FTX Implosion Puts Spotlight on Binance Accounting Practices
Binance, currently the world’s largest cryptocurrency platform, is feeling the heat as the entire crypto industry comes under fire for opaque business practices.
On Tuesday, NY prosecutors unsealed their 8-count indictment against FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, commonly known as "SBF." The Securities and Exchange Commission also filed civil charges, claiming SBF misled investors who put $2 billion into the exchange. On Monday, SBF was arrested by Bahamian authorities. The move, which was widely anticipated, came on the heels of criminal charges filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Meanwhile, crypto analytics firm Nansen said Tuesday that Binance users withdrew $3 billion during a 24-hour period, for a seven-day net outflow of $3.66 billion. After the collapse of FTX, by comparison, users pulled $2.3 billion off the Binance platform over a 7-day period. As of midday Tuesday, total assets on Binance’s platform stood at around $60 billion.
Late Tuesday, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao tweeted that the situation had "stabilized," and new deposits were coming back in.
“There’s no amount of withdrawals that will put us under pressure” because the exchange has adequate reserves, said Zhao in aTwitter spaces discussion early Wednesday.
Given the swirl of bad news, the internal controls of crypto trading platforms are now under close scrutiny. Many crypto exchanges have offshore operations - partly a byproduct of the uncertain regulatory environment in the United States as it concerns crypto companies. Most are lightly regulated.
Binance, which has long been criticized for its lack of transparency, is under the microscope. The company has a U.S. subsidiary and offices around the world, but it doesn’t reveal where its headquarters is located or publish a full list of key executives. Binance’s founder Zhao has said he plans to consolidate the company under a global holding construct, with a dedicated headquarters, but he has yet to do so.
Binance’s troubles flared last week after it published the results of its proof of-reserves check, aimed at calming investors and convincing them that their money is safe at the exchange. The report said that Binance's bitcoin reserves were overcollaterized, but it hit a nerve with crypto investors because it lacked detail and focused only on Bitcoin rather than all users’ holdings.
The proof-of-reserves report published a few days later by another exchange, Crypto.com, said that clients’ assets were fully backed. But even that report was criticized by some in the crypto community, because it only provided a snapshot of the platform's financial condition during a small window of time.
Even sophisticated investors are feeling anxious. “I’m hesitant to put capital on any exchange right now,” said Andrew Parrish, a co-founder of Arch Public, which develops trading algorithms.
The proof of reserves check, conducted for both companies by accounting firm Mazars, is not a CPA-style audit. Additionally, there’s no standard in the crypto world for how these reports should be done, said Dr. Sean Stein Smith, a certified public accountant and assistant professor in the business and economics department at Lehman College. On the plus side, he noted, releasing proof of reserves is a step in the right direction. But because they're “incomplete" and don't offer comparable data, they also raise more questions than they answered.
One potential red flag on Binance's proof of reserves report: It lumped bitcoin with BTC wrapped on Ethereum, the BNB Chain and BNB Smart Chain to reach the conclusion that Binance was 101% collateralized, according to the Mazars report. These are "all different assets and they need to be tested differently,” Smith said.
Another issue is the lack of historical data, says Mike Alfred, a value investor who predicted that Celsius Network and BlockFi would collapse.
For years, Alfred notes, Binance and other crypto firms have operated with little to no regulatory oversight. And the only reason they're talking about their accounting and governance practices now is because of all the turbulence in the market. Bridging that gap will be difficult, he says.
“The key point is that there is no audited balance sheet to date, despite billions and billions of dollars in customer deposits,” Alfred said, adding: And “there is no domicile where they can be held accountable."