The ramifications of the FTX fraud may be long lasting

FTX is a Bahamas-based cryptocurrency exchange. The exchange was founded in 2019 and, at its peak in July 2021, had over one million users, $32 Billion in assets and was the third-largest cryptocurrency exchange by volume.

FTX is incorporated in Antigua and Barbuda and headquartered in The Bahamas. Recently this company collapsed leaving $8 Billion of funds unaccounted for and a fraud investigation underway.

Morningstar contributor James Gruber gives an interesting take on the fallout of the FTX collapse and what it possibly means for cryptocurrency.

In 1974, stories filtered through of a Japanese soldier who was in the Philippines still fighting World War Two because he was convinced that the war had never ended. The stories seemed far-fetched, to say the least. The soldier had long ago been declared dead by the Japanese government. That didn’t stop Norio Suzuki from wanting to find out more. Bored with his life in Japan, Suzuki set out to find the soldier in question, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda. 

Suzuki travelled to the jungles of Lubang, a tiny island in the Philippines and, incredibly, found Onoda. The problem was Onoda was preparing to shoot him on sight. Suzuki had done his background research on Onoda though and talked him down. He urged Onoda to go home, as the war had ended nearly 30 years ago. But Onoda didn’t believe him and refused.

It was only after Onoda’s former war commander travelled to Lubang to formally relieve him of duty by the order of the Japanese Emperor, that Onoda agreed to end his mission and travel back to Japan. It was then that details emerged of how Onoda kept fighting for nearly 30 years after World War Two had finished.

Onoda was an intelligence officer with the Imperial Japanese Army who was sent to the Philippines in late 1944 to hinder an Allied invasion expected to take place in early 1945. When the invasion came in February 1945, it didn’t take long before most Japanese soldiers defending Lubang were captured, killed, or managed to escape. 

As he prepared to depart the island, Onoda’s commanding officer gave an order to the remaining men: fight and never surrender. “It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens we’ll come back for you,” the commander said. 

When Japan surrendered the war in August 1945, Onoda refused to do so. He hid in Lubang with three other soldiers. Leaflets of the war being over were airdropped to the men, but Onoda didn’t believe them. So began a decades-long campaign of guerilla warfare by the soldiers against the local police forces, various American and Filipino search parties sent to find them and the local Lubang population. 

Onoda was the last surviving holdout when Norio Suzuki tracked him down. 

The story is relevant to today as cryptocurrency advocates are like Hiroo Onoda post-World War Two. They’re in total denial that their war against fiat currency has ended. The world is moving on and will be better off for it. 

FTX’s downfall may prove the final straw. Though tragic for those who have lost money, the saga will have many broader benefits, including: 

  • The fraudsters will go to America’s legal system is cracking down on white-collar fraud as seen in the recent sentencing of Theranos founder, Elizabeth Holmes. The case of FTX may be more complicated given the founder’s base is in the Bahamas and the business has tentacles around the globe.
  • Those who lost money in FTX will lick their The large venture capital and hedge funds will survive and learn a lesson in not speculating in gimmickry. Yes, there will be many smaller investors caught up in the fraud and that’s a tragedy.
  • Crypto regulation is One of the biggest issues is that the crypto sector has operated with minimal oversight, thereby attracting all sorts of shady characters. Heavy regulation is now guaranteed. The Australian government has already pledged to introduce custodial and exchange legislation. It wants to safeguard crypto custody – where money or tokens are stored and who is responsible for keeping them secure. It also wants to regulate exchanges such as the one that FTX operated. An obvious step would be requiring exchanges to back customer deposits with liquid assets.
  • A central bank for crypto is likely to Banks require central banks and governments to bail them out when they face liquidity crises (bank runs). Crypto will need similar help to prevent further liquidity crises undermining the sector.
  • The immediate economic fallout will be There is a small caveat to this. There will be some venture capital and private equity firms who’ve invested heavily in crypto who may suffer further losses in the sector, and when combined with the broader tech downturn and the leverage these firms employ, that could lead to forced sell downs of holdings and a possible ricochet effect.
  • It will lead to venture capital and private equity firms doing more rigorous due diligence on potential That’ll be a good thing for them as well as the startups who have real business models to pitch to them.
  • A related point is that the hundreds of billions that have poured into crypto in recent years will be diverted to other sectors, which should be a good thing for economic productivity and society.
  • The best and brightest students from some of the world’s leading universities who are employed in the crypto space will move on to other, more productive sectors.

It’s sad that 14 years after Bitcoin was invented, few of the grand promises of cryptocurrency have been realized. Crypto has limited uses, such as for firms paying workers in countries suffering from hyperinflation, such as Argentina. Any improvements it’s made have been modest compared with more traditional forms of finance. 

It’s time for many crypto advocates, and us, to move on. 

James Gruber
28 November 2022