Who is the richest person in cryptocurrency?

The still-nascent crypto sector, valued at $1.8trn, has given rise to a swathe of billionaires. We name names.

A photograph of Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss arrive at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner                                 
The Winklevoss twins, bitcoin billionaires: despite crypto touting itself as a decentralized alternative to the traditional financial system, the striking concentration of wealth indicates this principle is not reflected in the reality – Photo: Shutterstock
                                

Contents

Who is the wealthiest person in cryptocurrency? 

The growth of the crypto industry over the past decade has made a host of individuals incredibly wealthy. From early crypto enthusiasts who bought BTC for $5 back when no one had ever heard even of it, to entrepreneurs who have successfully set up crypto-related businesses, there are a handful of people who have built up almost nauseating levels of wealth from this emergent sector.  

And yet, such is the volatility in the crypto world that one man alone has lost more than $67bn – yes, 67 billion dollars – in the past year.

With the market cap of total crypto coins now more than $1.86trn, according to CoinGecko, and with ever-increasing interest in all crypto-related endeavors, from NFTs to Web 3.0 developments to seemingly useless meme coins,  it is perhaps no surprise the phenomenon has given birth to very successful businesses, and in turn very successful business owners. 

From the founders of exchanges, to the leaders of successful crypto-related investment groups, individuals continue to capitalize off the ballooning industry. So who are the crypto billionaires? And who is the richest person in cryptocurrency? That can be difficult to say, as sometimes estimates of billionaires’ wealth vary widely, and wildly. But let’s take a look. 

Forbes’s annual world’s billionaires list features 19 individuals who made their money off blockchain and crypto, seven more than last year, with the three richest all in charge of cryptocurrency exchanges.

Satoshi Nakomoto, the anonymous founder of Bitcoin, with an alleged holding of 750,000 to 1.1 million BTC, according to an article in 2021 by the Independent, would (if this was correct and he was identified), be ranked among the top 30 billionaires globally, with a minimum wealth of around $30bn to $44bn. However, because neither the individual, nor the extent of their holdings, can be confirmed, Nakomoto has been kept off the list.

Richest crypto owners 

Changpeng Zhao, the Chinese-born, Canada-based founder and CEO of Binance, has a net worth of approximately $65bn, according to Forbes. Forbes ranks him as the 20th wealthiest person globally, and the richest person involved in cryptocurrency. Zhao owns around 70% of Binance, the biggest crypto exchange in the world in terms of daily trading volume. It provides investors globally with the chance to exchange more than 600 cryptos, Binance’s profits stand at more than $16bn a year, according to Forbes.

However, Zhao is “only” worth $28.4bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Bloomberg’s index, which is updated daily, says that Zhao has lost $67.5bn in the past, and is now only the 43rd richest person in the world. Bloomberg believes Zhao has lost $67.5bn in the past year, more money than all but the top 17 billionaires on the planet actually own.

Zhao, 44, on top of being the founder of Binance, also holds significant amounts of cryptocurrency, including BTC and BNB. Before founding Binance in Hong Kong in 2017, he began BijieTech, an exchange systems provider in Shanghai. Zhao also worked as head of development at Blockchain, a crypto finance house based in London.  He began his career as head of tradebook futures development at Bloomberg, according to his LinkedIn profile

Changpeng Zhao, the richest cryptocurrency person on the planet
Changpeng Zhao, the richest cryptocurrency person on the planet, is reckoned by Bloomberg to have lost $67bn in the past year

Sam Bankman-Fried is the second wealthiest crypto-related individual on Forbes’s list. Born in the United States to two Stanford University law professors, Bankman-Fried, aged 30, is co-founder of FTX, a Hong Kong-based crypto derivatives exchange. He has a reported net worth of $24bn, avccording to Forbes, or $17.9bn, according to Bloomberg. The exchange was valued at $32bn back in 2021. It is now thought to be valued closer to $40bn. Bankman-Fried owns approximately half of  FTX, on top of a significant portion of the exchange's native token. He has promised to part with all his wealth throughout the course of his life. 

Bankman-Fried, 61st on Forbes’s billionaires list. and 92nd on Bloomberg’s, was the CEO of Alameda research, a crypto liquidity provider, before founding FTX, according to his LinkedIn profile. Bloomberg says he actually gained $1.64bn over the past year

His co-founder at FTX, Gary Wang, a MIT graduate who studied maths and computer science, comes in as the fourth wealthiest individual in crypto, according to Forbes. Wang, born in the United States, started alongside Bankman-Fried in 2019. With a significant stake in FTX alongside substantial holdings in FTT, the native token of the platform, Wang has a net worth of $5.9 billion, Forbes says. Bloomberg does not list him on its own list of the 500 richest billionaires, which starts at $5.1bn. 

Between Bankman-Fried and Wang on Forbes’s list of crypto billionaires comes Brian Armstrong, founder of another major exchange, Coinbase. Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, studied computer science at Rice University in Houston, Texas, is given a net worth of around $6.6bn by Forbes. In 2021, when Coinbase was made public, it was valued at $100bn. Before founding Coinbase in 2012, Armstrong founded University.com as well as working as technical product manager at Airbnb.com, according to his LinkedIn profile. Again, Armstrong is not rich enough to feature on Bloomberg's list. 

Fred Ehrsam, co-founder of Coinbase, also has a lesser but still considerable net worth of $2.1, Forbes says, making him the 15th richest crypto billionaire. Despite leaving the exchange in 2017, Ehrsam, 34, born in Boston, Massachusetts and educated at Duke University, is still on the board and also holds a 6% stake in the company. Ehrsam subsequently set up an investment firm called Paradigm, which invests in new types of cryptocurrencies as well as early crypto start-ups. 

Two other crypto exchange billionaires are the Winklevoss twins, Tyler and Cameron. They started with a $65m settlement from Mark Zuckerberg after suing him over who exactly had the ideas that turned into Facebook, and have since parlayed that into $4bn apiece, after starting buying bitcoin in 2012, founding the cryptocurrency exchange Gemini and starting a digital art auction platform, Nifty Gateway.

Song Chi-hyung, originally from South Korea, boasts a net worth of $3.7bn, according to Forbes, making him the eigth richest person in crypto. He is the founder of the crypto exchange Upbit, and owns around 25% of Dunamu, tje parent company of Upbit. 

Not all crypto billionaires, however, are founders of exchanges. Let's take a look at individuals who have made their fortune not from exchange-related activities.

Barry Silbert, the founder of the investment group Digital Currency Group
Barry Silbert, the founder of the investment group Digital Currency Group

Blockchain billionaires

The richest actual coin founder, according to Forbes (outside the semi-mythical anonymous founder of Bitcoin) is Chris Larsen, born in San Francisco in 1960, who founded OpenCoin in 2012, changing its name to Ripple Labs the following year. In 2014 Ripple was the second largest cryptocurrency after bitcoin, and in 2018 Forbes estimated his wealth at $59bn, making him the fifth richest person in the world. Today Forbes values him at just $4.3bn. Larsen and Ripple are currently fighting the US Securities and Exchange Commision over whether Ripple is an unregistered security.

Barry Silbert, ninth on Forbes's list of crypto billionaires, began investing in blockchain technology in 2013, and has accumulated more than $3bn from founding Digital Currency Group, an investment group based in Stanford, Connecticutt, in 2015. The group manages nearly $30bn of crypto assets. It also owns the news and events company CoinDesk.  Silbert, through his investment company, has been an early investor in hundreds of crypto start-ups. 

Jed McCaleb, comes in as the 10th richest individual in the crypto world. Founder of the global payment solutions crypto Ripple Labs in 2021, McCaleb has a wealth of approximately $2.5bn, Forbes says.  Despite parting from the project in 2013, McCaleb still has extensive holdings in XRP, the native token of Ripple, which he has been selling incrementally over the years. McCaleb founded a crypto called Stellar. 

Crypto traders 

While we have looked at who the richest people in crypto are in terms of crypto entrepreneurs, there are also many crypto traders who have become very successful buying and selling crypto. While it is difficult to gauge who the richest crypto traders are, because it is not in their interests to disclose their holdings, it is common knowledge that crypto whales can have a significant impact on whether a coin goes up or down in price. 

Notable crypto traders based on their social media following include Ben Armstrong, also known as BitBoy Crypto, and Anthony Pompliano. While Armstrong is thought to have a net worth of approximately $28m as of 2021, Pompliano is believed to have a net worth of around $200m. 

Other notable BTC investors who have come out publicly to acknowledge their crypto-derived wealth include Michael Saylor,  CEO of Microstrategy, who has a net worth of around $1.6bn. In 2020, Saylor, through his company, bought 70,000 BTC for a price of around $1.1bn. With the price of Bitcoin surging, the IT founder’s investment has more than paid off. 

Tim Draper who comes 19th on the Forbes billionaire list is a venture capitalist who invested in BTC In 2012 and 2014. In 2014 he purchased 29,656 bitcoins for $18.7m at auction, pricing each Bitcoin at $632 per coin. With Bitcoin valued at over $39,000 as of 25 April 2022 according to CoinGecko, Draper has made significant profit. 

Final thoughts 

This list is certainly not exhaustive. From Elon Musk, whose total wealth of over $250bn has been bolstered by his extensive holdings in crypto, to Currency.com's founder, Viktor Prokopenya, whose wealth was estimated at around $400m as of 2021, plenty of individuals have profited hugely from the crypto boom.

While investors and crypto founders of all shapes and sizes have capitalised off the swelling industry, exchange platforms appear to have emerged as the real winners. It is interesting to note that while the whole ethos of crypto has been founded on decentralization, the players who have amassed the greatest wealth are the centralized gatekeepers who mediate between crypto coins and investors.  

FAQs

How many crypto billionaires are there?

There are 19 crypto billionaires as of April 2022, according to Forbes. 

Who is the richest crypto trader?

It is hard to tell who the richest crypto trader is as most traders do not disclose their holdings. It also depends on how you define a crypto trader. Barry Silbert,Tim Draper and Michael Saylor are all prominent investors of crypto, especially BTC. 

Who owns the most Bitcoin?

Satoshi, the anonymous founder of Bitcoin is thought to hold the most Bitcoin. He potentially owns as many as 1.1 million Bitcoins. 

Further reading

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