What Is FTX & Who Is Sam Bankman-Fried? [The FTX Scandal]

In early January 2023, Sam Bankman-Fried — the previous CEO of crypto big FTX — pleaded not responsible to a protracted string of prices associated to fraud in a New York federal court docket. As he waits for his trial to start out in October, the remainder of the world can atone for what occurred, answering questions like what FTX is and the way its founder ended up with legal prices filed towards him.

Key Takeaways: Bankman-Fried’s FTX Rip-off

  • FTX was an enormous within the crypto area and served as each an change in addition to a financial institution.
  • From the beginning, although, it was closely intertwined with its sister firm, Alameda Analysis, with the 2 propping up every others’ enterprise.
  • Although FTX was tormented by many points, the demise knell was a liquidity disaster, which compelled the corporate to file for chapter.
  • Through the disaster, allegations of fraud on the a part of FTX surfaced, which finally led to the arrest of virtually its total management, together with the CEO and founder, Sam Bankman-Fried.

The story is a wild experience from begin to end, involving good exploitation of alternatives, underhanded dealings and a motley solid of characters that lived in lavish wealth whereas projecting down-to-earth frugality. At its middle stands Sam Bankman-Fried, higher generally known as SBF, the founding father of the FTX change and in addition the person who introduced it crashing down.

  • Sam Bankman-Fried is a graduate of MIT, crypto aficionado and accused fraudster, at the moment awaiting trial in New York in his mother and father’ dwelling in California.

  • Although what precisely occurred isn’t completely clear but, because it stands now FTX is alleged to have mishandled buyer funds, even perhaps dedicated fraud.

  • Proper now, no one actually owns FTX, because it has ended up in chapter court docket. A steward named John Jay Ray III is attempting to determine the way to get a refund to the people who misplaced their funds within the FTX crash.

  • FTX shouldn’t be a cryptocurrency, it’s a crypto change, a spot the place folks commerce cryptocurrencies. Nonetheless, FTX did mint its personal tokens, referred to as FTT.

What Is FTX? What’s Occurred For the reason that FTX Chapter Submitting?

FTX is a cryptocurrency change, a spot on the web the place you’ll be able to change or purchase cryptocurrencies with both money or different digital tokens. At its top, the FTX change was the second greatest platform of its variety, eclipsed solely by Binance cryptocurrency change — which is able to make an look within the story of FTX’s fall, as nicely

At the moment, FTX is a mere shadow of its former self. On the time of writing, it’s bankrupt, its remnants steered by John Jay Ray III, whose job is especially to wash up the mess left by Bankman-Fried and his cohort. To offer you an concept of the magnitude of the duty forward, John Ray’s different accolades embody taking up Enron after a large accounting scandal within the early 2000s.

FTX, Digital Markets and Alameda Analysis

With its management within the dock and its property stripped, FTX is only a shell of what it as soon as was. Issues began off so nicely, too, when it was based in 2019.

Its rise was stratospheric, going from a relative unknown to Bankman-Fried sharing the stage with the likes of Invoice Clinton and Tony Blair, the place SBF would discuss confidently about the way forward for crypto and decentralized finance.

sbf clinton blair

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former U.S. President Invoice Clinton and Sam Bankman-Fried on stage on the Crypto Bahamas convention in 2022. Supply: Trustnodes.

Nonetheless, earlier than there was FTX, there was Alameda Analysis, a hedge fund began in 2017 by Bankman-Fried and a small group of mates he made at his outdated job at Jane Road Capital, a number one New York buying and selling agency. This group included Caroline Ellison, a mathematician and quantitative analyst, any individual who analyzes trades utilizing giant quantities of numerical knowledge.

Hedging and Arbitrage

As a hedge fund, Alameda targeted much less on buying and selling property immediately and extra on monetary derivatives, significantly one thing referred to as arbitrage. For a full clarification of how arbitrage works, it is best to try Investopedia, however briefly it’s the exploitation of worth variations of a inventory or commodity on completely different monetary exchanges. 

On this case, Alameda would purchase Bitcoin on a U.S.-based change after which promote it for a revenue on a South Korean one. South Korea tightly regulates cryptocurrencies and, because of this, $10,000 price of Bitcoin purchased within the U.S. might promote for as a lot as $15,000 there.

Generally known as the “kimchi premium” after Korea’s nationwide dish of fermented cabbage, intelligent use of this chance meant Alameda was just about rolling in dough.

In fact, a gap available in the market like this, the place you’ll be able to on a great day make 50% on prime of your funding, isn’t going to be your sole protect without end. Over the course of 2018 and 2019, greater gamers began muscling in on Alameda’s arbitrage motion, in addition to the crypto market as a complete, squeezing the margins of smaller outfits like Bankman-Fried’s.

Founding the FTX Platform

Although it’s onerous to find out precisely which occasions led as much as it, in 2018 Bankman-Fried began FTX, brief for “futures change.” The place Alameda was a fund that traded within the crypto market, FTX was a crypto change, a spot the place individuals who need to play within the crypto market can go to transform their real-world cash into cryptocurrencies.

FTX logo

FTX stands for “futures change,” a crypto change.

This was an enormous leap: as an alternative of a buying and selling agency, Bankman-Fried now ran a financial institution of kinds. In the true world, it probably would have been inconceivable for a small hedge fund to kind a financial institution, as guidelines and laws would have torpedoed the thought earlier than it was even totally fashioned. On the earth of crypto, nevertheless, it was so simple as submitting the paperwork wanted to kind another type of firm.

Bankman-Fried grew to become the chief govt officer (CEO) of FTX, whereas a fellow MIT grad named Gary Wang grew to become the corporate’s chief technical officer, or CTO. Ellison stayed at Alameda to run it, although SBF appears to have saved a stake in his outdated hedge fund, since he later used it to purchase seven p.c of buying and selling app Robinhood.

Making Markets

Nonetheless, it’s clear now that SBF didn’t simply quietly preserve a stake in Alameda and depart it at that. For one, it appears like Alameda operated as a market maker for FTX. It will purchase and promote cryptocurrencies that have been buying and selling on FTX, however FTX itself couldn’t instantly discover a vendor or purchaser for. This text by The Steadiness goes into extra element how market making works.

Market making is on no account unlawful and even significantly suspect; it’s a really regular phenomenon in monetary markets. Nonetheless, within the case of Alameda and FTX, it appears to have grow to be one thing of a gateway drug to different actions, a few of that are certainly very unlawful and are the direct trigger for Bankman-Fried’s current appearances in federal courtrooms.

The consequence was that till Could 2021, when FTX raised $900 million in its first funding spherical, Alameda was the most important dealer on the platform, chargeable for a lot of its $18 billion valuation. Once more, not unlawful, nevertheless it ought to increase some eyebrows when an organization — any firm — depends this closely on one agency to produce such a big chunk of its enterprise. 

The eyebrows ought to go even greater when it seems each corporations are owned by the identical individual and that the higher echelon of each are all residing collectively in the identical condo within the Bahamas, the place FTX was headquartered.

Driving Excessive 

At first, although, no one appeared to place this image collectively. From the primary funding spherical in 2021, FTX solely saved rising. In January 2022, FTX US, which was spun off from FTX in 2020 and served solely U.S.-based clients, raised $400 million at a valuation of $8 billion. The remainder of the corporate, generally known as FTX Worldwide, was valued at $32 billion at across the identical time.

With excessive valuations comes excessive residing. Essentially the most public instance was how FTX made a cope with basketball crew the Miami Warmth to sponsor them for $135 million over 19 years, in return for the rights to call the Warmth’s stadium “FTX Area.”


The stadium after it was renamed in June 2022, although it’s slated to be renamed once more.

FTX wasn’t simply doing PR work, both: it additionally set itself up as a type of savior of the crypto trade because it entered the crypto winter of 2022. FTX bailed out crypto lender BlockFi for roughly $250 million when it confronted going out of enterprise, in addition to shopping for up Voyager Digital, one other cryptocurrency platform in scorching water.

Whereas he was doing this, Bankman-Fried additionally projected a picture of being there to assist, wanting to avoid wasting the crypto trade from itself and actually solely desirous to earn money, so he might give it to charity within the title of efficient altruism. He drove an outdated Toyota Corolla, and by no means wore something however probably the most understated of garments throughout public appearances.

The FTX Collapse

Renaming stadiums and bailing out rivals aren’t the most cost effective of hobbies, although, and rumblings began, questioning the place this cash was coming from. The primary actual crack was an article revealed by Bloomberg in September 2022, which works over the hyperlinks between FTX and Alameda, a few of which we’ve already touched on on this article.

The Bloomberg story made some waves, however nothing in comparison with the Alameda steadiness sheet leaked by CoinDesk. It confirmed that there successfully was no wall between Alameda and FTX, and that executives for all intents and functions handled the 2 corporations as being one.

Incentivizing Deposits

The main points of the way it all labored are fairly intricate, however the easy model is that this: clients purchased crypto from FTX after which left these cash in an account with the corporate. They did this as a result of proper now most cryptocurrency isn’t significantly helpful in day-to-day life; it really works higher as an funding.

In impact, folks have been depositing their cash with FTX. In the event you accomplish that with a financial institution, you’ll be able to count on to get some type of return, albeit a small one. FTX needed to incentivize folks preserving their cash within the change, so it launched one thing referred to as a “spot margin.”

The spot margin basically allowed one person to lend out their crypto token to a different and earn some cash for his or her bother. Factor is, although, that this method relied on crypto all the time appreciating in worth and thus was unsustainable when the market began to go down. Allegedly, to pay the charges for these spot margins, FTX began dipping into deposited funds.

That’s extremely unlawful, however the allegations don’t cease there. The most important buyer making use of spot margins was Alameda, which borrowed cash from FTX to purchase up extra cryptocurrency. Once more, this wasn’t FTX’s cash, however as an alternative cash from their depositors. FTX and Alameda have been drawing from their depositors’ property greater than as soon as.

Alameda and FTT Tokens

It will get even worse, too. To make a mortgage, even from an organization owned by the identical folks, you want collateral, one thing the creditor can take from you when you fail to pay. Within the case of Alameda, the collateral was FTT, FTX’s very personal crypto token.

Even amongst tokens, FTT was a little bit of an odd duck, because it was not a lot a foreign money as a stake within the success of FTX. If FTX did nicely, FTT went up. If FTX did poorly, FTT went down; it was extra like inventory than a coin. Primarily, Alameda was borrowing FTX’s cash — although not, you already know, actually FTX’s cash — utilizing a token backed by the worth of FTX.

The issue with incestuous little circles like that is that when issues are going nicely, they go very nicely, however only one tiny factor can upset the entire delicate equipment. 

If a major variety of traders took their cash out from FTX — generally known as a “run” — there merely wouldn’t be sufficient cash to pay all of the depositors and traders again, which might deliver the entire scheme crashing down.

The Empire Crumbles

Naturally, when CoinDesk broke the information that Alameda’s steadiness sheet was just about all FTT and little or no of anything, a slow-burning panic began. Bankman-Fried tried a two-prong method: on the one hand, issuing public assurances and on the opposite, asking Binance to bail him out. Binance initially agreed, however then publicly withdrew. This was the demise knell for FTX.

After this, occasions piled up onerous and quick. Naturally, the federal government bought concerned, because it wasn’t just some crypto fanatics dropping their life’s financial savings. FTX counted main stakeholders of their clientele, and these establishments instantly might not entry their funds. Whilst Bankman-Fried filed for chapter, investigators have been onerous at work.

It didn’t take lengthy for the total breadth of the goings-on at FTX and Alameda to be revealed. Bankman-Fried first tried to cross all of it off as an accounting error, however this was rapidly slammed by, nicely, nearly all people. SBF then tried to cross it off as folly by an inexperienced crew, made up of fans.

This will have been true, however solely up to a degree. For instance, FTX’s chief of operations turned out to have simply two years of expertise within the sector for Credit score Suisse, a financial institution which confronted legal prices in its native Switzerland. On the identical time, a regulatory officer apparently was concerned in an internet poker scandal a couple of years earlier than.

What emerged was not an image of a happy-go-lucky startup run aground on the shoals of the market, however fairly one the place executives, at finest, took a cavalier perspective to their depositors’ cash. Federal prosecutors, although, took the slender view and filed legal prices for fraud. Bankman-Fried was arrested in his dwelling in Bermuda in December 2022.

Remaining Ideas: The SBF and FTX Implosion

Because it stands, the FTX scandal is much from over. The corporate nonetheless hasn’t paid all people again, and there’s a likelihood it by no means will. On prime of that, whereas we await SBF’s trial to start out, new data is popping out virtually each day and can probably proceed to take action. Till we all know extra, FTX will primarily function a reminder to not belief your cash with simply anyone.

What do you consider the FTX collapse? Is it a clarion name for higher regulation, or was its collapse simply the worth of doing enterprise? What about SBF, was he a savvy businessman or a dodgy fraudster? Tell us within the feedback beneath and, as all the time, thanks for studying.

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