Investors in Minnesota and across North America worried about their investments as FTX, the large cryptocurrency exchange, filed for bankruptcy protection and founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried resigned.
The fast-moving fall of FTX has stunned the crypto world. It took less than a week for FTX to go from the third-largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world to bankruptcy court after the exchange experienced the crypto equivalent of a bank run.
Industry experts in Minnesota were skeptical that investor confidence in cryptocurrency would return anytime soon, as crypto-linked stocks went into freefall, losing about $150 billion in value this week.
"It's a wake-up call for the industry," said Vivian Fang, Honeywell professor of accounting at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.
Bankman-Fried has raised $1.8 billion from investors, most recently $400 million in January, boosting its value to $32 billion. But last week, CoinDesk, an online news site, exposed a financial statement belonging to trading firm Alameda Research, which is also owned by Bankman-Fried.
The report showed the firm's assets rested largely on the token issued by the FTX exchange, which suggested the firm used the value of those tokens as collateral for getting loans from lenders.
Once exposed, it triggered a panic among investors who worried the token's value would plummet, along with the exchange, and that the exchange didn't have sufficient assets to cover its liabilities, including its loans and withdrawals, Fang said.
The FTX exchange experienced massive withdrawals of nearly $5 billion in a matter of days, leading the exchange to halt customer transactions.
The murky future of FTX may erode investor trust in cryptocurrencies to some extent, Fang said. While trading above $50 at its peak, the FTX token had dropped to as low as $4 this week, she said.
Others in Minnesota agree.
"The effects of this failure, along with its token price plummet, dragged down the entire industry's market cap," said Brandon Ferdig, president of the Minnesota Blockchain Initiative. Blockchain is the cryptic data-storing technology used for crypto.
"Following this year's other prominent projects failing, this is yet another big hit to the sense of security in investing and participating in this space," Ferdig said. "It will take some time before retail and especially institutional investors feel confident."
FTX's unraveling is causing ripple effects. Already companies that backed FTX are writing down their investments. Politicians and regulators are ramping up calls for stricter oversight of the crypto industry. The Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department are investigating.
And this latest crisis has put pressure on the prices of Bitcoin and other digital currencies. The total market value of all digital currencies dropped by about $150 billion in the last week, according to CoinMarketCap.com.
The FTX crisis may teach leaders of other crypto exchanges that they will have to be more transparent with customers moving forward, Fang said. The FTX story can also motivate officials to strengthen crypto regulations and disclosure rules that could help protect U.S. customers, both retail clients and institutional investors, and hold exchanges accountable for improperly using those assets.
For investors, it's a reminder to be more diligent in deciding their choice of crypto exchange or token, she said.
Ferdig compared this moment in crypto to the fallout of fraudulent commodities firm Enron, another tale of a successful founder mismanaging a fast-rising company.
Indeed, the company on Friday appointed as its new CEO John Ray III, a longtime bankruptcy litigator who is best known for having to clean up the mess made after the collapse of Enron.
"And like the recovery from the internet's dot-com crash, so will this be the case for crypto, another explosively growing technology here to stay," he said.
In its bankruptcy filing, FTX listed more than 130 affiliated companies around the globe. The company valued its assets between $10 billion to $50 billion, with a similar estimate for its liabilities.
FTX reportedly needs a capital infusion of more than $8 billion to stay afloat, but given uncertainty in the market with another possible recession in the near future, it's unlikely an investor group will step forward to fill that gap, Fang said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.