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Meet Changpeng Zhao: Burger flipper to crypto billionaire

·Finance reporter
·3-min read
Changpeng Zhao
Changpeng Zhao, the Binance billionaire (Source: Getty)

There's a new cryptocurrency billionaire in town and he's just become one of the richest people on Earth.

Changpeng "CZ" Zhao, who runs the crypto exchange Binance, has joined the club of the world's top 15 richest people, with an estimated net worth of at least US$96 billion, according to new calculations from the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

It’s the first time Bloomberg has estimated his fortune. Zhao's wealth now exceeds that of Asia’s richest person, Mukesh Ambani, who is estimated to have a net worth of US$90 billion.

However, Zhao’s fortune could be much larger, as the wealth estimate doesn’t take into account his personal crypto holdings, which include Bitcoin and his firm’s own token.

Binance Coin, now referred to as BNB, surged roughly 1,300 per cent last year.

An lllustration of the Binance logo is seen on the screen of a smartphone.
Binance Exchange is the largest crypto exchange by trade volume. (Source: Getty)

Zhao came from humble beginnings.

He was born in Jiangsu, China. Both of his parents were educators; his father, a professor, was labelled a "pro-bourgeois intellect" and temporarily exiled shortly after Zhao was born.

The family eventually emigrated to Vancouver, Canada, in the late 1980s. As a teenager, Zhao pitched in to cover the household expenses, flipping burgers at McDonald's and working overnight shifts at a petrol station.

Becoming 'financially free'

Zhao studied computer science at Montreal’s McGill University, and then spent time in both Tokyo and New York.

In Tokyo, he built a system for matching trade orders on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and then, at Bloomberg’s Tradebook, he developed software for futures trading.

When his talents were discovered, the 27-year old coding genius was promoted three times in less than two years to manage teams in New Jersey, London and Tokyo.

Even so, this wasn't enough for an ambitious Zhao. So, in 2005 he quit and moved to Shanghai to start Fusion Systems, a company known for building some of the fastest high-frequency trading systems for brokers.

Around 2013, when Bitcoin become more mainstream, Zhao did his research, sold his apartment and dived headfirst into Bitcoin.

He went on to launch Binance in 2017. Soon after, it became the largest cryptocurrency exchange by volume.

According to data provider CryptoCompare, Binance processes roughly US$76 billion worth of bitcoin and Ethereum on its platform each day.

“Personally, I’m financially free. I don’t need a lot of money, and I can maintain my lifestyle in this way,” Zhao told the Associated Press in November.

“I do intend to give away most of my wealth, like many wealthy entrepreneurs or founders did from Rockefeller until today. I do intend to give away 90 per cent, 95 per cent, or 99 per cent of my wealth.”

Looking into the future at Binance, the company says it’s on the hunt for a global headquarters. Binance has reportedly been looking to places like France, Dubai and Abu Dhabi as potential destinations.

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