Changpeng Zhao – commonly known by his initials CZ – is a tremendously successful Chinese-Canadian businessman who founded Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange in terms of trading volume. CZ has been in the news over the last couple of years amid the volatility in cryptocurrencies and the various allegations against him and Binance.

Changpeng Zhao’s net worth in 2024 is estimated to be $40 billion, making him the wealthiest crypto entrepreneur globally.

Here, we explore how he achieved this major feat and how he continues to preserve his wealth.

Changpeng Zhao Net Worth Breakdown

Since the bulk of Changpeng Zhao’s wealth is in his Binance holdings, his net worth has been quite volatile, just like the crypto markets. For instance, his net worth was almost $100 billion at its peak in early 2022 but eventually tumbled that year as the crypto markets collapsed along with Binance’s valuation.

However, his estimated wealth ballooned yet again in 2023 amid the rise i cryptocurrencies. Along with CZ, twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss who cofounded the crypto exchange Gemini, and Coinbase founder Brian Armstrong also climbed in the Bloomberg billionaires index last year.

Since Changpeng Zhao’s business empire is held privately and not through a publicly traded company, we can’t be certain about his exact net worth. However, we were able to collect plenty of public information about his various sources of income, investments, assets, and business ventures, which we break down here for you.

Asset or Income Source Contribution to Net Worth
Binance stake $35 billion
Bitcoin investment $5 billion
Real estate $10 million
SEC fine -$50 million
Total Net Worth $40 billion

Changpeng Zhao Net Worth: Early Life of a Crypto Titan

Changpeng Zhao was born on February 5, 1977, in Lianyungang in China’s Jiangsu province. His parents were both educationalists and his father was a professor at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei which is among the top universities in the country. His father fell out with the Communist Party of China and was sent to serve in rural parts of the country.

changpeng zhao childhood
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However, his father Shengkai left China for Canada to pursue a doctorate at the University of British Columbia. In 1989, Changpeng Zhao also immigrated to Canada shortly after the Tiananmen Square massacre and settled with his family in Vancouver, British Columbia.

In a blog post, CZ recalled

It normally took four years to get a passport, and it would have taken another 2-3 years to get a Canadian visa if we were lucky. However due to the incident, the Canadian embassy opened up and gave us visas quickly. I remember the line outside the Canadian embassy was three days long. We had to take shifts at night to keep our position in the queue

He added, “It changed my life forever and opened up endless possibilities for me.”

As a teenager, Zhao took up various jobs including working in McDonald’s as a burger cook, as a referee for volleyball games, as well at a Chevron gas station.

Chengpeng Zha0 (CZ) Net Worth: Becoming a Crypto Billionaire

CZ’s early brush was technology came when his father bought a 286 DOS computer which was then priced at a whopping $7,000. Zhao then joined programming courses in his high school and subsequently went to McGill University in Montreal where he majored in computer science.

After his graduation, Zhao interned with a subcontractor at the Tokyo Exchange and went on to work with Bloomberg’s Tradebook, developing software to match trade orders.

Meanwhile, after a short but hugely successful corporate career where he was promoted three times in two years and led teams on three continents at Bloomberg, Zhao bid adieu to corporate life. Zhao moved to Shanghai to become an entrepreneur and founded an IT startup named Fusion Systems where he was a partner.

Changpeng Zhao’s Leap into Cryptocurrencies

According to Zhao, “Between 2005 and 2015, I tried to set up several different start-up projects before eventually dipping my toes into the crypto space. I was a serial entrepreneur looking to build a successful start-up before I understood my passion.”

He founded a company named Bijie Tech which acted as an exchange-as-a-service platform to other exchanges. According to Zhao, the business was doing well and had around 30 clients on board. However, in March 2017, China decided to shut such exchanges and Bijie Tech’s clients shortly went out of business.

However, this debacle also laid the foundation stone for Binance in Zhao’s mind. “It was a simple notion that a more streamlined crypto exchange could provide a more frictionless user experience without sacrificing useful features,” says Zhao.

Zhao first heard of Bitcoin from friends in 2009. In 2013, CZ met Vitalik Buterin, who is one of the main founders of Ethereum, in Las Vegas. After meeting Buterin, Zhao’s interest in cryptocurrencies only deepened.

In 2014, he sold his apartment in Shanghai to invest that money – around $1 million – into Bitcoin. While his family was dismayed at the decision, Zhao rues the fact that if not for the 25% tax that he had to pay while buying that Shanghai condo due to his status as a “foreigner”, he would have had 25% more money to invest in Bitcoin.

The investment turned out to be exorbitantly profitable for Zhao as Bitcoin was trading at just around $600 back then. Zhao also worked for Blockchain.info and OKCoin before he eventually went on to launch Binance.

Founding the Largest Crypto Exchange in the World: Binance

Zhao founded Binance in 2017 and he took several of Bijie Tech’s employees with him. However, as fate would have had it, just two months after the launch, China disallowed crypto exchanges to operate in the country and put Binance behind the country’s Great Firewall.

The irony that I was once again forced to leave China – approximately thirty years after my parents fled with my sister and I – was not lost on me

said Zhao.

changpeng zhao binance
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CZ uses this example to clear the confusion that had persisted claiming that Binance is a Chinese company. While the company was founded by Zhao who was born in China, he is a Canadian citizen now and Binance is also not available in China since cryptocurrency trading is forbidden there.

Clearing the air on whether Binance is a Chinese company, Zhao wrote in the blog post,

“Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of corporate law or how companies work will understand this: Binance was never incorporated in China. Nor do we operate like a Chinese company culturally. We have subsidiaries in many countries, including France, Spain, Italy, UAE, and Bahrain (to name a few). But we don’t have any legal entities in China, and we do not have plans to.”

binance homepage
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Binance quickly expanded to new geographies. The company was in the right business at the right time and benefited from the growing interest in cryptocurrencies between 2018 and 2021. It quickly became well-known as an easy-to-use, global crypto exchange with decent features and most of the top cryptocurrencies available for trading.

According to the Binance end-of-year report, it had daily average trading volumes of $65 billion and the company facilitated 300 billion spot transactions in 2022.

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao Launches Binance Coin

In 2017, along with Binance, Changpeng Zhao launched Binance Coin (BNB). The company distributed 200 million Binance tokens (BNB) of which 50% or 100 million were distributed in the public auction while 40% were reserved for the founding team. The remaining 20 million were distributed to angel investors.

Binance offered the tokens at 15 cents each in the ICO and raised a total of $15 million in the form of Bitcoin and Ethereum. Binance used the funds to upgrade its platform and for marketing and advertisement.

bnb price history
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The Binance Coin price has since surged to around $340 and its market cap is around $50 billion, making it the fourth largest cryptocurrency as of February 15, 2024.

It isn’t known how much Zhao’s stake is in Binance, after five rounds of funding that injected $3 billion into the platform. His net worth was estimated to be up to $100 billion in 2022, primarily based on his ownership of Binance. However, the value of the company has faltered due to recent legal issues, augmenting CZ’s net worth to a lower figure of $40 billion total.

Zhao Changpeng Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering Charges

Despite this success, CZ is facing legal troubles and in June 2023, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued Binance and Zhao for allegedly violating securities laws. With Zhao Changpeng pleading guilty to anti-money laundering allegations, the SEC was emboldened and said in its release, “In just the past month, the Justice Department has successfully prosecuted the CEOs of two of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges in two separate criminal cases. The message here should be clear: using new technology to break the law does not make you a disruptor, it makes you a criminal.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also lashed out at Binance and said, “Binance turned a blind eye to its legal obligations in the pursuit of profit. Its willful failures allowed money to flow to terrorists, cybercriminals, and child abusers through its platform.”

CZ also stepped down as the Binance CEO and agreed to pay a $50 million fine while Binance offered to pay $4.3 billion in fines and restitution. It’s important to note that he still likely has full control of the company unless he has unloaded most of his stake.

Meanwhile, the Seattle federal court has delayed Zhao’s sentencing in criminal charges to April 30, 2024. Zhao’s lawyer, William Burck, did not comment on the over the two-month postponement of the criminal sentencing.

Changpeng Zhao’s Other Assets and Investments

Most of his net worth is tied up with the value of Binance and his stake in BNB and BTC. However, there are other assets the former CEO owns.

Real Estate

Changpeng Zhang owns at least two properties in Dubai and has been a fan of what he’s termed a “very pro-crypto” city. The crypto billionaire praised the government for being “progressive” (in some ways) and said the city had a good business environment.

Before his first Dubai purchase, he had said that he didn’t own cars or properties, considering them too illiquid. He changed his mind on the UAE purchase to show his commitment to the city.

Other Investments

Precious little is known about Changpeng Zhao’s personal investments outside of Bitcoin, BNB, and Binance. However, in 2019, he invested in rival crypto exchange FTX, founded by the infamous fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF), who was once among the richest and most famous crypto entrepreneurs but is now in jail, awaiting his sentence for his fraud convictions.

changpeng zhao sbf
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Zhao cashed out of FTX in 2021 with a $2.1 billion payout which turned out to be a good decision in the end. FTX collapsed in 2022 having repercussions on the entire cryptocurrency industry. The Twitter thread that announced the move would turn out to be a catalyst that lit the fire that burned down FTX and much of the crypto market with it.

FTX had given its sister company, Alameda Research, billions of dollars that it didn’t have, taking from customer assets. When Alameda Research lost most of that money in bad trades, FTX became extremely illiquid, setting itself up for total disaster. Binance pulling its $2.1 billion was not the entire reason why FTX crashed. It was just the last straw on the camel’s back.

2022 was a rough year for the cryptocurrency market after its market cap surpassed $2.3 trillion the previous year. However, the collapse of FTX and Terra Luna, regulatory uncertainty, as well as rising global interest rates made investors wary of digital assets.

Elsewhere, Zhao also invested $500 million to finance Elon Musk’s $44 billion Twitter acquisition. albeit through Binance rather than as a personal investment. That might not have been a profitable investment though and most recently Fidelity slashed the company’s valuation by a whopping 72%.

What Can We Learn from Changpeng Zhao’s Life?

Zhao’s success despite his difficult childhood can be seen as inspiring. His success story is not of instant fame but is a lesson in perseverance and hard work. His story is the essence of the Canadian dream. He fled to the country following a horrifying massacre and worked his way up into one of the richest and most successful people in the world.

The common thread between all truly successful people, including Changpeng Zhao, is that they had to face hardships, overcome them, and learn from their mistakes.

The biggest lesson that we should all learn from Zhao’s life and professional career is the value of persistence. Despite Binance facing several challenges over the years, CZ did not give up and within the very first year of its launch, it went on to become the biggest cryptocurrency exchange in the world.

According to Zhao, “My dad has always taught me to go work hard, you know, to get a decent job, and both my parents had that kind of mentality.”

The former CEO of Binance was also quite forward-looking in his approach and identified the opportunity in cryptocurrencies far ahead of most. Quite often, we find that billionaires who make it big in their respective industries take the risk and bet on an opportunity that not many others can identify.

Despite the regulatory scrutiny of Binance, the company is still the largest centralized cryptocurrency exchange, and its market share was roughly 44% in December 2023.

That said, while there is a lot that we can admire and learn from in CZ’s story, his failure to build an effective system against money laundering and preventing US sanctions violations at Binance is something that would continue to haunt not only him but also his brainchild.

The crypto industry has battled several scams and regulatory hurdles between 2021 and 2023 and several crypto exchanges shut down. However, while once formidable exchanges like FTX and Gemini have gone out of business, Binance managed to not only survive but also thrive despite all the troubles.