Originally Published: 11 JAN 22 01:58 ET
Updated: 11 JAN 22 08:00 ET
By Michelle Toh, CNN Business
(CNN) — A cryptocurrency CEO has become one of the richest people on Earth.
Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, who runs the crypto exchange Binance, has joined the ranks of the world’s top billionaires, with an estimated net worth of at least $96 billion, according to new calculations from the Bloomberg Billionaires Index published Monday.
The ascent of the Chinese-Canadian entrepreneur is emblematic of the rapid creation of wealth in the fast-moving world of digital currencies.
Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of FTX, another cryptocurrency exchange that is backed by Binance, pointed Tuesday to an “unprecedented amount of wealth creation that has occurred in the industry over the last few years.”
“I think that there’s a lot of people who are trying to figure out what to do with [that],” Friedman, who himself is a young billionaire, said during a virtual onstage discussion at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong.
In a post on Twitter Monday, Zhao also appeared to acknowledge the distinction.
“Don’t worry about rankings. Focus on how many people you can help,” he wrote.
Zhao followed up in another tweet Tuesday, saying: “Unpopular opinion: instead of wealth rankings, there should be a ranking of charity and philanthropy efforts.”
A Binance spokesperson told CNN Business that “CZ intends to give away most of his wealth, even 99% of his wealth, just like other entrepreneurs and founders.”
In recent years, other famous business leaders, such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have signed the Giving Pledge, an initiative started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage the world’s richest to donate the bulk of their fortunes to charity.
Zhao launched Binance in 2017, gradually building it into one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges.
According to a company blog post, the executive grew up in an immigrant family in Canada and previously worked at McDonald’s to help support his household.
After studying computer science at McGill University, he worked on trading software for the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Bloomberg.
“He then learned about bitcoin in 2013 during a game of poker, after which he decided to go all-in on crypto by dedicating his life to it,” according to Binance. “He even sold his apartment to buy bitcoin.”
Like other exchanges, Binance has faced significant regulatory hurdles around the world in recent months, including a ban in the United Kingdom and other restrictions in countries including Canada.
Zhao has publicly addressed the setbacks, writing in an open letter last year that “clear regulations are critical for continued growth.”
“More regulations are, in fact, positive signs that an industry is maturing,” he added. “Because this sets the foundation for a broader population to feel safe to participate in crypto.”
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