SALT/FTX conference highlights emerging crypto scene in The Bahamas

Conference attendees from across the crypto market descended upon the small island nation of the Bahamas this week for a joint event hosted by Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto exchange FTX and Anthony Scaramucci’s finance conference business SALT. 

The flush-with-cash and energetic vibe of the multi-day resort conference was similar to previous similar events this year in Paris and Miami. But the behind the scenes of the panels and hard partying were signs of a fast-growing community — a development spearheaded by FTX, which makes its headquarters in The Bahamas.

Indeed, Ryan Salame — the co-CEO of FTX Digital Markets — told The Block in an interview that a number of firms are interested in setting up shop in the Bahamas alongside the exchange operator. 

“About 20 or 30 companies are engaged in conversations with us,” he said. “Token projects, trading firms, DeFi protocols, and stable coin projects.”

The interest was illustrated by the success of the conference from an attendance and profitability perspective. About 2,000 people attended, according to a spokesperson for SALT. 

In a conversation with Anthony Scaramucci, the founder of hedge fund Skybridge that the conference was a tribute to the Bahamian people and FTX’s move there. 

“FTX is trying to build bridges into traditional finance,” he said. Attendees included representatives from Citigroup, Visa, and Apollo. 

“From a profitability perspective, this [conference] was one of the best,” Scaramucci—the former White House communications director—said, adding that the organizers had to turn people away. 

FTX broke ground on a new office just before the conference kicked off. Salame estimated that it could house more than 1,000 people. 

For now, FTX and its affiliates work out of a small compound of offices, which has been described as akin to a group of strip malls. Even during the conference it was not unusual to find people working throughout the ultra-modern office space late into the evenings. Snacks, computer equipment, and swag were abundant. 

OKEX is one company following in FTX’s footsteps by setting up shop in The Bahamas. Salame declined to share other big names. 

The draw is two-fold, according to several conversations with people who attended the conference. 

First, the regulatory environment is relatively friendly to crypto, particularly compared to the US. 

Former CFTC head Chris Giancarlo criticized US regulations during a panel with former acting CFTC head and current legal policy and regulatory strategy of FTX, Mark Wetjen. “I mean no disrespect to the regulators,” Giancarlo said. “These are regulations written 90 years ago, in the 1930s.”

Wetjen, for his part, graded the US a “four to five,” given the flexibility in those 90-year-old regulations. To close the gap, he said, there are some barriers in current regulations that must be removed. But more importantly, there needs to be a more active embrace of the crypto industry from people at the top. 

Salame described the Bahamian government, on the other hand, as very accepting of FTX and its band of crypto evangelists, noting a particular interest in stablecoins. 

“The Bahamas has established itself as a regulatory leader by establishing a crypto framework with the DARE Act in 2020,” Salame said. “The industry is looking for clear rules of the road and that is what the Bahamas has provided.”

There’s also a desire to be close to Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old wunderkind who launched FTX in 2019 after running quant trading shop Alameda Research. 

“This guy was the richest under 30 year old in the entire world,” one venture capitalist who attended the conference said. “He’s personable even though he’s this billionaire.”

“He’s the nexus of crypto so if you’re a VC or a trader, you need to be near him.”

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