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FTX contagion: BlockFi bankruptcy wipes out billions for 400,000 everyday Americans and investors like Peter Thiel

A photo illustration show a smartphone and computer that both have the BlockFi cryptocurrency website open. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

BlockFi, a company that offered too-good-to-be-true interest rates on cryptocurrency holdings, is the latest victim of the FTX fallout. And while BlockFi’s bankruptcy is less dramatic than the FTX implosion, the consumer impact in the U.S. may be further reaching.

“While FTX gets the headlines, Celsius and BlockFi are the Lehman and Bear Stearns of crypto,” said Asheesh Birla, a cryptocurrency executive and investor who sits on the board of San Francisco blockchain company Ripple.

BlockFi’s most popular product was the BlockFi Interest Account, which appeared to be just like a regular interest-bearing account at a bank—but if you looked under the hood, it was far riskier. The company targeted everyday consumers, sponsoring flashy billboards across the U.S., such as this one in the Bay Area, and luring them with interest rates of up to 7.5% for certain cryptocurrencies.

By late last year, 391,105 customers in the U.S. held $10.4 billion in its interest-bearing accounts, according to the SEC.

In comparison, FTX had about a million customers worldwide, and it’s likely most were outside the U.S. since the exchange was started in Hong Kong. And while FTX made a play for average consumers, its trading platform catered more to cryptocurrency traders and institutions because of its sophisticated financial products like derivatives trading. 

FTX filed for bankruptcy earlier this month amid allegations of fraud and gross mismanagement.

Publicly traded cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, which at one point topped the charts as the most Apple mobile app, counts 8.5 million active users worldwide each month.

FTX raised nearly $2 billion from top-tier investors, including SoftBank and NFL star Tom Brady. Similarly, BlockFi hauled in nearly $1 billion from a slew of star investors, including Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, Coinbase founder Fred Ehrsam’s fund and Tiger Global. Those investments will likely now be worthless.

In its bankruptcy filings, BlockFi tried to blame and distance itself from FTX. BlockFi accused FTX of being a major cause of its bankruptcy, but also said it proved itself “quite the opposite” from the failed crypto exchange by providing best-in-class financial services and protections for customers. In the filings, BlockFi said it’s working diligently to ensure that customers have a chance at recouping their funds.

BlockFi users expressed anger and sadness in posts on a subreddit. According to bankruptcy filings, some clients held many millions at BlockFi, including one that held $48.5 million.

“My husband put all our savings under BlockFi,” one user wrote on the forum. “He withdrew my money on [Nov.] 13th [and it is still] showing pending….Any hope or is it all gone?”