In 2021, one of Hong Kong’s richest people — indeed, the world’s richest person under the age of 30 — is not an old-money heir but a US native who built his fortune in the cutting-edge world of cryptocurrency.
Sam Bankman-Fried is worth $8.7bn, according to Forbes. But that number could get “a lot bigger” depending on the outcome of a fundraising round that he says will sharply increase the valuation of FTX, the Hong-Kong based crypto derivative exchange he founded in 2019.
Despite his wealth and the lavish lifestyle the financial hub has to offer, the former Wall Street trader lives like many millennials — he swears by his vegan diet, shares an apartment with roommates, wears T-shirts and shorts to work, and makes sure every room in his office in Hong Kong’s central business district has beanbag chairs to sleep on.
Bankman-Fried describes himself as a workaholic with strict self-discipline. He spends most nights in the office and only returns home when employees are “fed up with my presence”, he told Nikkei Asia in a recent interview.
He almost never drinks or goes on a vacation, he said, because “just like an idle software, your brain is less efficient after a long break”.
The funding round for FTX, slated to be completed in the coming weeks, could make the company one of the most valuable new financial technology businesses in Asia — and an asset in Hong Kong’s start-up scene, at a time when the city’s role as a business hub is coming under increasing scrutiny.
This article is from Nikkei Asia, a global publication with a uniquely Asian perspective on politics, the economy, business and international affairs. Our own correspondents and outside commentators from around the world share their views on Asia, while our Asia300 section provides in-depth coverage of 300 of the biggest and fastest-growing listed companies from 11 economies outside Japan.
Beijing’s imposition of a national security law last year has prompted many multinational companies to rethink their commitment to the Chinese territory.
But the greater short-term concern for Bankman-Fried is the financial hub’s own desire for greater regulatory oversight of the fledgling cryptocurrency industry. Hong Kong will table a bill in the coming legislative year to require all exchanges operating in the city to be licensed. It has suggested that only wealthy professional investors will be allowed to trade cryptocurrencies. Bankman-Fried has made clear that if the city’s ban on retail investors also applies to citizens of other jurisdictions, FTX would leave Hong Kong for another base.
“I’ve loved my time here . . . but in the end, what’s important is that we’re in the right place for the business,” he said. “What we’ve been doing also is reaching out to try and find governments that would be really excited to have us and work with us. That’s something we’re still working on, and we have a lot of candidates in mind.”
Hong Kong’s move to tighten regulations comes as other Asian countries grapple with their responses to the crypto frenzy.
South Korea last month introduced a bill giving financial regulators the power to approve digital tokens, granting authorities greater leverage against market malpractice such as price manipulation by exchanges. Authorities in South Korea have confiscated cryptocurrency assets from thousands of individuals in a tax evasion probe. Singapore and Japan have set up exchange-licensing regimes but do not restrict retail trading.
China, too, is increasingly concerned over the power-hungry crypto industry, closing 26 bitcoin mining operations in hydropower-rich Sichuan Province last week. The People’s Bank of China also told major banks and financial institutions to crack…