Changpeng Zhao (CZ)

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Who is Changpeng Zhao?

Changpeng Zhao (often referred to as CZ) is the founder and CEO of the Binance cryptocurrency exchange. He launched Binance in 2017, which has since grown to become the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume.

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CZ’s keen business acumen has played a pivotal role in building Binance into a respected brand. With a background in technology and extensive experience, his focus has been on creating a user-friendly platform for purchasing cryptocurrencies with maximum security.

These core principles have underpinned Binance’s success in the realm of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.

However, CZ has since stepped down as the CEO of Binance following a $4.3 billion record settlement deal with U.S. authorities on 21 November 2023.

On April 30, 2024, CZ was sentenced to four months in prison by a US court after pleading guilty to violating US laws against money laundering at Binance.

Early Life and Education

Born on 5 February 1977 in the Jiangsu province of China, Zhao immigrated to Vancouver, Canada, in 1989.

His passion for technology became evident when his father, Shengkai, purchased a $7,000 286 DOS Computer, which profoundly impacted young CZ. Later, he pursued a degree in computer science at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

While at McGill, CZ studied the intricacies of programming, software development, and complex computer systems. These technical skills would later serve as a driving force behind his pursuit of excellence in a competitive field.

Personal Life

Changpeng Zhao shares minimal details online.

During his teenage years, he held various part-time jobs, including positions at McDonald’s, a Chevron gas station, and working as a referee for volleyball games.

As for his marital status, Zhao is currently unmarried, and he has not publicly disclosed his intentions in this regard.

Changpeng Zhao’s Early Career Path

After completing his education, CZ landed a job as a software engineer intern at the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2001. In this role, he was responsible for designing complex trading software for the Asian Securities Exchange to record and execute trades worth billions of dollars.

Subsequently, he embarked on a project to develop trading software for the renowned Bloomberg Terminal, known as Tradebook Futures Development, in New York from 2001 to 2005.

After leaving Bloomberg, Zhao co-founded Fusion Systems, an IT company located in Singapore. However, his entrepreneurial endeavors did not stop there.

In 2015, he founded Bijie Tech, a cloud-based services provider catering to exchanges.

In 2013, during this period of diverse experiences, CZ encountered the concept of Bitcoin (BTC), sparking a passionate interest in decentralized currency.

He became keen on enabling a more universal, decentralized, and open financial system, recognizing blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies as the ideal means to achieve this goal.

Hence, CZ dived head-first into crypto communities and started building a network of connections in the industry.

To further his understanding and actively contribute to the field, he decided to pursue employment in the cryptocurrency space.

Consequently, he assumed pivotal roles such as:

  • Head of Development, Blockchain.info, 2013: Blockchain.info is a leading Bitcoin wallet services provider. In this capacity, Changpeng Zhao gained invaluable insights into how a cryptocurrency wallet services provider operates.
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO), OKCoin, 2014: OKCoin is one of China’s top cryptocurrency exchanges. CZ’s strong technical acumen played a vital role in fostering the company’s growth in the Asian market. His role as the CTO helped him gain the necessary experience on how a cryptocurrency exchange enables the buying and selling of digital assets.

In addition to these key roles, Changpeng Zhao also took on responsibilities at ZeroBlock, where he oversaw the development of Wallet and API.

A Chinese Immigrant Leading the World

In 2017, Zhao initiated the establishment of Binance in China, a move that would eventually reshape the landscape of the global cryptocurrency market. Binance swiftly gained widespread recognition due to its diverse range of digital assets, user-friendly interface, and exceptionally efficient trading platform.

However, trouble started brewing a few months after its launch as the Chinese government imposed strict regulations on cryptocurrency exchanges within its borders. Rather than being a setback, this pivotal event served as the foundation for the Binance Global brand.

CZ moved the Bitcoin exchange offshore. This strategic pivot allowed him and his team to refocus their efforts on expanding the brand’s presence.

Their approach, centered on providing user-friendly, secure, centralized operations and fostering relentless innovation, propelled Binance to the forefront of the crypto exchange arena.

Binance soon began processing billions of dollars worth of crypto trades and garnered millions of users worldwide.

Unlike many other crypto exchanges focused solely on buying and selling Bitcoin and other alternative currencies (altcoins), Binance made substantial investments in a range of critical crypto-related services, including:

  • BNB Smart Chain: Similar to the Ethereum blockchain, BNB Smart Chain is an open-sourced layer-1 blockchain protocol. It runs on smart contracts and enables the seamless development of decentralized applications (dApps) and the subsequent deployment of decentralized finance (DeFi) projects.
  • Binance Staking: Binance introduced staking-as-a-service, allowing its customers to lock their tokens or crypto assets in exchange for securing a blockchain protocol and earning newly minted coins.
  • Binance Launchpad: Binance Launchpad enables crypto projects to sell their native tokens directly to customers before they hit the main market.

Binance Controversies

The Binance exchange suffered a hacking event in May 2019 that saw 7,000 BTC drained off the platform due to poor security measures. It was also accused of insider trading in 2021, which the exchange denied.

Furthermore, Binance attempted to acquire its close competitor, FTX, during a financial downturn in November 2022. However, upon discovering a $6 billion deficit in FTX’s accounts, CZ withdrew from the deal, citing improperly disclosed financials.

Regulatory challenges have also been a constant issue. The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) issued a warning against using the platform, citing its lack of licensing to provide services in the region.

In the United States, Binance and CZ faced various lawsuits, of which the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been the most popular.

The government agency sued Binance and its founder CZ on June 5, 2023, for selling unregistered tokens, lending products, unregistered staking services, misleading investors, and 9 other charges.

Other government agencies, including the Department of Justice (DoJ), Commodity Futures and Trading Commission (CFTC), Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), and the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), also launched a multi-year investigation into Binance’s operation.

These collective government efforts resulted in multiple charges against the crypto exchange and its founder for money laundering, unlicensed money transmission, and criminal sanctions violations.

In November 2023, Binance exchange was fined a $4.3 billion settlement, and CZ stepped down as part of the terms of the deal. He was also barred from taking up any executive position at the firm for three years.

On April 30, 2024, CZ was sentenced to four months in prison after pleading guilty to money laundering charges. The sentence was shorter than the three years that US prosecutors sought.

“I believe the first step of taking responsibility is to fully recognize the mistakes. Here I failed to implement an adequate anti-money laundering program … I realize now the seriousness of that mistake,” CZ told U.S. District Judge Richard Jones before the sentencing, as reported by Reuters.

Later, CZ thanked his supporters via a Twitter (now X) post and said that he would “remain a passive investor (and holder) in crypto,”

CZ’s Net Worth

Thanks to Binance’s substantial market presence, Changpeng Zhao has become a billionaire. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, CZ’s net worth now exceeds $28 billion.

However, it’s important to note that this figure is subject to frequent changes depending on the valuation of the Binance exchange.

In addition, a concerted government effort found CZ guilty of money laundering and other criminal sanctions violations on 21 November 2023.

The Binance founder was fined a $175 million personal recognizance bond to be released from custody after pleading guilty to violating the Bank Secrecy Act. This could slightly push his net worth down if further financial penalties are exerted in the future.

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Jimmy Aki
Crypto & Blockchain Writer
Jimmy Aki
Crypto & Blockchain Writer

A graduate of the University of Virginia, Jimmy previously worked for BeInCrypto, Bitcoin Magazine, Decrypt, Cryptonews and other major publications. Alongside writing for Techopedia, Jimmy is also a trained economist, accountant and blockchain instructor with hands-on work experience in the financial sector.