Who owns the most Bitcoin?

Who owns the most Bitcoin?

The person who has the most Bitcoin in the world is not really in doubt. The biggest owner, by far, is the man who invented Bitcoin — and blockchain technology — Satoshi Nakamoto. 

In the earliest days of the Bitcoin blockchain, Nakamoto is believed to have mined 1.1 million BTC, which have largely sat unmoved since then.  

Which doesn’t really answer the question of who owns the most Bitcoin, as that is not his, her, or their name(s). Nakamoto, who launched Bitcoin’s genesis block on January 3, 2009, has managed to remain remarkably anonymous over the years.

Who owns the most Bitcoin, and why it is important

We can do a little better in figuring out who owns the most Bitcoin in 2021.

Some of the top Bitcoin whales are well known and active participants in the industry — Gemini founders Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, Galaxy Digital Holdings head Mike Novogratz, and venture capitalist Tim Draper among others.

Then there are the most obvious Bitcoin holders — the owners of the big mining firms like Bitmain and Bitfury. 

What’s less helpful is trying to figure out who has the most Bitcoin by looking at the fattest Bitcoin wallet addresses. For one thing, the owners are either unknown, or the cold wallet addresses of major crypto exchanges — which don’t actually own those Bitcoin. Five of the top 10 are known to be owned by Binance (No. 1), Bitfinex (No. 2) OKEx (Nos. 5 & 8) and Huobi (No. 9), according to BitInfoCharts. And others may also be exchanges’ cold wallets.

Besides, there’s nothing to say that one person or company doesn’t control multiple addresses. 

That said, looking at the top addresses shows just how top-heavy the crypto industry is.

In the fall of 2021, the three largest accounts held more than 575,000 BTC, while the next 80 — which hold 10,000 to 100,000 BTC — had 2.1 million. 

The roughly 2,050 wallets with 1,000 to 10,000 BTC have 5.2 million BTC spread among 2,063 hodlers, and the 13,774 wallets holding 10 to 1,000 BTC have almost 8.2 million BTC.

By contrast, the bottom 26.6 million wallets holding less than one Bitcoin accounted for just 232,000 BTC.

It’s worth noting that Nakamoto is not one of those whale accounts. His Bitcoin was never consolidated in one address, and their identity has mostly been discovered by researchers.

And finally, there’s the reality that “lost” is likely the biggest Bitcoin holder. In January 2021, leading blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis estimated that about 20% of the total Bitcoin supply had been lost as owners threw out computers, lost passwords, and just plain forgot about their Bitcoin — particularly back when BTC was nearly valueless. 

As for why it’s important to know the identity of the biggest Bitcoin owners, start with the obvious. The Bitcoin market is very volatile, as are most cryptocurrencies. That makes it very manipulatable.

During his Senate confirmation hearings in March 2021, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler — a former cryptocurrency professor at MIT — said it was vital for his agency to ensure the cryptocurrency markets “are free of fraud and manipulation, and I think that’s the greater challenge, frankly, because some markets, usually operating overseas, have been rife with fraud.”

That caused Bitcoin to tank, dropping 4% in a day.

Manipulation isn’t difficult in a market as opaque as Bitcoin, where traders’ identities are not known to anyone other than their exchanges — and not even them when using sketchy exchanges, harder-to-trace privacy coins, or the sizable over-the-counter (OTC) market.

For example, the biggest Bitcoin holders can easily take out a short position and then briefly dump a lot of Bitcoin onto public exchanges, driving the Bitcoin price down and making a fortune on the shorts.

More prosaically, if one of the top Bitcoin holders decides or needs to sell a lot of Bitcoins all at once, the impact on prices would be severe.

Next, look at corporate and institutional Bitcoin holders, a group that largely didn’t exist — or least acknowledge that it existed — until 2019.

While their actual holdings aren’t really all that large a percentage of the total supply of Bitcoin, their influence on the market is enormous. 

When Wall Street legends like Paul Tudor Jones and Bill Miller — as well as mainstream companies like Tesla, Twitter, and corporate whale MicroStrategy — announce Bitcoin bets in the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, the effect on the crypto market is enormous. That’s also the case when financial industry giants like Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Blackstone reveal they are offering wealthy clients Bitcoin investments.

People who own the most Bitcoin

The biggest Bitcoin owners on the Forbes Billionaires List 2021 are probably Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, owners of the Gemini cryptocurrency exchange, whose fortune is estimated at $4.3 billion each — much of it in Bitcoin.

The Winklevii — best known for suing Mark Zuckerberg, claiming he stole their idea for Facebook — spent $11 million of their $65 million settlement in that case on Bitcoin in April 2013. 

Mike Novogratz, founder and CEO of crypto investment firm Galaxy Digital Holdings, began buying Bitcoin in 2013, and has been one of the most active investors and champions of both Bitcoin and the wider cryptocurrency industry ever since.

Then there’s venture capitalist Tim Draper, who entered the crypto market by buying 30,000 BTC at a 2014 U.S. Marshals’ auction. It’s the second great tech revolution Draper has funded, having made his name during the dotcom boom that built up the Internet as we know it today before going bust in 2000.

Certainly Micran Zhee, CEO of top Bitcoin farm Bitmain, is likely to be on the list. So is Barry Silbert, founder of Digital Currency Group, whose Grayscale Investments’ Bitcoin Trust holds more than 650,000 BTC for investors.

Then there are hackers. The most famous Bitcoin theft was the 2014 hack of Mt. Gox, then the largest cryptocurrency exchange. A staggering 850,000 Bitcoins were stolen, worth $450 million at the time and $32.5 billion assuming a Bitcoin value of $50,000. And it is far from the only nine-figure hack.

Public blockchains like Bitcoin are pseudonymous, not anonymous, which means each Bitcoin  transaction can be traced, although the owner’s identity remains unknown. While nobody knows who owns Bitcoin stolen in these attacks, knowing which account holds them means they can be watched, making them very difficult to sell. 

Companies that own the most Bitcoin

It’s pretty clear that the largest corporate owner — certainly the largest public company — is business intelligence firm MicroStrategy. CEO Michael Saylor has been a very loud and public advocate of Bitcoin since the company announced a $250 million buy Bitcoin in August 2020. As of September 2021 it was up to 114,042 BTC worth about $5.5 billion.

Tesla’s Elon Musk became a Bitcoin hero when the electric car company bought Bitcoin worth $1.5 billion in 2021 and announced it would start accepting payment for cars made using this digital asset. His crypto community stock plunged a few months later when he announced the company would stop accepting Bitcoin due to environmental concerns — but didn’t sell its holdings.

Galaxy Digital Holdings reports having 16,400 BTC while cryptocurrency exchange Voyager Digital holds 12,260 in its own account, according to BitcoinTreasuries.org. Rounding out the five biggest Bitcoin holders, Square, the payments company founded by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, bought 8,027 BTC in late 2020 and early 2021.

As for private companies, the top hodler was Block.one which, despite being focused on the EOS blockchain, holds more than 140,000 BTC. Another blockchain builder, the Tezos Foundation, has 17,500. It’s followed by Stone Ridge Holdings Group (10,000 BTC), insurer MassMutual (3,500 BTC) and DApp platform Lisk (1,898).

An unusual member of the top Bitcoin holders is Bulgaria, thought to have nearly 214,000 BTC acquired in criminal raids. 

The future of Bitcoin

In the end, the future of Bitcoin will depend on the number of people that actually adopt it, either  as a currency or a gold-like store of value.

For one thing, according to reports, some 80% of all Bitcoins are either held long term or lost. With Bitcoin increasingly viewed as a store-of-value asset to hold long term, that percentage will likely go up. Add in that about 18.8 million of the hard cap of 21 million BTC have already been mined — and the rest stretched out to 2140 — if more people keep going after a small supply, prices will go up.

As for how many people own Bitcoin, the answer is extremely murky. The highly regarded polling firm Gallup recently ran a large survey of U.S. investors, and found that about 6% had Bitcoin in their portfolios.

While two crypto industry sources came up with much higher numbers — 22% of the U.S. adult population according to NYDIG and 14% according to Gemini — they did not survey as many people as Gallup, or in as scientific a manner.  

Which suggests Bitcoin will hold strong if whales don’t sink it and hacklers don’t smash holes in the planks. 

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