Chrysty Esperanza. Image: Connor McKenna/Silicon

The future of financial services is an inclusive one, says Block’s Chrysty Esperanza

28 Sep 2023

Unique in that today it encompasses financial services, software and hardware, Block describes its mission as economic access and empowerment. We spoke to its chief legal officer, Chrysty Esperanza, about the future of finance.

Many will be familiar with Block’s original iteration as Jack Dorsey and Jim McKelvey-founded Square, with its ubiquitous white card reader. Today, however, Block is a $30bn financial services software company, of which Square is just one division, other divisions including Cash App, Spiral, TBD (known internally as To Be Decentralized), and its most recent acquisition Tidal.

Chief legal officer Chrysty Esperanza has been there for most of this expansion, and the 2015 IPO, having joined what was then Square nearly a decade ago – “a long time in tech years”, as she describes it herself. Previous positions included a stint at Electronic Arts, as well as serving as a deputy attorney general at the California Department of Justice.

“It’s been a really fun journey because the company has been through so much, constantly growing and changing, just meeting the evolving needs of our customers,” she says. “We now have five primary business units.”

Square is of course the one that people are most familiar with, and today it is an ecosystem of tools for sellers; Cash App is the more consumer-facing business, although it does target business too, and Spiral builds and funds open source products for developers, in order to make bitcoin more accessible.

“Bitcoin is something we see as a real tool of economic empowerment,” says Esperanza. “It’s something that can potentially be the native currency of the internet. In the same way as we saw the internet democratise access to information, bitcoin may democratise the ability to transact across the globe, so we’re really thinking of it as a way for a more inclusive future for those communities that may not have those opportunities.”

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But Jay-Z’s streaming platform Tidal was possibly the acquisition that surprised most, when it was taken over back in 2021. “We recently acquired Tidal, which was known as a streaming service but we acquired it because we see artists as entrepreneurs, so this allows musicians and fans to be able to engage with each other and we’re really focused on building artist tools,” says Esperanza.

Many questioned the multimillion-dollar acquisition at the time, but there can be little doubt that Tidal fits in with Block’s overall mission of economic empowerment for the underserved – most musicians other than major stars will certainly argue they fit very neatly in that category. It’s certainly one to watch.

Then there’s TBD, which is the real future-looking division, with no actual products yet on the market. “It’s looking at a more decentralised future which gives ownership and accountability to people to be able to take control of their identity, of their data, of their finances,” says Esperanza.

“TBD is building a suite of tools primarily focused on decentralised finance and decentralised identity,” she says. “It uses blockchain technology to build open source, and all this is built out in the public for free, so people can build upon the different code and tools that are being developed. The purpose of TBD is to help people really acquire that ownership, whether it’s over their own identity, whether it’s over their finances or over data.”

Watch the full interview to get a sense of how Block is making financial services more accessible, how it sees bitcoin as a key tool in that future, and how it navigates the evolving regulatory environment, as well as the challenges around compliance and security.

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Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Future Human