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The first licensed crypto bank in Portugal

by Michael Heron

In April 2022, an Iberian lawyer announced that Bison Bank, after obtaining the registration of Bison Digital Assets for activities with virtual assets, had become the first banking group in Portugal authorized to carry out activities with cryptographic assets. In this interview we hear Afonso Cardoso de Menezes, Head of Legal and Governance. The lawyer dives for us into the world of crypto, explains how the bank has managed to position itself as a key player in this space and what the future holds for Portugal in the world of digital assets.

What prompted you to move internally to Banif after four years at Garrigues?
In 2006, Garrigues had just opened in Portugal. I had several interviews at the time, and I didn’t want to join a big, established project. Garrigues was new and had that start-up feel and mentality. He didn’t have the traditional Portuguese mindset. I stayed there for four years and I think it gave me an excellent foundation in my legal career. Garrigues had separated from Andersen, and so they had the mentality and standards of a major auditor and an international firm. At the time, I was more focused on real estate and planning law. I started to work a lot with investment funds and I quickly realized that I really liked this field. At the time, our lawyer training contracts lasted three years, so it was when I entered my fourth year in Garrigues that the opportunity to join Banif Groupe presented itself.

What happened?
I had already completed my graduate studies in securities and financial markets by this point. At the time, Banif was a complete financial group, because in addition to the investment bank, we had an asset management company, a pension fund asset management company, a private equity and a securitization company. He covered all the financial spectrums. But the entity was not that big, which allowed me to cover several areas of practice when I joined the internal team. I was the youngest on the legal team when I arrived, and it was an interesting time for me.

What was that work experience like in Macau, if I understood correctly that you had been there since
four years?

Yes, I stayed there for four years. It was an incredible experience and a huge challenge. The way people work and think is very different from the West. This is an interesting situation, because we are constantly trying to understand how people think. Although I was based in Macau, 90% of my work came from Hong Kong and Singapore. A Macanese lawyer is often hired by outside law firms to work on projects and transactions. During my stay there, I mainly worked on corporate and financial transactions. I also did a lot of commercial and business development activities where I traveled to Hong Kong and sometimes to Singapore and China, to meet potential clients, mainly large law firms. At the time, Macau’s legal market was quite traditional, so it was easier to differentiate yourself from the competition. Common law lawyers tend to take this approach more naturally, so I learned a lot from that experience.

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The first licensed crypto bank in Portugal