A 30-Year-Old Crypto Billionaire Wants to Give His Fortune Away

 A 30-Year-Old Crypto Billionaire Wants to Give His Fortune Away

(Bloomberg Markets) -- The Economic Club of New York has hosted kings, prime ministers, and presidents, as well as Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos and JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon. Central bankers’ comments at the 115-year-old organization have moved markets. Sam Bankman-Fried, a 30-year-old cryptocurrency billionaire, is probably the first person to play a computer game while giving a talk.



As the featured guest one morning in February, Bankman-Fried looks schlubby as usual, reclining on a gaming chair in blue shorts and a gray T-shirt advertising his cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, his mop of curly hair flattened by his headphones. He’s speaking by Zoom from his office in the Bahamas.

Off camera, the detritus of someone who more or less lives at work litters his desk: crumpled bills from the U.S. and Hong Kong, nine tubes of lip balm, a stick of deodorant, a 1.5‑pound canister of sea salt labeled “SBF’s salt shaker,” and an open packet of chickpea korma that he had for lunch the day before. The beanbag where his assistant says he sleeps most weekdays is so close he could practically roll onto it.

As he fields questions about how the U.S. should regulate his industry, he pulls up a fantasy game called Storybook Brawl, chooses to play as “Peter Pants,” and prepares for battle with someone who goes by “Funky Kangaroo.”

“We’re anticipating a lot of growth in the United States,” Bankman-Fried says as he casts a spell on one of the knights in his fairy-tale army.

The novelty of appearances like this has long since worn off for Bankman-Fried, who’s testified before Congress twice since December. The previous weekend, he watched the Super Bowl from box seats just in front of NBA star Steph Curry—an FTX endorser. There was lunch with basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal and a party DJ’d by the head of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The singer Sia invited him to a dinner at a Beverly Hills mansion with Bezos and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, where Kate Hudson sang the national anthem and he chatted about crypto with pop star Katy Perry. The next day she told her 154 million followers on Instagram, in an unsolicited endorsement, “im quitting music and becoming an intern for @ftx_official ok”

Bankman-Fried is so blasé that he lets me watch his six screens over his shoulder as he fields the kind of messages that most executives protect like state secrets. Just that morning he appeared on NPR and emailed with reporters for Puck and the New York Times. His top Washington strategist wrote at one point to say that Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, would sign on to his preferred approach to regulation. Bankman-Fried got a message saying MoneyGram International Inc. was for sale and spent a few seconds considering whether the company could be a good bet. An assistant informed him that the head of an investment bank was in the Bahamas and wanted to visit him for five minutes. “Meh,” Bankman-Fried wrote back. That evening he planned to fly to the Munich Security Conference for a meeting with the prime minister of Georgia.

Given the insane speed and riskiness of his climb to the top echelons of the financial world, almost anything else must seem low stakes by comparison. Five years ago, Bankman-Fried was working for a charitable organization that promoted the then-fringe idea of “effective altruism”: using scientific reasoning to figure out how to do the most good for the most people. Then he spotted a seemingly too-good-to-be-true pricing anomaly in Bitcoin and decided that, for him, the right path would be making tons of money to give away. Now, Bankman-Fried is one of the richest people in the world, with a fortune of more than $20 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, after venture capitalists recently invested in FTX and its U.S. arm at a combined $40 billion valuation.

For all his wealth, Bankman-Fried tells me his core philosophy remains the same. He’ll keep enough money to maintain a comfortable life: 1% of his earnings or, at minimum, $100,000 a year. Other than that, he still plans to give it all away—every dollar, or Bitcoin, as the case may be. He’s a kind of crypto Robin Hood, beating the rich at their own game to win money for capitalism’s losers. Yet he’s now part of the power structure that causes the problems he says he wants to fix. He makes big political contributions and pushes his company’s agenda in Washington. And so far he’s donated less to charity than he’s spent on naming rights for the Miami Heat’s arena (cost: $135 million over 19 years) and airing a Super Bowl ad with comedian Larry David portraying a curmudgeonly crypto skeptic (an estimated $30 million). He sees no inconsistency; he’s investing to maximize the amount of good he does, eventually, even if he’s risking what he’s already made in crypto.

As by far the richest person to emerge from the effective-altruism movement, Bankman-Fried is a thought experiment from a college philosophy seminar come to life. Should someone who wants to save the world first amass as much money and power as possible, or will the pursuit corrupt him along the way?

The way Bankman-Fried’s peers describe him, he sounds like a strange sort of capitalist monk. One says he worked so hard in the early days that he rarely showered. Another says he swore off relationships because he doesn’t have time. It seems like he views even sleep as an unnecessary luxury. “Every minute you spend sleeping is costing you X thousand dollars, and that directly means you can save this many less lives,” says Matt Nass, a colleague and childhood friend.

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