CD265: Policing FTX

CD265: Policing FTX

Dec 24, 2022

FTX, at one point the world’s third largest cryptocurrency exchange, went bankrupt, causing the entire cryptocurrency industry to crash. In this episode, hear highlights from Congressional testimony that will explain how FTX was able to grow so large while committing blatant fraud, how it’s possible that the government didn’t know and didn’t do anything to stop it, and hear about a Senate bill that’s branded as a solution but has concerning flaws of it’s own.

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Background Sources

Recommended Congressional Dish Episodes

CD264: Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain

CD235: The Safe Haven of Sanctions Evaders


What is FTX?

“What is FTX?” Timothy Smith. Dec 22, 2022. Investopedia.

Crypto Regulation

“U.S. Senate Is Still Confused About How to Regulate Crypto After FTX Collapse.” Kyle Barr. Dec 1, 2022. Gizmodo.

“Congressmembers Tried to Stop the SEC’s Inquiry Into FTX.” David Dayen. Nov 23, 2022. The American Prospect.

“We Already Have Laws to Stop Crypto Fraud.” David Dayen. Nov 17, 2022. The American Prospect.

“Why Is Congress Still Writing Crypto Regulations?” David Dayen. Nov 10, 2022. The American Prospect.

“Letter to SEC Chair Gary Gensler Regarding Cryptocurrency Inquiries.” Tom Emmer et al. Mar 16, 2022. “Letter to SEC Chair Gary Gensler Regarding Cryptocurrency Inquiries.” emmer.house.gov.

Lead-up to FTX Collapse

“In about-face, Crypto exchange Binance pulls out of FTX acquisition.” Elizabeth Napolitano. Nov 9, 2022. NBC News.

“Crypto exchange FTX saw $6 bln in withdrawals in 72 hours.” Tom Wilson and Angus Berwick. Nov 8, 2022. Reuters.

“Crypto exchange FTX saw $6 bln in withdrawals in 72 hours.” Tracy Wang and Oliver Knight. Nov 6, 2022.

“Binance to Sell Rest of FTX Token Holdings as Alameda CEO Defends Firm’s Financial Condition.” Tracy Wang and Oliver Knight. Nov 6, 2022. CoinDesk.

“Divisions in Sam Bankman-Fried’s Crypto Empire Blur on His Trading Titan Alameda’s Balance Sheet.” Ian Allison. Nov 2, 2022. CoinDesk.

“Re: Potential Violations of Section 18(a)(4) of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act.” Seth. P Rosebrock, Assistant General Counsel, Enforcement, FDIC. Aug 18, 2022. FDIC.

Tom Emmer

“SEC Chair Gary Gensler Must Testify Before Congress, Says Rep. Tom Emmer.” André Beganski. Dec 11, 2022. Decrypt.

“Meet Tom Emmer, a powerful crypto advocate in a crypto-wary Congress.” Tony Romm. Dec 8, 2022. The Washington Post.

“House GOP picks Emmer as GOP whip, Scalise as leader.” Emily Brooks and Mychael Schnell. Nov 15, 2022. The Hill.

FTX Collapse

“FTX Effort to Save Itself Failed on Questionable Assets.” Shane Shifflett, Rob Barry, and Coulter Jones. Dec 5, 2022. The Wall Street Journal.

“FTX Founder Sam Bankman-Fried Says He Can’t Account for Billions Sent to Alameda.” Alexander Osipovich. Dec 3, 2022. The Wall Street Journal.

“5 major revelations about the collapse of crypto giant FTX.” David Gura. Nov 23, 2022. NPR.

“FTX says it owes more than $3 billion to creditors.” Steven Zeitchik. Nov 20, 2022. The Washington Post.

“Declaration of John J. Ray III in Support of Chapter 11 Petitions and First Day Pleadings” [Case 22-11068-JTD] Nov 17, 2022. PACER.

“Exclusive: At least $1 billion of client funds missing at failed crypto firm FTX.” Angus Berwick. Nov 11, 2022. Reuters.

“FTX chief Sam Bankman-Fried resigns as firm files for bankruptcy.” Jacob Bogage and Tory Newmyer. Nov 11, 2022. The Washington Post.

“FTX Tapped Into Customer Accounts to Fund Risky Bets, Setting Up Its Downfall.” Vicky Ge Huang, Alexander Osipovich, and Patricia Kowsmann. Nov 11, 2022. The Wall Street Journal.

Lobbying and Campaign Donations

“Lawmakers who benefited from FTX cash probe its collapse.” Tory Newmyer and Steven Zeitchik. Dec 1, 2022. The Washington Post.

“Inside Sam Bankman-Fried’s courtship of a Washington regulator.” Tory Newmyer and Peter Whoriskey. Nov 28, 2022. The Washington Post.

“Congress took millions from FTX. Now lawmakers face a crypto reckoning.” Tony Romm. Nov 17, 2022. The Washington Post.

“FTX Collapse Sets Back Crypto Agenda in Washington.” Paul Kiernan. Nov 14, 2022. The Wall Street Journal.

“Washington lobbyists sever ties with FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried after crypto exchange implodes.” Brian Schwartz. Nov 14, 2022. CNBC.

“Sam Bankman-Fried charmed Washington. Then his crypto empire imploded.” Tory Newmyer. Nov 12, 2022. The Washington Post.

“Meet the mega-donors pumping millions into the 2022 midterms.” Luis Melgar et al. Oct 24, 2022. The Washington Post.

“A young crypto billionaire’s political agenda goes well beyond pandemic preparedness.” Freddy Brewster. Aug 12, 2022. Los Angeles Times.

Aftermath of the FTX Collapse

“Factbox: Global regulatory actions against FTX.” Dec 12, 2022. Reuters.

“FTX Founder Sam Bankman-Fried Is Said to Face Market Manipulation Inquiry.” Emily Flitter, David Yaffe-Bellany and Matthew Goldstein. Dec 7, 2022. The New York Times.

“Clashes Over FTX Bankruptcy Go Global.” Alexander Osipovich, Alexander Saeedy and Alexander Gladstone. Dec 4, 2022.

“Hot Wallets vs. Cold Wallets.” Mar 10, 2022. Cryptopedia.

December 13 Hearing

“Memorandum To: Members, Committee on Financial Services From: FSC Majority Staff Subject: December 13, 2022, Full Committee Hearing entitled, “Investigating the Collapse of FTX, Part I.” Dec 8, 2022. House Financial Services Committee.

“Chart: Four Silos for Recover Purposes.” House Financial Services Committee.

Sam Bankman-Fried Indictment

“Here is the criminal indictment against Sam Bankman-Fried.” Dec 13, 2022. The New York Times.


Bills

S.4760 – Digital Commodities Consumer Protection Act of 2022


Audio Sources

Investigating the Collapse of FTX, Part I

December 13, 2022
House Committee on Financial Services

Witness:

  • John J. Ray III, CEO, FTX Group

Clip Transcripts

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO): Have you read the full testimony that was planned by our missing guest [Sam Bankman-Fried]? John Ray I have not read his full testimony. Some pieces of it been relayed to me, but I’ve not read it. I’ve not read one word of it actually. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO): Yeah, I don’t know him personally and probably don’t want to. But this testimony is so disrespectful. I mean, there’s not a person up here would like to show this to their children. In line two of this message, he says, and I quote, “I would like to start out by firmly stating under oath…* And yeah, I can’t even say it publicly. The next two words, absolutely insulting. This is the Congress of the United States.

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH): So when when customers deposited funds into their FTX accounts, where did the cash go? John Ray: Well, sometimes the money wasn’t deposited in the FTX account it was sent to Alameda to begin with. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH): It was misdirected from from the start straight to Alameda. John Ray: There was certainly some time period where there’s no bank account at .com and then ultimately, if you look at the structure of this, Alameda is essentially a customer on that .com exchange, and effectively, you know, borrowed money from or just transferred money from FTX customers to take its own positions on the Alameda hedge fund.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC): So Alameda research and the venture capital business, what did Alameda research do? John Ray: Essentially made crypto investments, engaged in margin trading, took long and short positions in crypto, essentially invested in crypto. But of course, we now know also invested in over $5 billion of other assets which are in a variety of sectors.

Patrick McHenry (R-NC): Can you describe the differences between the FTX.com and FTX.us silos? John Ray: Yes. Very simply FTX.us was for US citizens who wanted to trade crypto; FTX.com, US citizens were not allowed to trade on that exchange. That’s very simple. And I would make one other comment, which is separate apart from any of those two silos. It was ledger x, which is a regulated entity regulated by the CFTC, solvent and separate from the FTX.us silo. Patrick McHenry (R-NC): Okay, and that is a distinct silo, that’s a distinct company? John Ray: That is a distinct company within the US silo, yes. Patrick McHenry (R-NC): Okay.

Patrick McHenry (R-NC):: What was the relationship between FTX.com and FTX.us? Was is there a distinction between the two? John Ray: There was a public distinction between the two. What we’re seeing now is that the crypto assets for both ftx.com and for FTX.us were housed in the same database. It’s called the AWS system, which is just an acronym for Amazon Web Services. It was all housed in the same web format. Patrick McHenry (R-NC):: And is that distinct from Alameda’s assets? John Ray: Yes, it is.

John Ray: In essence you know, Alameda was a user, effectively a customer, of FTX.com. That’s how it was essentially structured.

John Ray: There was no audit at Alameda, no audit at the venture silo. There was audit at the US silo and also audit at the the .com silo. I can’t speak to the integrity or quality of those audits. We’re reviewing, obviously, the books and records. And as I’ve said earlier, you know, much of those books and records were maintained on a fairly unsophisticated ledger ledger which works workbooks.

John Ray: It’s an extensive list, it really crosses the entire spectrum of the company, from lack of lists of bank accounts, hundreds of bank accounts dispersed all over the world, lack of a complete list of employees and their functions by group or name, extensive use of independent contractors as opposed to employees, lack of insurance that you’d normally would see in certain businesses, either inadequate insurance or complete gaps in insurance. For example, the Alameda silo had no insurance whatsoever. So those are I mean, there’s, the list goes on and on. You know, we could spend all day on them.

John Ray: While many things are unknown at this stage, we’re at a very preliminary stage, many questions remain, we know the following. First customer assets at ftx.com were commingled with assets from the Alameda trading platform. That much is clear. Second, Alameda used client funds to engage in margin trading, which exposed customer funds to massive losses. Third, the FTX group went on a spending binge in 2021 and 2022, during which $5 billion was spent on a myriad of businesses and investments, many of which may only be worth a fraction of what was paid for them. Fourth, loans and other payments were made to insiders in excess of $1.5 billion. Fifth, Alameda’s business model as a market maker required funds to be deployed to various third party exchanges, which were inherently unsafe and further exacerbated by the limited protections offered in certain of those foreign jurisdictions.

John Ray: I accepted the position of Chief Executive Officer of FTX in the early morning hours of November 11 [2022]. It immediately became clear to me that chapter 11 was the best course available to preserve any remaining value of FTX. Therefore, my first act as CEO was authorized the chapter 11 filings.

John Ray: It’s virtually unlimited in terms of the lack of controls: no centralized records on banking, no daily reconciliations of crypto assets, silos where there’s no insurance, inadequate insurance, no independent board, no safeguards that limit, who controls and asset. So senior management literally could get access to any of the accounts in any of the silos. No separateness between customer money and other customer money or other other assets. It’s virtually unlimited in terms of the lack of controls. And that’s really the point of the unprecedent comment. I’ve just never seen anything like it in 40 years of doing restructuring work and corporate corporate legal work. It’s just a dearth of of information.

John Ray: But again, users had multiple accounts. For example, if they had a different trading position, they may have opened multiple accounts. We know it’s a big number. It’s in the millions on the customer accounts, and we know it’s several billion dollars in losses. Assigning those losses to customer accounts will be our next challenge.

John Ray: The FTX group’s collapse appears to stem from absolute concentration of control in the hands of a small group of grossly inexperienced and unsophisticated individuals who failed to implement virtually any of the systems or controls that are necessary for a company entrusted with other people’s money or assets. Some of the unacceptable management practices identified so far include the use of computer infrastructure that gave individuals and senior management access to systems that stored customers’ assets without security controls to prevent them from redirecting those assets; the storing of certain private keys to access hundreds of millions of dollars in crypto assets without effective security controls or encryption; the ability of Alameda to borrow funds held at FTX.com to be utilized for its own trading or investments without any effective limits whatsoever; the commingling of assets; the lack of complete documentation for transactions involving nearly 500 separate investments made with FTX group funds and assets. In the absence of audited or reliable financial statements, the lack of personnel and financial and risk management functions, and the absence of independent governance throughout the FTX group, a fundamental challenge we face is there in many respects we are starting from near zero in terms of the corporate infrastructure and record keeping that one would expect in a multibillion dollar corporation.

John Ray: The FTX group is unusual in the sense that, you know, I’ve done probably a dozen large scale bankruptcies over my career, including Enron, of course. Every one of those entities had some financial problem or another, they have some characteristics that are in common. This one is unusual. And it’s unusual in the sense that literally, you know, there’s no record keeping whatsoever. It’s the absence of record keeping. Employees would communicate, you know, invoicing and expenses on on Slack, which is essentially a way of communicating for chat rooms. They use QuickBooks, a multibillion dollar company using QuickBooks. Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO): QuickBooks? John Ray: QuickBooks. Nothing against QuickBooks, it’s very nice tool, just not for a multibillion dollar company. There’s no independent board, right? We had one person really controlling this. No independent board. That’s highly unusual in the size company this is. And it’s made all the more complex because we’re not dealing with, you know, widgets or, you know, something that’s tangible. We’re dealing with with with crypto, and the technological issues are made worse when you’re dealing with an asset such as crypto.

John Ray: I’ve just never seen an utter lack of record keeping. Absolutely no internal controls whatsoever.

John Ray: The operation of Alameda really depended based on the way it was operated for the use of customer funds. That’s the major breakdown here of funds from ftx.com, which was the exchange for non US citizens, those funds were used at Alameda to make investments and other disbursements.

John Ray: There’s no distinction whatsoever. The owners of the company could really run free reign across all four silos.

John Ray: The loans that were given to Mr. Bankman-Fried, not just one loan it was numerous loans, some of which were documented by individual promissory notes. There’s no description of what the purpose of the loan was. In one instance, he signed both as the issuer of the loan, as well as the recipient of the loan. But we have no information at this time as to what the purpose or the use of those funds were. And that is part of our investigation.

John Ray: At the end of the day, we’re not going to be able to recover all the losses here. Money was spent that we’ll never get back. There will be losses on the international side. We’re hopeful on the US side. He’ll answer to others related to what happened here. Our job is just to find the assets and try to get customers their money back as quickly as possible.

John Ray: Essentially, they had two exchanges that allowed users to trade crypto, and then there was the hedge fund. It’s as simple as that. The users were allowed to make a variety of investments. They had a more expansive ability to trade crypto if you are a non-U.S. citizen on the .com exchange, but I know what’s been described publicly is very complex. It is to some extent, but essentially, you had two exchanges, and you had a hedge fund. Inside both the US silos I’ve mentioned and inside the silos for .com there were regulated entities. We have regulated entities that are, for example, in Japan that are solvent, we had a regulated entity, ledger X, that was solvent. Those are sort of distinct from the other basic operations that we had, which are the two exchanges.

John Ray: The principal issue that the company is facing in the crypto area, and from a technology perspective, it is different from the other bankruptcies because it’s not a plane, not a boat. It’s this crypto asset and it has inherently some difficulties. You know, the assets can be taken or lost. We have assets there in what are called Hot wallets, and those are in cold wallets. Hot wallets are very vulnerable to to hacking. If you’ve done any looking on the internet, you’ll find that hacking is almost ordinary course in this business sector. They’re very, lots of vulnerability to the wallets. So that’s this company, unfortunately had a very, very challenging record here. You know, for some transfers there was no pathway for it. Our keys aren’t stored in a centralized location. We don’t know where all of our wallets are. Passwords were sometimes kept in just plain text format. So this company was sort of uniquely positioned to fail.

John Ray: So funds were taken from customers, funds were invested, trading losses incurred in Alameda and then funds were deployed, that will never be valued at the same dollar amount. There was over $5 billion of investments made. Certainly, there’s some value there and we’ll try to get that value and sell those assets. But oftentimes, even when he made those sorts of investments, whether it was directly or through others in management, sometimes he would do that really without any pro forma or any valuation. Not really quite sure how some of the purchase price numbers were derived. So it gives you a sort of worry obviously, that the purchases were overvalued so there’s a concern there as well.

John Ray: Alameda was a customer, if you will, of the exchange and it’s through that customer relationship, plus other arrangements, that allowed Alameda to borrow those funds, and then pick positions on the exchange like anyone, you know, who would hedge an asset in the market. He had unusually large positions, of course, and sometimes they were wrong in those positions, and they resulted in big losses. But ultimately, the commingling issue is the same in a different issue. He took the money from FTX to cover those positions and ultimately, when customers went to get their money back from .com there was a run on the bank.

John Ray: The Alameda fund, well that’s just the fund that drew resources from the exchanges, so it’s really separate, it was not for customers per se, it was just simply a hedge fund.

John Ray: For structural purposes and just for ease of presentation, we tried to take the over 100 entities and we put those in four silos. To demystify that, it’s very simple. There was a U.S. silo, which was the FTX.us exchange for US investors. There was an international exchange called FTX.com. Again, for non-U.S. persons that invested in crypto. There was Alameda, which is purely a crypto hedge fund, which made other investments, venture capital type investments. Then there’s a fourth entity which was purely investments. And although our investigation is not complete, those investments were most likely made with either Alameda money or money that originally came from ftx.com. But that fourth silo is just purely investments Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC): And who owned those four silos? John Ray: All those entities are owned or controlled by Sam Bankman-Fried.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA): Now I’ve heard from some on the other side criticizing the SEC and in July in this room I criticized the Head of Enforcement at the SEC for not going after crypto exchanges. But the fact is that without objection I’d like to put on the record a letter signed by 19 Republican members designed to push back on the SEC, a brushback pitch if you’re familiar with baseball, attacking the SEC for paying attention to and I quote, “the purported risks of digital assets.” And I’d like to put on the record without objection comments from eight members made in this room that were designed to attack the SEC as being Luddite and anti-innovation for their efforts.

Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY): Mr. Ray, a number of their debtors in the FTX group are located in offshore jurisdictions. Will this complicate the efforts to retrieve the assets of those there? If so why? John Ray: No, I don’t think it will complicate it at all. The various jurisdictions, historically in bankruptcy, and I’ve been in a number of cross border situations, the jurisdictions will cooperate with each other. The regulators in all these jurisdictions, I think, realize that everyone’s there for a common purpose, to protect the victims and recover assets for the victims of these situations. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY): How much have you been able to secure and where are most of these assets located? John Ray: We’ve been able to secure over a billion dollars of assets. We’ve secured those two cold wallets in a secure location. It’s an ongoing process, though, which will take weeks and perhaps months to secure all the assets. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY): Are most creditors located in the US or foreign jurisdictions. John Ray: The majority of the creditors trade through the .com silo and are outside of this jurisdiction, although there are some foreign customers that are on the US silo, and vice versa.

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO): Reports suggest that ftx.com transferred more than half of its customer funds, roughly $10 billion, to Alameda research. Is that accurate, sir?

John Ray: Our work is not done, we don’t have exact numbers for you today, but I will say it’s several billion dollars, in that range, so we know that the size of the harm was significant.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA): Have you seen evidence of such a cover up? Have you seen evidence that there was any independent governance of Alameda separate and apart from that of the exchange? John Ray: The operations of the FTX group were not segregated. It was really operated as one company. As a result, there’s no distinction virtually, between the operations of the company and who controlled those operations.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA): Did FTX have sufficient risk management systems and controls to appropriately monitor any leverage the business took on and the interconnections it had with businesses, like again, Alameda. John Ray: There were virtually no internal controls and no separateness whatsoever.

Why Congress Needs to Act: Lessons Learned from the FTX Collapse

December 1, 2022
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry

Witness:

  • Rostin Behnam, Chairman, Commodity Futures Trading Commission

Clip Transcripts

18:30 Debbie Stabenow (D-MI): I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: the Digital Commodities Consumer Protection Act does not — does not — take authority away from other financial regulators. Nor does it make the CFTC the primary crypto regulator, because crypto assets can be used in many different ways. No single financial regulator has the expertise or the authority to regulate the entire industry.

24:30 John Boozman (R-AK): Many have asked why is the Ag Committee involved in this? The Ag Committee is involved because this committee and no other committee in the Senate is responsible for the oversight of the nation’s commodity markets. Bitcoin, although a crypto currency, is a commodity. It’s a commodity in the eyes of the federal courts and the opinion of the SEC Chairman, there is no dispute about this. If there are exchanges where commodities are traded, be it wheat, oil, or Bitcoin, then they must be regulated. It’s simply that simple.

32:45 Rostin Behnam: I have asked Congress directly for clear authority to impose our traditional regulatory regime over the digital asset commodity market.

33:00 Rostin Behnam: I have not been shy about my encouragement of bills that contemplate shared responsibility for the CFTC and the Securities Exchange Commission, where the SEC would utilize its existing authority and reporting regime requirements for all security tokens, while the CFTC would apply its market based rules for the more limited subset of commodity tokens, which do not have the same characteristics of security tokens.

41:00 Rostin Behnam: I can though share with this committee with respect to me, my team and I have taken an initial review of my calendar and what we’ve observed is that my team and I met with Mr. Bankman-Fried and his team. Over the past 14 months, we met 10 times in the CFTC office at their request, all in relation to this DCO this Clearinghouse application. Nine out of the 10 times we were in Washington, one was at a widely held conference in Florida earlier this year. In addition, there were two phone calls, I believe, and a number of messages, all in relation to the DCO application, providing us updates suggesting that they were answering questions from different divisions, and trying as I said, to doggedly move the application along and to get it approved.

48:00 Sen. John Boozman (R-AK): If ftx.com had been a registered U.S. exchange, would the CFTC have been able to mitigate what happened. Rostin Behnam: Senator, you know, with our current authority, the answer is now. We need the authority to get into a CFTC registered exchange, as you point out. If we had that authority, and they were registered, given what we know from the facts about conflicts of interest, commingling funds, books and records, we would have been able to prohibit it. And I would point to what we’re doing with Ledger X. On a daily basis our staff is in direct communication not only with Ledger X, but the custodians themselves, able to identify customer property, and customer money. Imagine that scenario with FTX.us if we had a daily lens into the location of customer money and customer property, you can imagine, given what we’ve learned about what’s happened with FTX, we could have certainly prohibited many of the actions that we’re hearing about.

1:16:00 Rostin Behnam: In terms of regulation of cash markets, right, the spot market, we simply do not have authority to register cash market exchanges or any intermediary broker dealer entity within that structure and that’s what concerns me, this is the gap.

1:59:30 Rostin Behnam: Unfortunately, when we act, it’s often after the fact because the information that allows us to bring an enforcement action in digital asset cash commodity markets, is only because information is coming to us from outsiders, from referrals, from tips, from whistleblowers, and this is in stark contrast to some of the surveillance tools and examination tools that we would have if we had a comprehensive regulatory framework over digital asset commodities.

2:07:00 Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL): There’ll be a reporter waiting in the hall — I’ve already talked to her this morning — who will ask you, “Did he ever contribute to your campaign?” I said “Oh, no, I never heard of the man.” She said “You’re wrong, Senator, he contributed to you.” So the cryptocurrency people are active politically. And they are trying to achieve a political end here. It is their right as citizens of this country to do that. But it really calls on us to make sure that whatever we do is credible under those circumstances.

2:22:30 Rostin Behnam: I can’t speak to what Mr. Bankman-Fried or anyone at FTX was thinking when they were advocating for regulation, but the remarkable thing is to think about it in the context of compliance and what we’ve learned about the FTX entities and just thinking about the bill that Senator Stabenow and Boozman introduced, they would have been so far out of compliance that it just wouldn’t have even been possible.

Legislative Hearing to Review S.4760, the Digital Commodities Consumer Protection Act

September 15, 2022
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry

Witnesses:

  • Rostin Behnam, Chairman, Commodity Futures Trading Commission
  • Todd Phillips, Director, Financial Regulation and Corporate Governance, Center for American Progress
  • Shelia Warren, Chief Executive Officer, Crypto Council for Innovation
  • Christine Parker, Vice President, Deputy General Counsel, Coinbase
  • Heath Tarbert, Chief Legal Officer, Citadel Securities
  • Denelle Dixon, Chief Executive Officer, Stellar Development Foundation

Digital Assets and the Future of Finance: Understanding the Challenges and Benefits of Financial Innovation in the United States

December 8, 2021
House Committee on Financial Services

Witnesses:

  • Jeremy Allaire, Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO, Circle
  • Samuel Bankman-Fried, Founder and CEO, FTX
  • Brian P. Brooks, CEO, Bitfury Group
  • Charles Cascarilla, CEO and co-Founder, Paxos Trust Company
  • Denelle Dixon, CEO and Executive Director, Stellar Development Foundation
  • Alesia Jeanne Haas, CEO, Coinbase Inc. and CFO, Coinbase Global Inc.

Clip Transcripts

23:30 Sam Bankman-Fried: We are already regulated and licensed. We have many licenses globally. Here in the United States, we are regulated by the states under the money service business and money transmitting regime, and we are regulated nationally by the CFTC where we have a DCO, a DCM, a swap execution facility, and other licensure.

1:13:30 Sam Bankman-Fried: One of the really innovative properties of cryptocurrency markets are 24/7 risk monitoring and engines. We do not have overnight risk or weekend risk or holiday risk in the same way traditional assets do, which allow risk monitoring and de risking of positions in real time to help mitigate volatility. We’ve been operating for a number of years with billions of dollars of open interest. We’ve never had customer losses, clawbacks or anything like that. Even going through periods of large movements in both directions. We store collateral from our users in a way which is not always done in the traditional financial ecosystem to backstop positions. And the last thing that I’ll say is if you look at what precipitated some of the 2008 financial crisis, you saw a number of bilateral bespoke non-reported transactions happening between financial counterparties which then got repackaged and releveraged again and again and again, such that no one knew how much risk was in that system until it all fell apart. If you compare that to what happens on FTX or other major cryptocurrency venues today, there is complete transparency about the full open interest. There is complete transparency about the positions that are held. There is a robust, consistent risk framework.

1:34:00 Sam Bankman-Fried: In addition to a bunch of international licenses in the United States, we are participating in that system you referenced with the money transmitter and money service businesses license is in addition to that, however, we are also licensed by the CFTC. We have a DCO, a DCM, and other licensure from them through FTX.us derivatives and we look forward to continuing to work with them to build out our product suite. We just submitted a 800 page, I believe, proposal to them a few days ago, which we’re excited to discuss and we’re also happy to talk with other regulators about potential products in the United States.

2:37:00 Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN):
Now it’s my understanding that FTX uses surveillance trade technology akin to the technology national Securities Exchanges use to protect investors and ensure sound spot markets. What does this technology and any other tools FTX uses to protect the spot market from fraud and manipulation look like? Sam Bankman-Fried: Yeah. So, you know, like other exchanges, we do have these technologies in addition to the, you know, new customer policies that we can identify individuals associated with trades. We have surveillance for unusual trading activity. We have manual inspections of anything that you know, gets flagged either by the automated surveillance or by manual inspection. And we do this with the trading activity with deposits and withdrawals and everything else. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN): Sounds like you’re doing a lot to make sure there is no fraud or other manipulation. Thank you Mr. Bankman-Fried, again, for helping us understand the extensive guardrails a cryptocurrency exchange like FTX has in place to ensure sound crypto spot markets for investors.

2:52:30 Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa): Mr. Bankman-Fried, I’d like to start by asking you the first question. FTX.us has a derivatives platform and recently bought ledger x as part of that. Is that correct? Sam Bankman-Fried: Yes. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa): Okay, thank you. And that platform is registered with the CFTC. Is that correct? Sam Bankman-Fried: Yep. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa): Okay, perfect. So I just want to clarify something. And this isn’t to say anybody’s doing any wrong. It’s just to get the lay of the land. You also have an exchange for Bitcoin and other tokens, but that is not registered with either the CFTC or the SEC. Is that correct? Sam Bankman-Fried: That’s correct. Currently, neither of them are primary markets regulated for spot Bitcoin to USD markets. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa): Okay, thank you. And I know you’re registered as a money transmitter, but that’s not the same kind of oversight that we’ll see from a federal market regulator. I also sit on the Agriculture Committee, which oversees the CFTC, so a gap like this is especially concerning to me. And the big problem that I see here, from what I understand, is that the CFTC doesn’t have regulatory authority for spot trading of commodities, just their derivatives. So that leaves consumers with inconsistent protections, which is a concern that I have.

2:55:00 Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa): Bitcoin, which has almost a trillion dollars invested in it, has CFTC oversight for people who are trading futures and options, but not for people who are trading the currency itself. Is that right? Sam Bankman-Fried: That is essentially correct.

Full FTX Superbowl Commercial with Larry David

Tom Brady FTX Commercials

Steph Curry FTX Commercial


Cover Art

Design by Only Child Imaginations


Music Presented in This Episode

Intro & Exit: Tired of Being Lied To by David Ippolito (found on Music Alley by mevio)

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