The US watered down crypto when it ousted Binance’s Zhao — and that’s okay

Crypto as an “industry” could probably do without quite as many cults of personality


Co-founder and CEO of Binance, Changpeng Zhao | Web Summit (CC BY 2.0), modified by Blockworks


Crypto is full of divisive figures, but Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao is right up there. 

He’s threatened to sue journalists, airdropped crypto to earthquake victims in lieu of food or aid, and even once suggested rolling back the Bitcoin blockchain to undo a $40 million hack on his exchange. 

Or should I say, was right up there. The US muzzled Zhao with money laundering and sanctions violations last week. 

But like a monk shedding himself of worldly possessions before attaining enlightenment, crypto as an “industry” could probably do without quite as many cults of personality. 

And what better way than to remove one of the largest personalities than with a court order?

The Department of Justice’s case against Binance and CZ in particular is ironclad. Last week’s plea deal forced Zhao to resign as Binance CEO — a position he has with an iron grip held since founding the company in 2017— and he now could face up to 18 months in prison. CZ also has to stay in the US, rather than return to his home in Dubai until his sentencing hearing early next year.

Read more: Here are the details of Binance and Changpeng Zhao’s plea deal

Part of the deal was that Zhao and Binance agreed to never even hint that they weren’t responsible for their crimes — a shame, as that would’ve played incredibly well on X, a platform that CZ cares so much about he even invested in it with Elon Musk.

A much tamer successor in traditional finance veteran, Richard Teng, has taken over as Binance CEO. Teng has never threatened to sue journalists on a social media platform.

That’s not to say that Teng isn’t qualified to run a crypto exchange. Even before Binance Singapore, Teng spent 13 years at the nation’s central bank and another six as head honcho at Abu Dhabi’s financial center. 

Binance has more hoops ahead of it than a Border Collie at Crufts, and Teng is exactly the kind of agility instructor required to navigate that mess. But Zhao had represented a very particular breed of crypto entrepreneur, one that drives critics up the wall. 

Big Tech has characters like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk: They relentlessly believe that what they and their companies do makes the world a better place. The spin makes them easy targets, as their salesmanship resembles out-of-touch naivete. 

Meta isn’t exploiting our brain chemistry to undermine social discourse — it’s a bastion of free speech that brings us all together. 

Amazon fulfillment centers aren’t soulless symptoms of late-stage capitalism — they’re fun places full of people “helping invent the future.” 

And Elon Musk’s Neuralink isn’t a grisly horror show ripped from the Twilight Zone — it’s a paradise for terminally-ill monkeys complete with playground equipment and TVs.

Zhao was just as painfully stubborn about Binance. The platform isn’t an opportunistic hotbed of low quality cryptocurrencies with illiquid markets prone to manipulation — it’s a charitable smorgasbord of blockchain innovation totally free of shitcoins (and securities).

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Toeing the company line seemed easy for Zhao. Like most entrepreneur influencers, much of his online persona revolves around the toxic positivity typical of founders and venture capitalists, alongside dog whistles for crypto diehards: Dips are when diamond hands are tested, and when in doubt, zoom out on the chart. And then there’s the whole “4” thing

Where spiritual gurus would light some sage or chant a mantra to cleanse their chakras of negative energy, Zhao zealots would shoo away bad vibes with a very special brand of shitposting. Just the number “4,” representing the fourth of Zhao’s 2023 resolutions: “Ignore FUD (fear uncertainty and doubt), fake news, attacks, etc.” 

(Education, compliance and product and service were the first three).

Six years at Binance vs. first week as Binance CEO 

Teng’s incredibly formal demeanor as compared to Zhao is so noticeable that he was asked about it on a recent Twitter Spaces, his first as CEO.

“Yes and no. I do think that certain things do require certain seriousness in terms of level of communication, because you’re talking about serious matters, especially on matters relating to protection of users, for example, security of users when you talk to the regulators,” Teng said.

He continued: “So I adopt a slightly different mode of communication for different channels. And they’ll be very informal channels of communication as well. So I think, keep [those posts coming].”

So, Teng will very likely be far less interesting to follow, or cheer for, or even hate-follow from afar. It hasn’t been long, and it’s doubtful he’ll attract a cult following like Zhao. But that’s okay.

Maybe crypto needs less cartoonish ringmasters and more sensible suits who show real discomfort for servicing the worst of the worst for the sake of profits.

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