Axios Pro: Fintech Deals

November 30, 2022

Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Good morning, fintech friends.

Situational awareness: Lucinda was able to speak on the phone with Sam Bankman-Fried. Buckle up, and see below for what she gathered.

1. SBF on failure

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In his scathing review of FTX's business, John Ray III, the company's new CEO and the person in charge of its restructuring, said founder Sam Bankman-Fried ran the business as his "personal fiefdom." In an interview with Axios, Bankman-Fried didn't disagree.

Why it matters: The interview that Bankman-Fried gave shed light on the failings that led to the company's implosion.

Of note: Bankman-Fried is the founder of FTX, a company worth $40 billion not so long ago. He now faces allegations of fraud and mismanagement and says he wishes he had put in place a third party between his trading firm, Alameda Research, and FTX.

  • "There's certainly an extent to which that I wish there had been someone who wasn't me who was in charge of managing conflicts of interest," he said over the phone. "I wish that I had more reporting and transparency to outside parties."
  • He said that he was responsible for not putting someone in that position.

The intrigue: Bankman-Fried said he has not been in contact with Ray, though he has reached out to people managing the bankruptcy process. Ray notably has also sought to distance FTX from Bankman-Fried.

  • “I offered up my services, my help, to any of the global regulators, administrators who are working to try and do what they can," Bankman-Fried said. "As of now, there has not been much contact coming from the U.S. team.”

Details: While FTX did have audits, the legitimacy of the work done by those external firms has been called into question as leaked FTX figures have been shown to be unreliable.

  • Bankman-Fried's heavy risk-taking and conflicts of interest had also come into question very early on, even among his co-workers. Alameda's co-founder, Tara MacAulay, said this month on Twitter that she quit in April 2018 in part due to concerns over "risk management and business ethics."
  • The overarching company did not give any of its investors a board seat, nor did it hire a CFO, a lack of corporate governance that investors overlooked when the company was booming.
  • “In terms of boards? I think it's a little more complicated than that. we actually had a lot of boards," he said. "There's a board of directors of FTX Japan, there's a board of directors of FTX Australia, board of directors of, you know, in Europe. A board of directors of U.S. derivatives. We had dozens.”

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