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Binance’s New CEO Teng Faces Uphill Struggle in Post-Zhao Era

Binance’s new CEO, Richard Teng, is confronted with formidable hurdles as he endeavors to transform the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. Spiraling expenses linked to compliance, persistent legal challenges, and a diminishing market share pose substantial difficulties in revamping the company’s image.

Teng swiftly assumed the position of CEO after Binance’s founder, Changpeng Zhao, admitted guilt in breaching U.S. anti-money laundering regulations, resulting in a $4.3 billion settlement to resolve a lengthy investigation. Now faced with extensive financial monitoring by U.S. authorities, an ongoing lawsuit with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the potential erosion of their dominance in the crypto realm, Teng’s task is arduous, according to analysts, investors, and former regulators.

Notably, Teng encounters a particularly challenging mission in reshaping Binance’s culture, as remarked by four individuals familiar with the matter. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen criticized Binance for disregarding legal responsibilities, saying that Binance “turned a blind eye to its legal obligations in the pursuit of profit” as it “allowed money to flow to terrorists, cybercriminals, and child abusers.”

Teng, being a former financial regulator, pledged to prioritize assuring users of Binance’s “financial strength, security and safety” and collaborate with regulators “to uphold high standards globally.”

“Teng is seen as steady hands,” said Carol Alexander, professor of finance at the University of Sussex, who has tracked Binance for years. Still, leading a cultural shift at Binance – a firm shaped by Zhao in his own image – would be “hugely difficult,” she said.

The aftermath of Zhao’s situation saw nearly $1 billion withdrawn from Binance within 24 hours, signifying the hurdles ahead for Teng, who previously oversaw Binance’s regional markets. Though Zhao is barred from future involvement in Binance’s operations due to the settlement, he remains a major shareholder, while Yi He, Binance’s co-founder and Zhao’s partner, maintains a top role in the company.

Binance spokesperson Simon Matthews told Reuters that Binance had lacked “compliance controls adequate for the company that it was quickly becoming” and made “misguided decisions” as it grew quickly. “Richard was hired two years ago to help Binance mature and move past these historical issues,” Matthews said, adding that Binance had “worked hard to restructure our organization and personnel and upgrade our systems.” The firm has “new leadership” in place with experience in compliance, law enforcement and major corporations, he added.

As part of the resolution, U.S. authorities will subject Binance to a five-year “financial monitorship” overseen by the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). This entails continued access to Binance’s records and systems by FinCEN to ensure compliance with anti-money laundering and sanctions rules, a stringent measure even for established financial entities accustomed to regulatory dealings.

Teng, hired by Zhao in 2021 to lead Binance’s Singapore operations, previously served as CEO of Abu Dhabi Global Market and held regulatory roles at the Singapore Exchange. His ascension to CEO presents an opportunity for Binance to move beyond regulatory challenges, as observed by Rajeev Bamra, head of digital assets strategy at Moody’s Investors Service. However, ongoing legal issues, including an SEC lawsuit alleging deceptive practices, and investigations in France for money laundering exacerbate the prospects for a clean start.

Amid regulatory issues, Binance’s market dominance has waned, losing substantial shares this year to competitors like OKX. Changes in fee structures and regulatory woes have contributed to this decline, with analysts forecasting potential further setbacks due to reduced budgets following the U.S. fines. Nonetheless, Binance remains a formidable player in the crypto landscape, despite these formidable challenges.

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