Wall Street Goes Crypto in the Bahamas

The inaugural Crypto Bahamas conference was a four-day flex of FTX’s expanding empire – with a new era of “corporate crypto” firmly on display.

May 4, 2022 at 6:57 p.m. UTC
Updated May 4, 2022 at 8:43 p.m. UTC

Tracy Wang is a senior reporter at CoinDesk. She owns BTC, ETH, MINA, ENS, various stablecoins, and some NFTs.

The first FTX/SALT Crypto Bahamas conference had lofty goals.

“The vibe we were going after was ‘Crypto Sun Valley,’” Amy Wu, head of FTX Ventures, told CoinDesk on the event’s opening day, referring to Idaho’s annual “summer camp” for billionaires. “It’s going a lot better than we thought.”

Indeed, the lineup was star-studded: Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen headlined alongside former heads of state Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Throughout the four-day affair, crypto whales mingled with Wall Street elites.

But perhaps the biggest celebrity of all was FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who was met with cheers and applause during his several on-stage appearances. If anything, the event was a testament to his crypto empire’s growing might and an extended opportunity to show off his unconventional star power.

“Sam’s a polymath, an exceptional thinker,” said Anthony Scaramucci, the hedge fund titan and SALT founder widely known for his brief stint as President Donald Trump’s communications director. “He knows more about politics than anyone.”

In the past year, Bankman-Fried has become an unofficial spokesperson of sorts for the entire crypto industry, amassing a personal fortune of $24 billion, testifying before the U.S. Congress on regulatory issues and regularly going viral on social media.

Scaramucci says FTX approached SALT with the idea to co-host a crypto-themed conference in the Bahamas after FTX’s partnership with SALT New York last September was a success for the exchange.

Last fall, FTX relocated from Hong Kong to the Bahamas, bringing with it a growing cabal of some of crypto’s best and brightest.

The boomers are coming

The diversity in attendance was no more evident than the disparity in dress code.

In the opening remarks, Bankman-Fried, clad in his usual FTX tee, cargo shorts and crew-length white socks, stood beside Scaramucci, who donned a navy Brioni suit.

“There’s a wide variety of people here, everyone from Bill Clinton to degens with monkey [non-fungible tokens],” said Illia Polosukhin, co-founder of the layer 1 blockchain Near.

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Former U.S. President Bill Clinton appeared on stage with FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried. (Danny Nelson/CoinDesk)

“This is a crypto conference for adults,” said Scott Freeman, founder of JST Capital, a crypto asset management firm. “Crypto has been in a bear market for the past five months, but you wouldn’t know it from being here. There’s still a lot of energy. Nobody cares about the price of bitcoin.”

In his opening remarks, Scaramucci cracked several self-deprecating jokes about “boomers” and urged Wall Streeters to be more open-minded toward new technologies.

“When you’re a young guy, you never think you’re going to be old one day,” Anthony Scaramucci, 58, told CoinDesk. “Now, I’m a f***ing fossil. The world is moving forward, I don’t want to leave my generation behind.”

Wall Streeters, who have once been among crypto’s harshest critics, have been softening their stances towards cryptocurrencies, and in some cases, outright embracing the sector.

Both Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan (JPM) and Citadel’s Ken Griffin have both previously called out crypto for its ties to criminal activity or dismissed the asset class as mere speculation, only to reverse course in the past year.

“Traditional financial firms don’t want to be the first one, but they also don’t want to be the last one,” said Raymond Yuan, founder of CTH Group, on a panel discussion called “Crypto Alpha: Investing in Megatrends” alongside Three Arrows Capital co-founder Su Zhu and Matrixport co-founder Jihan Wu.

Zhu, who told CoinDesk he only goes to one or two conferences a year, said he decided to come to Crypto Bahamas due to the sheer concentration of whales (those with large crypto holdings) in attendance, as opposed to the more retail or developer-oriented conferences.

“People have been saying for a while, ‘Crypto needs to grow up,’ and now, it’s grown up!” said Kyle Samani, founder of crypto venture capital firm Multicoin Capital, one of the Solana ecosystem’s most prodigious backers.

Bahamas leads the way

Crypto entrepreneurs have tended towards clustering in tropical paradises – from Miami to Puerto Rico to Bali. Now, the Bahamas is throwing its hat into the ring.

In the week preceding the conference, the nation of 400,000 unveiled a white paper outlining its regulatory framework for digital assets, which was soon followed by FTX’s groundbreaking ceremony for its new offices in Nassau.

“FTX’s presence in the Bahamas has demonstrated that the Bahamas is open for business to the crypto world,” Prime Minister Philip Davis told CoinDesk.

Prime Minister Davis added that U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Financial Services, visited the Bahamas the previous weekend to discuss crypto, among other agenda items.

“The U.S. has realized they are later than most to the digital currency space, that was evident,” said Bahamas Attorney General L. Ryan Pinder of the meeting with Waters.

“She recognized that we were rather progressive,” Pinder told CoinDesk. “She extended a future invitation, if the Bahamas would like to testify in Congress to talk about their experience.”

The Bahamas is one of the only countries where exchanges can obtain a license for both crypto derivatives and the spot market.

Ryan Salame, co-CEO of FTX Digital Markets, says that making the Bahamas a new hub for crypto was one goal of the conference.

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Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis opened the event. (Danny Nelson/CoinDesk)

“The Bahamas is staying at the forefront,” he told CoinDesk. “A lot of jurisdictions that want to be hubs aren’t building out the regulatory infrastructure.”

Other sources told CoinDesk FTX’s decision to relocate became more urgent after Hong Kong began enforcing a strict three-week travel quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic, a rule that would disrupt Bankman-Fried’s extensive travel schedule.

The FTX founder said on stage that he spends over 50% of his time thinking about crypto regulation, and frequently visits Washington, D.C., to meet with regulators.

A nod to the devs

In addition to the panels and parties, Crypto Bahamas hosted a hackathon for Solana ecosystem developers.

Serum and Pyth, both protocols built on Solana, co-headlined the hacker house, which was less a house and more a darkened hotel ballroom set up with monitor rigs, catered coffee and loud DJ music.

The room drew over 500 registrants, according to Michelle Sun, a core contributor to Serum, a decentralized exchange on Solana founded by Bankman-Fried.

Solana “really speaks the language of TradFi,” said Sun. “So many of the builders I meet are former Wall Street traders or bankers who decided to build their protocols on Solana.”

Sun, who also resides in the Bahamas, says Serum recently opened a coworking space in the Bahamas adjacent to the FTX offices to accommodate visiting developers.

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(Danny Nelson/CoinDesk)

“It’s a really inclusive and supportive environment,” said Claire Song, a core contributor to Cell Protocol, a decentralized finance (DeFi) project on Solana. “Michelle helped me connect with developer teams building similar DeFiprotocols.”

Song says she became interested in building on Solana because it was one of the few blockchains that uses an order book-based exchange, as opposed to the popular automated market makers (AMMs) such as Uniswap, Sushiswap and Curve that have so far dominated DeFi.

“The AMM model has a lot of limitations – you can’t trade derivatives or apply quant trading strategies,” explained Song. “AMMs are easy to use, but not flexible. That’s why we like Solana, because it has an order book.”

Solana ecosystem heavy-hitters were also in attendance, including co-founders Anatoly Yakovenko and Raj Gokol, as well as a 14-year-old Solana intern, Gajesh Gaik.

The young Rust enthusiast, who has become a bit of a celebrity in the crypto community, told CoinDesk he is working on Taksh, a no-loss lottery game built on Solana.

Gaik says he doesn’t attend classes back home in India, and instead spends his time building on Solana, as long as he passes his mandatory school exams every four months.

“I got to meet a lot of people from Crypto Twitter,” said Gaik, who appeared to be having the most fun at the conference out of the dozens of attendees speaking to CoinDesk.

When asked what he enjoys most about the Solana ecosystem, the 14-year-old wunderkind responded, with no hesitation: “The vibes.”

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Tracy Wang is a senior reporter at CoinDesk. She owns BTC, ETH, MINA, ENS, various stablecoins, and some NFTs.

CoinDesk - Unknown

Tracy Wang is a senior reporter at CoinDesk. She owns BTC, ETH, MINA, ENS, various stablecoins, and some NFTs.

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