Cryptocurrency lender BlockFi files for bankruptcy, cites FTX fallout

Mia Gindis, Opinions Editor

Cryptocurrency lender BlockFi Inc. filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 28, further contributing to the cryptocurrency industry’s fallout following the collapse of financial partner FTX.

BlockFi CEO Zac Prince blamed the firm’s circumstances on its “substantial” exposure to FTX, in addition to the rocky climate of the cryptocurrency market. At the time of FTX’s downfall, the two companies were engaged in a $275 million credit line entanglement.

Founded in 2017, BlockFi provided small investors with multiple financial products, such as low-interest loans backed by cryptocurrency and accounts that paid high interest on cryptocurrency deposits. BlockFi reported more than 450,000 retail clients, as of last year.

BlockFi filed for Chapter 11 protection in New Jersey, where it’s headquartered. The lender’s financial woes emphasized the fragility of the cryptocurrency industry, with FTX serving as the first domino to fall, triggering a chain of related bankruptcies.

Voyager Digital and Celsius Network, two of BlockFi’s rivals, collapsed within a week of each other in July. In the spring, both firms reeled from a market panic that caused the value of cryptocurrencies to plummet. Bitcoin, among the most popular digital currencies, fell 20% in a single week.

To stave off its rivals’ fate, BlockFi brokered a deal with FTX in June, a time when the exchange was still widely regarded as a credible and dominant player in the cryptocurrency industry. FTX agreed to give the lender a $400 million credit line extension, which would essentially serve as a loan BlockFi could access as needed.

The deal also gave FTX the option to buy BlockFi. Prince tweeted that the credit line would grant the company “access to capital that further bolsters our balance sheet and platform strength.”

BlockFi subsequently borrowed $275 million from an FTX subsidiary, according to its bankruptcy filings. Also mentioned were the company’s more than 100,000 creditors, as well as $10 billion in assets and liabilities.

The cryptocurrency lender reported having nearly $257 million in cash on hand, to be put toward providing “sufficient liquidity to support certain operations during the restructuring process.” To prolong business operations, the company also initiated a range of “first day” motions, such as expense reduction schemes that cut labor costs and employee benefit programs.

BlockFi still owes $30 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission and $275 million to West Realm Shires Services Inc., which does business as FTX’s United States exchange, FTX.US. As BlockFi’s fourth largest creditor, the SEC found evidence that the cryptocurrency lender made false and misleading statements about the level of risk in its loan portfolio as early as February.

“From inception, BlockFi has worked to positively shape the cryptocurrency industry and advance the sector,” Mark Renzi, the managing director of the lender’s financial advisor, Berkeley Research Group said in a statement. “BlockFi looks forward to a transparent process that achieves the best outcome for all clients and other stakeholders.”

BlockFi’s next bankruptcy hearing is scheduled to take place on Jan. 9, 2023.