Nov 23, 2022 - Economy & Business

The individual FTX investors who can't get their money back

Illustration of a dollar bill being broken up into binary code

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Stories from people who held cash or crypto on FTX's exchange in the U.S. are starting to emerge — and the picture looks grim.

Why it matters: FTX customers understood they were trading volatile assets. But many appeared to assume their money (or crypto) was safe, in the sense that even if it dropped in value, they could still get it back — as with a bank or a brokerage. FTX was neither.

  • “It definitely seemed credible, like a Charles Schwab of crypto,” 25-year-old Drake Lyle told the Wall Street Journal. (Remember the Super Bowl ads?)
  • Matthew Way in Illinois told the WSJ he had $1,800 in cash parked with FTX, waiting to use it to buy bitcoin, but can't get it back. "My blood is boiling," he said.

Zoom out: Putting money into FTX US was nothing like putting money in an FDIC-insured bank account, where your deposit is protected and guaranteed up to $250,000.

  • FTX was absolutely not FDIC-insured and was actually reprimanded by the agency just a few months ago for saying customer money was kept in insured accounts.

Between the lines: Banks don't go bankrupt — as FTX has — they go into receivership, says Aaron Klein, a senior fellow at Brookings who focuses on financial technology and regulation. For customers that means fairly seamless access to your cash.

What's next: It's possible that some of the FTX customers could get money back through the bankruptcy process, Klein tells Axios.

  • But there are no guarantees — and it could take a while.

Of note: New York was the only state that refused to let FTX operate there. "Sometimes the best regulatory answer is 'no,'" says Klein.

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