- Former Binance employees and investors told Bloomberg that CEO Changpeng Zhao has a firm grip on the company.
- One told the outlet that, "at the end of the day, he's the holding company."
- That's at odds with core tenets of the decentralized finance movement.
Crypto giant Binance is a poster child of the decentralized movement.
Its founder and CEO Changpeng Zhao recently spoke to Bloomberg Businessweek about the company's mission, his new home in Dubai, and his support for blockchain-based initiatives that operate autonomously without a central leader.
But former Binance employees and investors told the magazine that's not how the company actually operates. The sources said Zhao has sole control of what happens at Binance — conflicting with core tenets of the decentralized finance movement and its mission to take power from the traditional financial system.
"At the end of the day, he's the holding company," an anonymous former Binance employee told Bloomberg, which also viewed several corporate documents and other material.
Many blockchain and crypto startups have structured themselves as so-called Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, or DAOs, which have been likened to co-ops without a strict hierarchy. Many of them opt out of building sprawling centralized headquarters, including Binance historically.
Zhao himself regularly refers to Binance as an "organization," not a company, and its employees as "team members," with the broader Binance ecosystem participants known as "Binancians."
Binance is notorious for not providing concrete answers about where exactly the company is based. In May, Zhao shared on Reddit that Binance's offices in Bahrain, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi "are not small."
One of Zhao's most recent times addressing physical locations was in a Reddit AMA in late May, when he shared that Binance has offices in Bahrain, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi that "are not small."
Binance's parent company, called Binance Holdings, is based in the tax-friendly Cayman islands, where authorities told the Wall Street Journal the exchange isn't registered to operate. And while most crypto purchases and sales pass through Binance.com's main exchange, its physical location is also unknown.
Bloomberg also viewed corporate filings showing that Zhao owns, in their entirety, a number of Binance operations run in countries around the world, such as Singapore and Italy.
A legal memo from a client seeking remedy after losing $1.2 million on Binance said: "It appears that the Binance Platform is not owned by any company or other legal entity," according to Bloomberg.
Zhao did say in September 2021 that Binance has decided to establish some sort of home base to get along with regulators. He told Fortune in April that the company would announce the location "very soon" but has yet to do so.
Binance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.