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Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao. 

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao. 

Photographer: Laura Stevens for Bloomberg Businessweek
The Big Take

Can Crypto’s Richest Man Stand the Cold?

Changpeng Zhao built Binance into the world’s biggest digital currency exchange. Now he faces a looming regulatory crackdown in a brutal crypto winter.

Updated on

(This story was originally published on June 23, 2022.  On Nov. 8, Binance announced it was buying to help cover a liquidity crunch at the rival exchange—an offer it rescinded the next day.)

During the first few months of this year—back when buying digital tokens named after dog memes was still seen, at least in some of the most forward-thinking circles, as a perfectly reasonable way to participate in finance’s bright new future—the cryptocurrency exchange Binance promoted a new, low-risk way to get in on the action. It urged its customers to invest in something called TerraUSD. The token was what’s known in the trade as a “stablecoin,” a type of cryptocurrency that functions a bit like a savings account and promises to always be worth $1. Binance told customers who used its service to buy, sell, and invest in various cryptocurrencies that this particular stablecoin offered something special: the promise of annual returns of almost 20%. TerraUSD, Binance suggested to customers, could be somehow both “safe” and “high yield.”