The Big Whale: The markets are not at their best. How is FTX doing? This is the first time you've experienced a "Bear Market"...
Sam Bankman-Fried: Yes, this is the first real Bear Market we've been through. But you know, one of the main characteristics of crypto platforms is that our operation is not impacted by the market downturn any more than that. Every day we continue to grow the business, create services and new tools for customers. So, yes, the markets are less dynamic, things are a little more tense, but in the end, it doesn't take us off course.
So there is no problem? Are you optimistic about the next few months?
I honestly don't know. I can't say what exactly will happen from a macroeconomic point of view in the coming months. It all depends on the interest rates (of the central banks, editor's note*). If there is a real rise in interest rates, a lot could happen. There could be further sharp movements in the markets. But overall, I'm pretty optimistic about the future of cryptos because the industry keeps growing. There are more and more use cases, the technology is improving (understand everything to Web3) and the regulation is gradually being put in place.
Since the collapse of Terra Luna and the drop in the markets, you have been seen everywhere. Many people say that you are the "big winner" of the crisis. Do you share this view?
I can understand why some people would say that, but you have to think in terms of the industry as a whole. When things are going well for us, the whole industry benefits, and vice versa. Honestly, you can't say there are winners and losers. The real question is how we're all going to get through this together.
You say this when in two years, the number of your customers has soared (it is now several million, editor's note) and the valuation of FTX has reached new heights...
Yes, seen from this angle, it is true...
You have made several large acquisitions. Why? What does Voyager or BlockFi mean to you?
Some of these transactions have helped stabilize the markets (after the fall of Terra Luna in May, several companies went bankrupt, ed. note). But beyond that, these acquisitions will allow us to strengthen our position in the United States and continue to gain market share.
Are you thinking of buying Robinhood? Would it be a good deal for you?
That's a great question! There are two ways for a company to grow: either it buys companies or it continues to grow internally. The most important thing is to continue to grow, to attract users, whichever way you do it. We could buy a company like Robinhood, but that's not what we're looking at right now. Our challenge is to continue to grow organically.
Where do you stand today?
We have excellent numbers. We do 6 times more volume than Coinbase while we have 20 times less users (Coinbase claims 80 million users, ed.). When you look at these numbers, you can see that there is a lot of potential.
Do you have any other targets in mind?
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Yes, we are interested in several companies, including one or two, but I can't tell you which ones.
Are there any companies in Europe?
Yes, of course! Especially in Europe. We have already made several investments in Europe last year, which allowed us to obtain approvals in several countries. We are obviously very attentive to what's going on in Europe, and we are looking at companies that might interest us. If you have any ideas, don't hesitate (laughs).
Could European exchanges be targets?
If their adoption is substantial, it is very certain that we will follow them with attention.
How do you see Europe?
For us, Europe is an important space. Honestly, I thought Europe was a bit behind, but we feel that there is a will to develop and to get back in the race. This is quite obvious, especially in terms of regulation with MiCA (Markets in Crypto-Assets) which is going in the right direction. Things are moving forward all over Europe, in France of course, in the Netherlands, in Germany and in other countries, and I think that things will continue to improve.
Are you thinking of setting up your European headquarters in France? Binance and Crypto.com have just done so...
These are things that we need to discuss again. We need to be convinced that this is the right solution. But yes, this is one of the best options.
What do you like most about France? The regulation, the ecosystem?
Both without a doubt. There is a real ecosystem in France with start-ups and several large groups. Paris is also a global hub for finance and a place where people mix and pass through, which are important elements in deciding where to locate our European headquarters. We are looking for a central location to set up, not only for its location but also for the role it plays. It is difficult to find a more central location than France and Paris...
What do you think of the very "pro-Web3" speech of the French government?
It is very important to feel wanted, to have governments that want to work with you.
You know that that Emmanuel Macron is trying to push Web3 in Europe. Do you think that Europe could take the leadership at the global level?
Europe has many assets, the game is very open. It has every chance of becoming the leader ahead of America and Asia.
In the current context, it is clear that there is a battle between the exchanges to become the biggest player. How do you position yourself?
There will always be a battle between the exchanges to get on the throne, to be the one who dominates the others and that's normal, that's the basis of the economy, it's quite healthy. We have to compete to be the best. From my point of view, the best way to become a leader is to keep working, to focus on the product, to push forward the regulation, the adoption of cryptos.
You all say the same thing...
Not everyone in the industry innovates like we do. There is a difference between those who innovate and those who copy. The most important thing is to offer the best products to customers.
What's the best service you've launched since FTX began in 2019?
It's hard to choose... We have simple products like US stocks and also more complex products like spread orders or trading bots.
All trading platforms have their own stablecoin, except perhaps FTX. Could you start one?
Yes, it is very likely. We know how to create a stablecoin. We're just thinking about the best partner to do it with.
What might this stablecoin look like?
What I can tell you is that you'll be hearing from us soon (laughs).
Platforms like FTX have more and more clients with an ever wider offer. Won't you eventually replace the banks?
It depends a lot on the country. In the United States, there is a big difference between banks and other financial institutions. For us, it's more interesting to work with banks because they will manage some of the custody, especially the dollars, which allows us to focus on the essentials, on tokenizing assets and creating new products. In other countries, where banks are less powerful, the situation is different. There, exchanges could play an even more important role.
Could you become a bank?
It is not planned, and then the regulation on banks is very restrictive. After that, one should never say never. For the time being, our objective is to offer the best possible trading platform accessible to all. Since the beginning of the year, we have been dealing with the CFTC (Commodity Futures Trading Commission) on some of our products, which keeps us busy.
Speaking of services, what do you expect from the partnership with Visa?
When you look at the potential uses of cryptos, payment comes way out on top. This is a major opportunity. Today if you look at how payments work, a lot of it is through credit cards. That's the state of the market. By partnering with Visa, we're integrating cryptos a little bit more into the real economy, which is very exciting. With the Visa-FTX card, you'll be able to spend your dollars, stablecoins or bitcoins.
You will mainly launch these cards in South America where there is a real demand. Would this be possible in Europe?
Absolutely! We are looking at how to launch this type of product in Europe and other parts of the world. It just takes time, you have to go region by region.
The MiCA regulation has just been adopted. What do you think about it?
It's great to have this kind of regulation. I'm sure it will benefit the sector. Today the European crypto ecosystem is still very fragmented with national legislations and regulators that do not share the same vision of the sector.
Do you think the United States should adopt such legislation?
The idea is yes, but there are different points to take into account. We have to go gradually. Things are evolving in the spot market, but there is nothing or very little in the derivatives markets yet. The Senate is dealing with the regulation of new assets like cryptos. They are working on these issues. It takes time, but what matters is that it's clear to the ecosystem.
What do you think is the most interesting thing about MiCA?
I think it's just the fact that things are regulated gradually. It would have been a nightmare if all the assets were lumped together. So I think that's the most interesting thing about MiCA. After that, we'll have to see how it all evolves over time.
How do you see things in Asia?
Historically, Asia was the center of the crypto ecosystem. This is a bit less true today, there has been a rebalancing in favor of the West. Japan, South Korea or Singapore are still very dynamic, but the dynamics are not necessarily on their side anymore, even if we will obviously have to rely on Asia in the years to come.
Are you still raising funds?
Absolutely! We are working on it. The context is always very important when you want to make acquisitions. We already have a lot of cash. You can estimate the amount of cash we have from various public statements, but I can tell you it's between one and four billion dollars. FTX is very clearly in a strong position to make small and medium-sized acquisitions. On large acquisitions, it's a little different, but we don't want to spend all of our cash.
Given the situation in the markets, is this a good time to make acquisitions?
It's not an obvious time. There are pros and cons. Our goal is to continue to grow the company's valuation and things are going well. We're going to close a deal and it will probably be an extension of our previous fundraising. So it's certainly not an easy time to raise, but if there are opportunities, we have to go for it.
Will investors follow you?
The Texas regulator has opened an investigation into your business. What's the problem?
I can't comment in detail, but from what we understand, we are being accused of having built one of our products incorrectly. From the outside, it may look like the product is not secure, but we are 100% confident.
What is this product?
I can't say.
Some people say that you are involved in unsavoury practices...
We don't use our clients' funds, we don't make loans with their assets, but I do think our documentation can be clearer on this product. We are working to solve this type of problem, we are currently looking for someone to manage this product and its documentation. This will allow everyone, including the regulator, to better understand what we are doing.
During the presidential campaign, you did not hide your support for Joe Biden. Why? Are you happy with his politics on cryptos?
American politicians are still not talking about cryptos much. Some bills are going to Congress and the regulator is also working on these issues. We'll see how things evolve.
Anyway, I'm much more optimistic than I was a year ago. I was afraid that no regulatory measures would be put in place, but everyone has been working to get things moving. We'll have to see what happens. If in the coming months, things don't move forward on crypto regulation and their integration into the real economy, it will be a real disappointment. It will also be a disappointment if we regulate the sector too much. We need to protect users without restricting too much a sector that is very innovative. Economic freedom is fundamental.
2022 will remain a very eventful year. How do you see 2023?
I'm very optimistic overall, both about regulation and use cases. I think things will accelerate. I've been wrong in the past, we'll see if this time it's also the case.