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Citadel's Ken Griffin: Crypto's value is "in the eye of the beholder"

Citadel CEO Ken Griffin

Ken Griffin. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Once a notorious cryptocurrency critic, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin is coming around to accepting its value, if only reluctantly.

Why it matters: Citadel has capitalized on retail stock trading through its ties with Robinhood, but has fallen behind some of its peers in the crypto space.

The latest: In an interview at the Milken Institute Global Conference, Griffin told Bloomberg's Erik Schatzker that hedge fund titan has to live with the reality that "an asset is worth what people perceive it to be worth."

  • He likened crypto's value to his abstract art collection. "Why is a painting worth $10 million? It's oil on a canvas. So value is in the eye of the beholder. "
  • But there's also a more practical reason for his turnaround: “We help people create portfolios that they think create the greatest value for them. Given the institutional interest in cryptocurrency, it's reasonable to expect to see us be more involved in the crypto space,” he said.
  • The firm hopes to catch up fast by becoming an institutional market maker, just as soon as it can deliver a product that has a very high standard of KYC and AML to ensure it's not trading with bad actors or rogue nations, Griffin says.

Context: For years, Griffin was an outspoken skeptic of cryptocurrencies, once likening bitcoin to the tulip bulb mania and cryptocurrency advocates for supporting a "jihadist call" against the dollar.

  • More recently, though, Citadel secured a $1.15 billion minority investment from Sequoia — one of the more active investors in the web3 space — and crypto-focused VC firm Paradigm.

Of note: When asked if he feels like he "missed out" by not getting into crypto investing earlier, Griffin replied, "I wish I owned a whole lot of Amazon 15 or 20 years ago. And I wish I owned a whole lot of Apple 20 years ago, and just kept it for 20 years."

  • "One difference between those investments and having built a cryptocurrency firm over that period of time is that I'm really proud of what Amazon and Apple has done for the US consumer... I'm still looking for that story as to how crypto has made the world so much better," he said.
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