FTX founder and former billionaire philanthropist Sam Bankman-Fried says he was thinking about trying to save lives as he built his now-failed crypto exchange, and that most corporate philanthropy is “bullshit.”
Bankman-Fried, or SBF, made the remarks as he defended himself in a Wednesday interview with the New York Times during which he was asked whether he had committed fraud, lied, or stolen his customers’ funds. His answer to those three queries was essentially no. Bankman-Fried has not been charged with a crime, but questions abound about what happened to about $10 billion of his customers’ money.
Bankman-Fried, who has said his life’s goal was to make as much money as possible so he could donate his billions to charity, was also asked about his do-gooder image. Specifically, about comments he made in an earlier Vox interview that suggested his embrace of ethics may have been “a front.” Those comments seemed to cast doubt on SBF’s longtime involvement with effective altruism, a philanthropic movement that seeks solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.
Asked to elaborate on “what it meant to look good in corporate America today,” Bankman-Fried replied in Wednesday’s interview that he cared most about having a positive impact on the world.
“ ‘We thought of ourselves as legitimately trying to do good, but we also thought about what we could do to make sure that our image reflected that.’”
“I was thinking a lot about bed nets and malaria, about saving people from diseases that no one should die from, about animal welfare, about pandemic prevention and what could be done on a large scale to help mitigate those,” Bankman-Fried said. “Those things I think matter and they’re among the most important things to me.”
He then took a swing at traditional corporate philanthropy, saying: “There is a bunch of bullshit that regulated companies do to try and look good. These are things that, everyone who does them knows they’re kind of dumb. They’re not things that are making a large impact on the world, these are not looking at saving thousands of lives.” He gave the example of a company claiming it would donate two used cars to a charity “if three different quarterbacks scored touchdowns in the same game for the same team.” He added, “It’s just a PR campaign sort of masquerading as do-gooderism.”
New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin asked Bankman-Fried whether he too participated in that sort of meaningless promotional activity. SBF replied, “Yeah, we all did. FTX did as well. There were things I felt like we needed to do for the business…I wish the world didn’t work this way. I wish that these weren’t relevant to your ability to get regulated, to your ability to get bank accounts, but they were. Yeah, we had promotional campaigns, we had marketing slogans. We thought of ourselves as legitimately trying to do good, but we also thought about what we could do to make sure that our image reflected that.”
FTX’s image was intertwined with Bankman-Fried’s belief in effective altruism, which he has said he discovered in college. It led him to pursue “earning to give” as a way to help humanity — the idea that a person should earn a lot of money, then donate it to charity.
FTX played a key role in that image, with its website stating that “FTX was founded with the goal of donating to the world’s most effective charities. FTX, its affiliates, and its employees have donated over $190m to help save lives, prevent suffering, and ensure a brighter future.”
Bankman-Fried, whose net worth was once an estimated $26.5 billion was one of the biggest funders of the effective altruism movement. FTX’s philanthropic arm, the FTX Foundation and the Future Fund, donated millions to dozens of nonprofits pursuing effective altruist goals. Now they may be asked to return the money if bankruptcy trustees seek to “claw back” funds to repay FTX creditors.