• Compliance concerns are holding back institutional engagement in crypto more than volatility or ESG controversy, O’Leary told Blockworks
  • O’Leary to be paid for his spokesperson services in a portfolio of crypto assets managed on the FTX platform

Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary is being paid in crypto to serve as an ambassador for FTX after he made an equity investment in the growing cryptocurrency exchange.  

O’Leary, perhaps best known for being a regular investor on ABC’s Shark Tank, said in an interview with Blockworks that the biggest reason many institutional investors hesitate to invest in crypto assets is the uncertainty that they will be fully compliant with regulators and reporting requirements.

“[If] you’re running a billion-dollar mandate and you decide to put 10% into crypto …. you can’t download an app and put $100 million into it,” he explained. “You have to have an infrastructure in place where your internal compliance department can mark to market on a daily basis your positions … and also you have to be able to comply with external regulators. I couldn’t find a structure where I could do that until I met with FTX.”

O’Leary first met FTX founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried while at Bitcoin 2021, a conference held in Miami in June. 

After discussions with the FTX team, O’Leary said he grew comfortable that the exchange could integrate with his compliance requirements.

“I don’t put my name on something unless I’m using it. I eat my own cooking,” he told Blockworks. “They have a global compliance platform … and we are going to be adding to our positions across a wide range of different assets.”

The size of O’Leary’s equity investment in FTX Trading and West Realm Shires Services, which owns and operates FTX, is not being disclosed, a spokesperson said.

“We speak with institutional investors interested in moving into crypto and using our platform on a daily basis, and many of them have found their way to us through referrals from our existing institutional clients,” Brett Harrison, President of FTX.US, told Blockworks in an email. “When we speak with potential institutional users, our aim is to act as a resource and provide comprehensive information on exchange functionality, custody, regulation, and compliance.”

FTX is exploring partnerships with traditional custodians, augmenting its transaction monitoring capabilities, and integrating tax reporting tools, Harrison noted. It is looking to attract more liquidity to its on-exchange order books and off-exchange OTC portal, he added, and is focused on taking a proactive approach with regulators.

O’Leary will now serve as a spokesperson for FTX and will be paid for his services in a portfolio of crypto assets managed on the FTX platform.

“Here I’ve got the best platform in the world with the best traders, the most liquidity, the best spreads, the lowest fees,” O’Leary said. “I said, ‘Guys, don’t pay me in fiat. I’m just going to turn around and send it back to you.’”

FTX’s partnership with O’Leary comes just weeks after the company announced it had raised nearly $1 billion for its Series B round, valuing it at $18 billion.

The exchange has taken major steps to boost brand visibility in recent months, such as finalizing a 19-year, $135 million deal with Miami-Dade County in Florida earlier this year to take over naming rights of the Miami Heat’s arena.

FTX also became the official cryptocurrency exchange brand of Major League Baseball in June. The league’s umpires started wearing an FTX patch on their uniforms at the MLB All-Star Game last month, and will continue sporting the patch for future regular season, postseason and spring training games.

Check back at Blockworks.co tomorrow for more on our interview with Kevin O’Leary, including his thoughts on when the SEC could approve a bitcoin ETF and his outlook on non-fungible tokens.

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  • Ben Strack is a Denver-based reporter covering macro economics, financial services and digital asset management. Prior to joining Blockworks, he covered the asset management industry for Fund Intelligence, and was a reporter and editor for various local newspapers on Long Island. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in journalism.