Venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary said he was looking to throw FTX a lifeline hours before the crypto exchange filed for bankruptcy, only to be thwarted by comments from U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler.
The exchange, which was strapped for cash, was trying to patch the hole on its balance sheet, according to O’Leary, who is a paid spokesman for the beleaguered exchange, a corporate account holder and also a shareholder.
The “Shark Tank” star told CoinDesk TV’s “First Mover” on Monday that he spoke with the now former CEO of FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, Thursday, a day before the Bahamas-based exchange filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Days before, O’Leary said, he was looking to make sense of the liquidity issue on FTX's balance sheet. At the time, O’Leary said that he was receiving an influx of “inbound requests” from sovereign wealth and pension funds interested in helping fix FTX’s cash crunch. Bankman-Fried told O’Leary that FTX was looking for $8 billion.
“That’s the kind of money that an institution or a sovereign wealth fund can put to work if they thought there was an interesting opportunity,” O’Leary said. “In financial services, liquidity events like this can be interesting investment opportunities if you think it's a legitimate investment and it's not an issue with the regulator.”
But by then, Gensler said the crypto industry was “significantly non-compliant” and in need of more regulation.
“The minute that occurred, that was the end of any sovereign wealth fund’s interest,” O’Leary said. “There was no way to get that $8 billion onto the balance sheet of FTX with the regulators hovering overhead.”
O’Leary speculated that for FTX to remain solvent, the exchange would have needed between $3.5 billion to $4 billion.
Still sees life for crypto
The collapse of crypto exchange FTX doesn't mean it will be the end for crypto, O’Leary said.
He told CoinDesk TV the fall of FTX is a “defining” moment that will “stabilize” the industry.
“This does not kill crypto,” O’Leary said. “There’s going to be a silver lining to this disaster. There’s no question about it. It’ll be called regulation.”
O’Leary, also a shareholder of FTX International and FTX.US, said the exchange’s collapse is “going to accelerate regulation,” but added that before that can happen, lingering “collateral damage” will need to be weeded out.
“This is a bottoming process and an event like this is very important because it’s going to finally have several impacts that we need,” O’Leary said. “What we don’t know is how many other dominoes are going to fall yet. We need that to finish out.”