Head of Regulatory Expansion at BVNK
Location: Cape Town. Joined BVNK: August 2020.
Tell us about your role.
My job is to make sure BVNK is compliant in every market we operate in. Because we are growing fast, a lot of my work involves learning about regulations in jurisdictions we are unfamiliar with. My team looks at the licences we need to apply for and what we need to do to ensure those are granted. I also track regulatory changes in the markets we have an established presence in, and provide updates and advice to BVNK colleagues to ensure we remain compliant. The final part of my role is to represent BVNK’s interests in conversations with regulators around future policies.
Talk us through a typical day.
There’s always a lot of research involved. A lot of the basics of what I need to know can be gleaned from publicly available policy and legal papers, so I spend a lot of time reading those. I then talk with ‘local’ professionals in each jurisdiction who can fill in the gaps and add colour. Often these are strategic partners that we licence BVNK through, which shortcuts the process of becoming regulated. Depending on the complexity of the regulatory environment, this can be as fast as two weeks, or take two years. So another key part of most days is keeping leadership informed as to where we are with applications and what actions we need to take.
What’s the culture like at BVNK?
It’s infectious. This is what happens when you get passionate and talented people working closely together, who share an ambition to grow. We don’t always agree, but that’s healthy. We don’t want to steer away from conflicts. What’s important is that everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions, listens respectfully, and once the debating is done, we all get behind the decision. We can never afford to take this for granted, especially as we grow. One of the great things about growing is that new colleagues bring fresh perspectives. It’s really important we protect a culture where those are heard.
Tell us about your career before BVNK.
Most of my ‘career’ has been as a professional student. I have degrees in linguistics, business management and law. With the last of those, I finally knew what I wanted to do (plus, I had to start earning money!), and became a lawyer. Immediately prior to BVNK, I was a civil litigation lawyer with a mid-size law firm in Cape Town.
What made you move to BVNK?
It was really the chance to combine all my professional and academic interests; law, but also marketing, media and management. Starting from day one of the business, I knew I would learn a lot by working closely with our founders, and that I would need to roll up my sleeves and get stuck into every aspect of the business. I was attracted by the prospect of learning a lot about a lot of things. Two and half years later, that’s what keeps me here. The crypto space is so young that there's so much to learn, and also so much to influence.
What’s been the best lesson from your career?
Hard work speaks volumes, but speaking at volumes does not equal hard work. There’s no substitute for getting your head down and working hard. I wasn’t always like that. At school you might say I was a bit of a creative type, I was really into music and acting. I think I woke up to hard work when I went to university and found a subject I was passionate about (linguistics). Everything just clicked after that. Part of the lesson here is that people mature at different speeds. My parents never forced me down a specific path, and I try to apply that principle at work. As a manager, I believe one of my responsibilities is to help colleagues find the thing they want to work hard at.
What’s exciting you professionally right now?
What excites me is that it’s impossible to predict where crypto regulation is going to go. It’s still early enough to be part of the conversations that will shape a sector, which in turn will shape the world. What’s also exciting is that my colleagues get this. Unlike some other companies, everyone at BVNK understands the importance of regulation. It clarifies rules, comforts clients and brings credibility to our brand. We see our approach to regulation as a point of competitive difference, and as the guardian of that, I’m central to driving our commercial objectives.
And what has you concerned?
The reverse of my last answer. Things are moving so quickly, and BVNK has ambitions to operate in a global setting, that I’m always worried about not keeping up. But help is coming; I’ll be recruiting to my team from early 2023. Watch this space!
Any advice for someone just starting out in your field?
Regulation is a really broad category, so try to work out as early as possible what you want to do. Then plot your route. Sometimes you’ll be better off taking some sideways moves to get more knowledge and experience. That’s fine, as long as you don’t lose sight of where you want to end up. Ultimately we’re all responsible for our own careers, so don’t leave it to someone else to make opportunities happen.
What about life outside of work?
Right now I’m enjoying being a nomad. I’ve notched up Monaco, Brussels, Milan and London on my recent business travels. You get a very different experience when you're visiting somewhere as a business person rather than a tourist. It feels more authentic—work during the day, go out for dinner in the evening. I think you get to understand a place much better. I’m looking forward to doing a lot more travelling and exploring as BVNK grows.