FTX cofounder Sam Bankman-Fried built a $22.5 billion fortune at age 29 by profiting off the cryptocurrency frenzy – but he’s not a true believer. He just wants his wealth to survive long enough to give it all away.
Four years ago, Bankman-Fried had yet to buy a single bitcoin. Now, five months shy of his 30th birthday, he debuts on this year’s Forbes 400 at No. 32, with a net worth of $22.5 billion. Save for Mark Zuckerberg, no one in history has ever gotten so rich so young. The irony? Bankman-Fried is no crypto evangelist. He’s barely even a believer. He’s a mercenary, dedicated to making as much money as possible (he doesn’t really care how) solely so he can give it away (he doesn’t really know to whom, or when).
Steve Jobs obsessed over his sleek and simple products. Elon Musk claims he’s in business to save humanity. Not Bankman-Fried, whose philosophy of “earning to give” drove him into the crypto gold rush, first as a trader, then as the creator of an exchange, simply because he knew he could get rich. Asked if he would abandon crypto if he thought he could pile up more money doing something else—say, trading orange juice futures—he doesn’t even pause: “I would, yeah.”
At the moment, Bankman-Fried’s “effective altruism,” the utilitarian-inflected notion of doing the most good possible, is almost entirely theoretical. So far, he has given away just $25 million, about 0.1% of his fortune, placing him among the least charitable members of The Forbes 400. He’s betting that he’ll eventually be able to multiply his giving by a factor of at least 900 by continuing to ride the crypto wave instead of cashing out now.
Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, which enables traders to buy and sell digital assets such as bitcoin and Ethereum, raised $900 million from the likes of Coinbase Ventures and SoftBank in July at an $18 billion valuation. It handles some 10% of the $3.4 trillion face value of derivatives (mostly futures and options) traded by crypto investors each month. FTX pockets 0.02% of each of those trades on average, good for around $750 million in nearly risk-free revenue—and $350 million in profit—over the last 12 months. Separately, his trading firm, Alameda Research, booked $1 billion in profit last year making well-timed trades of its own. Lately Bankman-Fried has been hitting the TV circuit to opine on bitcoin prices, regulations and the future of digital assets.