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Early bird gets the worm: Bitcoin and the wealthy

Financial Times | Eva Szalay | Jun 13, 2021

sandra ro - Early bird gets the worm:  Bitcoin and the wealthy

Quick on the draw: a decade on from first investing, Sandra Ro has made a substantial fortune from bitcoin © Pascal Perich

The very rich are adding fuel to the bitcoin boom but many are wary of a bubble

Ten years ago, Sandra Ro was working in finance in London when some currency-trading friends told her about bitcoin. The cryptocurrency had been released only a couple of years previously and was still far from a global phenomenon.

“Bitcoin was only really known in geeky tech circles and eventually currency traders in London found out about it around 2010,” says Ro. She invested in the cryptocurrency, made a substantial fortune and is now chief executive of the Global Blockchain Business Council, a Swiss non-profit organisation that promotes the technology behind cryptocurrencies.

With a background in markets at global banks such as Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley, Ro was quick to grasp blockchain’s revolutionary potential. “What really piqued my interest was whether the tech could disintermediate financial markets. I thought, what the heck?” she recalls. “Bitcoin was trading at a couple of hundred bucks at the time and I bought a bunch thinking, what if it works? And guess what? It did!”

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Clearly, what makes the crypto field tempting are the stories of those who have struck gold. Ro is reluctant to say how much she is worth as a result of her bitcoin punt, as she has been targeted by scammers and has received death threats after talking about the subject. But she was able to leave full-time banking in 2017 — the year of bitcoin’s first significant rally, when prices rose from just above $800 to almost $20,000. Bitcoin’s surge to $63,000 earlier this year increased Ro’s fortune.

“Let’s just say, I have done very well. I have gone from being a banker to working at a non-profit,” says Ro, who studied at Yale and Columbia universities. “Getting in early because the tech seemed really cool also worked out as an investment, so that’s also pretty cool.” Being an early investor meant she has had to try a dozen exchanges, suffered hacks and been locked out of investments. Her friends have also done well from her foray, as she recalls giving them bitcoin “just to test out how it works”.

“I wasn’t surprised by bitcoin doing well, but there were always a lot of risks. There were hacks, regulatory risks and exchanges going bust,” she says. “Crypto used to be messy. Now there are multimillion-dollar companies being built.”

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Another early believer is Olivier Janssens, a Belgian-born entrepreneur who states his profession on LinkedIn as an investor in bitcoin since 2010. He is also proudly “self-educated” with an attraction to “libertarian and voluntarist” ideas and forged a career as a software entrepreneur. In 2014, when bitcoin was trading at around €600, he became the first person to pay for a flight by private jet with the cryptocurrency. He settled the bill for the trip from Brussels to Nice with, he estimates, 15 bitcoin — in hindsight, a pretty costly trip. “[That] would be worth about €400,000 today,” he says.

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NCFA Jan 2018 resize - Early bird gets the worm:  Bitcoin and the wealthy The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association (NCFA Canada) is a financial innovation ecosystem that provides education, market intelligence, industry stewardship, networking and funding opportunities and services to thousands of community members and works closely with industry, government, partners and affiliates to create a vibrant and innovative fintech and funding industry in Canada. Decentralized and distributed, NCFA is engaged with global stakeholders and helps incubate projects and investment in fintech, alternative finance, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer finance, payments, digital assets and tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrency, regtech, and insurtech sectors. Join Canada's Fintech & Funding Community today FREE! Or become a contributing member and get perks. For more information, please visit: www.ncfacanada.org

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