Cryptocurrency hasn’t always found the most welcoming audience among the world’s superrich. Billionaires have been some of the biggest critics, with heavy-hitters like Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon all openly skeptical of—or downright opposed to—digital assets like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
“If you told me you own all of the Bitcoin in the world and you offered it to me for $25, I wouldn’t take it,” Buffett, the storied investor and No. 5 richest person on the planet, worth an estimated $113 billion, said at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting in May.
Gates, meanwhile, said in May that he avoids digital currencies because they aren’t “adding to society like other investments” and has warned about the risk for everyday investors. “If you have less money than Elon, you should probably watch out,” he said earlier.
However, crypto resistance among the three comma club may not be as widespread as many think. A recent survey by Forbes of 65 of the world’s wealthiest people revealed that nearly 30% are either directly or indirectly invested in cryptocurrencies, a rate that is higher than among non-billionaire investors. A Pew Research Study at the end of last year indicated 16% of American adults had at some point invested in cryptocurrency, while an NBC News poll of 1,000 Americans published in March found 20% had invested in, traded or used crypto.
Of the billionaires surveyed, about 18% reported having at least 1% of their fortune in cryptocurrencies. Of that group, most are investing as a small side experiment; 80% of the investors in crypto said they had much less than one tenth of their wealth invested this way, while 3.2% of the billionaire respondents said they have more than half of their fortunes poured into crypto. Another 10% said they hadn’t directly invested in cryptocurrencies, but had backed crypto-focused companies.Sam Bankman-Fried, the cofounder and CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX and one of a handful of billionaires who put their names on the anonymous survey, told Forbes that he held between 76% and 100% of his $20.6 billion net worth in crypto (almost all of his wealth is wrapped up in his FTX stake and his ownership of FTTs, which are FTX tokens).
Bankman-Fried is one of 19 billionaires on our annual World’s Billionaires list published in April who not only back crypto companies, but who also make most of their fortunes from crypto. Some of them, including Coinbase cofounders Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam and Microstrategy cofounder Michael Saylor, have since seen their fortunes plunge in recent months.
Though some remain openly opposed, a growing number of billionaires have delved into alternative currencies—even reversing previous opposition—in recent years. One of the most famous converts, billionaire investor and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, quipped back in 2019 that he’d “rather have bananas than Bitcoin.” He’s since developed a varied portfolio of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and more, and continues to publicly back the investments, even as prices splutter. “It’s no different than investing in stocks, bonds, other assets. Interest rates go up, risk assets go down,” Cuban told Forbes in an email on Tuesday. “My tech stocks have performed worse than my crypto has.”
Others have dipped their toes in a little more timidly. John Sobrato, the real estate billionaire whose California-based Sobrato Organization rents office space to clients like Netflix, said he invested in Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz’s fourth crypto fund, announced in June, which raised $4.5 billion for cryptocurrency and Web3 companies. It was his way of getting involved in crypto while avoiding “the brain damage of doing our own diligence in an asset class we don’t understand,” Sobrato said.
Omid Malekan, an associate professor at the Columbia University Business School who has authored multiple books about the crypto industry, said the shift among billionaires could be attributed to a general increase in the acceptance and availability of cryptocurrencies. “Now you’re increasingly seeing traditional financial players, fintechs [get involved] … which makes it easier for people on the fence to invest,” Malekan said.
He also argues that billionaires are uniquely primed to experiment with cryptocurrencies—and have the resources to do so. “I imagine one of the ways you become a billionaire is by having an open mind,” Malekan said. Excluding those like Dimon and Buffett who have made their careers largely through the existing banking systems, it’s relatively inconsequential for a billionaire to throw a few million dollars into crypto, he argues. “They’re not so worried about what will happen to the price of Bitcoin next month.”
Still, many billionaires aren’t sold on cryptocurrency, even as an experiment. “I believe that cryptocurrency is far too volatile for investment and a sensible investment would look for something more stable,” said Jim Thompson, the Hong Kong-based billionaire behind Crown Worldwide, one of the world’s largest privately held relocation companies.
David Hoffman, the biggest real estate developer in Naples, Florida, who is worth an estimated $1.3 billion, voiced similar concerns, saying he expects to one day wake up and see that “crypto coins” have disappeared. “I don’t see the currency ever replacing the dollar,” Hoffman told Forbes, adding: “When Jamie Dimon and Warren Buffett both did not support crypto, it influenced my decision fundamentally.”