Concerns over Changpeng Zhao’s Binance’s hegemonic position in the cryptocurrency market have grown since Sam Bankman-utter Fried’s passing. The auditing firm Mazars Group halted work on paperwork intended to demonstrate that Binance and other cryptocurrency companies had the necessary cash reserves to handle any unanticipated increase in customer withdrawals on Friday, which raised concerns once again.
Zhao, who goes by the initials CZ, has emphasized time and time again that his exchange, Binance, doesn’t misappropriate customer funds, unlike FTX, as well as that it can handle any volume of withdrawals that come its way. As evidence that it has survived prior “crypto winters,” including a more than 80% drop in Bitcoin from to Binance has a longer track record than FTX.
Still, the past few days have been trying. The action by Mazars raises concerns about an accounting picture that many people already thought was murky. In fact, Mazars likely stopped working on “proof-of-reserves” reports because the market did not find them convincing. Critics had further fodder for another round of heckling after CZ was subjected to a barrage of questions regarding Binance’s financial stability at a televised appearance earlier in the week.
Even for those who claim to support CZ and his exchange, Binance’s dominance of the market following FTX’s demise doesn’t sit well in a sector that promotes decentralization. This week’s drop in cryptocurrency prices that was accompanied by news about CZ’s company raises more questions about whether Binance has developed into a “too big to fail” participant in the market. Unlike traditional finance, there is no one on hand to stop a failure, offer a rescue, or stop any contagion.
Mark Lurie, CEO, and co-founder of Shipyard Software, a maker of decentralized exchanges, said: “I don’t think Binance is attempting to cause difficulties, but that organization is now a risk to all of us. There are several systematic dangers whenever one player controls a sizable amount of volume.”
According to CryptoCompare, Binance has raised its market share to 52.9%, its greatest ever, and grown its share of derivatives trading to 67.2% while, Bankman-FTX Fried’s empire went into bankruptcy and the 30-year-old former billionaire traded a fancy apartment for a Bahamas jail cell.
When the subject of Binance’s dominance came up during a Senate committee hearing on FTX on Wednesday, Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee warned it would be “catastrophic for the cryptocurrency sector, and it would prove catastrophic to all of the customers that use the market.”
For his part, Binance’s CZ has reaffirmed in tweets and public remarks that no client exodus will be enough to put the business under strain. This week, a surge in client withdrawal requests put that confidence to the test. The native coin of Binance, BNB, has taken a significant hit as well, falling 20% since Monday.
Despite $6 billion in net withdrawals between Monday and Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Binance said in an email on Friday that “we were able to fulfill them without breaking stride.” According to the spokesman, Binance does not invest user funds and keeps clients’ cryptocurrencies in separate accounts with 1-to-1 asset backing. The representative stated that Binance has a $1 billion emergency fund and a debt-free capital structure to protect users in dire circumstances.
CZ likes to attribute a large portion of the recent interest to the unfounded “FUD” (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) that has hounded cryptocurrency from its inception. The sky won’t likely clear for him any time soon, though.
Even if Mazars’ report on Binance’s reserves didn’t amount to a full audit and didn’t completely restore confidence, the accounting firm’s departure deprives CZ of a credible outside source to support his claims. Furthermore, in the post-FTX context, public confidence in the claims of crypto billionaires is declining more quickly than the value of their coins.
The spokesman for Binance said the exchange is looking into ways to increase transparency for users to see that their assets are on the blockchain and is looking for a different accounting firm to partner with it to demonstrate proof of its reserves. That might be challenging: The Wall Street Journal reported late on Friday that BDO was rethinking its work for cryptocurrency companies after recently endorsing the reserves of stablecoin juggernaut Tether.
Government Scrutiny for Binance
Binance might prove impervious to the kind of bank run that brought down FTX and other companies this year, but CZ continues to be subject to legal risks and government scrutiny that might escalate into existential dangers to the company.
The Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department are both looking into Binance, according to a story from Bloomberg from last year. In 2020, Chainalysis Inc., a blockchain forensics company with clients that include U.S. federal agencies, came to the conclusion that Binance was the exchange through which more funds associated with criminal activities were transferred than any other cryptocurrency exchange.
According to Reuters on Monday, which cited people familiar with the situation, disagreements among the prosecutors are preventing the DOJ investigation from being completed. According to the report, some of the case’s prosecutors want to analyze more evidence while others think the government has enough to press criminal charges against CZ and other executives of Binance. The corporate representative said on Friday that “Binance has created clear business policies to guarantee we operate globally in a regulatory compliant manner.” (CZ worked from 2002 to 2005 at Bloomberg LP, the organization that owns Bloomberg News.)
The cryptocurrency community is also closely monitoring the possibility that FTX’s bankruptcy case would lead to attempts to recoup the $2.1 billion that FTX paid to buy back Binance’s investment in Bankman-business, Fried’s much of which was paid in an FTX token whose value has since plummeted. Kevin O’Leary, a “Shark Tank” television personality who has millions of dollars in cryptocurrency from a sponsored sponsorship locked up in FTX, said to a Senate committee, “Maybe I want a Madoff clawback on those revenues.”
When asked if he was willing to repay the $2.1 billion during a CNBC interview on Thursday, CZ responded, “I think we’ll leave that to the attorneys,” which sparked a fresh round of criticism on Twitter from the crypto community. Time will tell if they were merely more false information.