A “brilliant young guy”, a “genius”, “making money to give money away”, Sam Bankman-Fried was not short of his praisers pre the collapse of FTX.
The former CEO and Founder’s face adorned the covers of Forbes and Vanity Fair, with Fortune even acknowledging SBF was being hailed as the “next Warren Buffet”.
But behind every multi-billionaire’s empire is an even bigger and intriguing backstory which was delved into at a recent GBG event in Shoreditch, London.
Jamie Bartlett and Storm Theunissen, a guest speaker and the Director of the BBC Panorama documentary ‘Downfall of the Crypto King’, let onlookers at the Techspace venue in on the facade SBF was playing up to and how this ultimately caught up with him.
Speaking on the production and early stages of developing the BBC Panorama episode, Theunissen revealed she requested to speak to up to 600 people in total and was shocked to learn that a large majority of employees at FTX were roughly under the age of 30.
She found that getting these young people to speak on their experiences working at FTX and on their views on SBF to be challenging as this was for most of them their first job coming out of university/college, whilst their former boss was released from jail on a $250m bond as a result of multiple wire fraud and fraud charges.
Much of the employees’ refusal may also stem from the cult of personality Bankman-Fried cultivated and exuded in his role as one of crypto’s most visible and at the time, influential figures.
Joshua Oliver, a correspondent for the Financial Times, was also a speaker at the GBG event, who claimed SBF was a “master manipulator” in terms of how he would be able to get so many important people on his side.
The ex-FTX boss made it no secret that he loved the limelight and equally, the attention from some of the world’s most notable celebrities. This is what made Tom Brady, Stephen Curry, Larry David, Naomi Osaka, and more, endorse and promote FTX as the safehaven, forward-thinking, next-generation of finance SBF believed it was destined to be.
SBF’s clean-cut, youthful, curly haired image also contributed to his likeability and made an impression on many political figures. He would be a vocal and monetary supporter of the Democratic Party and unbeknownst to many, these donations would be from customer funds.
But it was not just the Democratic Party SBF donated too, as the near $40m he donated to the liberal party was of equal amount to the donations to the Republican Party, according to himself.
Playing both sides of the political spectrum also lends on his desire to be liked, from all corners of the US, and whilst he maintained a clean-cut innocent image, living life in a private penthouse suite in the Bahamas as FTX reached $32bn at the height of its valuation, the mask slipped after one landmark investigative story by CoinDesk.
After FTX went bankrupt, many key figureheads were arrested and charged, and Bankman-Fried was ultimately found guilty last November, it brought about a year-long end to what US Attorney Damian Williams labelled as “one of the biggest financial frauds in American history”.
Sadly, for the rest of the wider crypto market, the fall of FTX created a new wave of crypto uncertainty and scepticism that still lingers more than a year removed.
It has become painfully ironic that the man who promised to make billions of dollars to give back to charity, was unfortunately making billions through investor’s money to give it back to himself.
In the second part of Payment Expert’s three parter diving into how SBF caused the collapse of FTX, Joshua Oliver explained the “psychodrama” that was last month’s trial and how many of his closest right-hand people testified against him.