Blockchain and financial markets: will computers push out brokers?

Sam Bankman-Fried cut an unlikely figure as he took the stage on the final morning of this year’s big derivatives-industry conference in Boca Raton, Florida. Sporting a grey T-shirt, khaki shorts and sneakers, his mane of curly hair untamed, the 30-year-old chief executive of FTX looked more like a student who had just rolled out of bed to grab breakfast at his college cafeteria than the boss of an international cryptocurrency exchange valued at $32bn.

Adding to incongruity at the Futures Industry Association event was that Bankman-Fried was engaging in a one-on-one chat with Alex Rodriguez, the retired American baseball star, broadcaster and business executive known as A-Rod. Standing a good six inches taller than his interlocutor and still fit at 46, the one-time fiancé of Jennifer Lopez was every inch a red-carpet celebrity in his dark suit, white shirt and power tie.

But it was A-Rod who was out of his league.

Bankman-Fried had already stolen the show at the March gathering with a groundbreaking proposal to US regulators to automate risk management in financial markets — using practices developed for digital assets. FTX says it plans to start with a small market — leveraged futures contracts for cryptocurrencies. But it raises the possibility of a brave new world in which traditional brokers would be replaced by computers, and machines would make margin calls in 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week trade.

As he compared notes with…

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