Meet CZ, China's cryptocurrency king

February 14, 2018 08:55
Changpeng Zhao's stake in crypto-exchange Binance and his BNB tokens took his net worth to US$2 billion within just a few months. Photo: Tencent

Changpeng Zhao, known as CZ in the cyberworld, has featured on the cover of the latest issue of Forbes magazine.

The 41-year-old is far from well-known, given that less than a year ago he was still a middle class Chinese.

Zhao founded the crypto-exchange Binance in July last year. And his personal wealth zoomed to US$2 billion in just a few months, making him the richest man in China among those who made their fortune from cryptocurrencies.

He might also have notched a world record in terms becoming a self-made billionaire within the shortest period of time.

Born in Jiangsu, Zhao migrated to Canada with his family at young age. After studying computer science at Montreal's McGill University, he worked at Tokyo Stock Exchange and then at Bloomberg. The coding whiz was promoted to Bloomberg's chief technical director before 30.

In 2005, he quit and moved to Shanghai to start Fusion Systems, a company that offered high-frequency trading systems for brokers. However, the venture failed following a regulatory crackdown on high-frequency trading in China.

He joined as the third member of the cryptocurrency wallet's team in 2013 for eight months. Then he worked at OKCoin as chief technology officer for less than a year.

In July 2017, Zhao decided to start his own digital asset exchange, Binance. The exchange has quickly surpassed other rivals and become China’s largest cryptocurrency exchange.

Binance now has a daily turnover of US$1.67 billion, making it the world's third largest cryptocurrency bourse, according to That's not far from BitMEX’s US$1.83 billion.

Cryptocurrency exchange usually charges 0.1 percent transaction fees. That means Binance reaps daily revenue of US$1.67 million, translating into an annual income of US$610 million.

To put things in perspective, Binance's income amounts to roughly one third of that of the Hong Kong bourse (based on Hong Kong stock Exchange's nine-month financials)

Binance also profited from issuing its own token.

Since its July initial coin offering, Binance token BNB has soared from about 10 US cents in market value to the current level of about US$9. The cryptocurrency has spiked 12 percent this year, far exceeding other crypto units like bitcoin. Zhao and his team own about 80 million BNB, translating to market value of more than US$720 million.

This has been a big leap for Zhao, considering that he had to sell his house in Shanghai in 2014 to go all in on Binance.

Nevertheless, the success story is as much about his personal achievement as the frenetic cryptocurrency boom in China.

Binance has attracted 6 million users, most of whom are retail investors. Zhao's wealth is basically derived from their trading activities.

Since the value of cryptocurrencies may not be sustainable, some speculators have reportedly been cashing in on their gains by selling their cryptocurrency holdings and switching into tangible assets like properties. But some are bound to get caught when the bubble bursts.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 13

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist