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Meet the whales: Who owns the most Bitcoins?

meet-the-whales-bitcoins-biggest-holders-and-their-market-influence
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Meet the whales: Who owns the most Bitcoins?

Who owns the most Bitcoins and why it matters? Explore the world of Bitcoin whales and their influence on the market.

It has been 15 years since the invention of Bitcoin (BTC), the cryptocurrency that kicked off what is now a multibillion-dollar digital asset industry. In that time, the coin has become one of the largest peer-to-peer (P2P) networks in terms of the total number of users.

However, there have been concerns regarding Bitcoin’s centralized distribution, which seems counterintuitive to its original purpose.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a small number of Bitcoin holders control the vast majority of its supply. These entities, often called “whales” because of their massive holdings, can cause significant ripples across the BTC market.

These whales usually command attention from other market participants due to their outsized trading activity and capacity to influence prices.

In this article, we’ll look at the Bitcoin ownership distribution and what this ownership means for the broader crypto market.

Overview of Bitcoin’s ownership distribution

Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, had the idea for a decentralized P2P payment system based on a digital currency that was universally accessible for purchase, storage, and use.

Importantly, Satoshi hoped to erase the influence of governments and traditional financial institutions in his new monetary system.

But while Satoshi’s ideals certainly help to explain Bitcoin’s increasing popularity and value, there is a nagging worry that the system is becoming more centralized as its ownership becomes concentrated in the hands of a few Bitcoin whales.

The general feeling is that the greater the concentration of BTC’s supply, the fewer coins will be available to the general public, especially given that there will only ever be 21 million Bitcoins in circulation.

People often ask how many Bitcoin holders are there. As of 2024, some estimates have the number at around 106 million, a figure that includes those holding Bitcoin on exchanges and in cold storage.

However, the number may not precisely represent the accurate picture of Bitcoin ownership, given that single entities may hold more than one wallet. Additionally, some large wallets that seem like they belong to Bitcoin whales may actually be owned by crypto exchanges that have Bitcoin for millions of users. Data from BitInfoCharts shows that of the 52,630,550 BTC addresses it has documented, the vast majority, about 51.6 million, hold 1 BTC or less. Another 1,018,671 hold between 1 and 1000 BTC, while 2,015 make up the top Bitcoin holders with between a thousand and a million Bitcoins in their possession.

Meet the whales: Who owns the most Bitcoins? - 1
Bitcoin distribution | Source: BitInfoCharts

The exact cutoff for how much BTC an address should hold to be considered a whale is still subjective. But if we go by the consensus of at least $10 million worth of BTC, then from BitInfoCharts’ database and the current dollar value of Bitcoin, there should be about 7,771 addresses that currently qualify as Bitcoin whales.

However, as can be seen in the chart above, there’s an even more rarified level of BTC addresses, numbering 105, which hold between 10,000 and 1 million BTC each. This is the group we’ll take a closer look at.

Who are the biggest Bitcoin holders?

Although the true identities of the owners of most Bitcoin wallets remain anonymous, it has not prevented the media from speculating on who has the most Bitcoin. These reports often rely on the personal admissions of certain crypto industry players and data gleaned from on-chain transactions attributed to organizations or individuals.

So, who holds the most Bitcoins? Here are some of them:

Satoshi Nakamoto

Meet the whales: Who owns the most Bitcoins? - 2

One of the biggest speculated holders of BTC is its mysterious creator, Satoshi Nakamoto. Despite the uncertainty surrounding Nakamoto’s identity, it is believed they mined no less than 22,000 blocks, each with a 50 BTC reward. It would put the total number of coins earned by Satoshi at approximately 1.1 million.

Legend also has it that Satoshi always used a different wallet to store coins earned from a particular block; that’s why there isn’t a single BTC wallet with a million coins. However, since Satoshi disappeared from the public eye, it is unclear who, if anyone, has access to this massive hoard and why Satoshi squirreled the coins away in the first place.

If there’s any truth to the claims about the size of Satoshi’s Bitcoin holding, then it would be worth an eye-watering $50.4 billion, going by Bitcoin’s price at the time of this writing.

Tim Draper

Meet the whales: Who owns the most Bitcoins? - 3

American venture capitalist and entrepreneur Tim Draper is a known supporter and holder of Bitcoin.

According to reports, Draper initially bought 40,000 Bitcoin from the Japanese crypto exchange Mt. Gox. However, in February 2014, Mt. Gox suffered a significant security breach, leading to the loss of more than 650,000 Bitcoins. Draper’s entire BTC holdings were allegedly part of the coins stolen in that misadventure.

Later in the same year, the wealthy businessman purchased an additional 29,656 BTC from the now-defunct Silk Road dark web market that U.S. law enforcement had seized. If he never added or removed a single Bitcoin from that particular stash, Draper’s holding would place him at #29 on BitInfoCharts’ list of the 100 biggest Bitcoin holders.

The Winklevoss twins

Winklevoss twins

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss are also a massive part of Bitcoin lore. The brothers founded the Gemini crypto exchange in 2014 using part of a $65 million settlement from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg following allegations he had stolen the idea for the social media platform from them.

Around the time they were setting up Gemini, the twins boasted that they had bought up at least 1% of Bitcoin’s circulating supply.

In 2014, per CoinMarketCap, BTC had a circulating supply of 12,315,650. Therefore, if Tyler and Cameron’s claims were valid, they should have amassed no fewer than 123,000 BTC in that year alone.

However, the 2022 crypto winter that triggered the collapse of several companies in the digital assets space and the plummeting of cryptocurrency prices reportedly caused the Winklevoss twins to lose more than 60% of their BTC wealth. As of now, reports indicate that the brothers hold upwards of 70,000 Bitcoin.

Michael Saylor

Meet the whales: Who owns the most Bitcoins? - 4

MicroStrategy co-founder and former CEO Michael Saylor is another big Bitcoin proponent. The man, who became a multimillionaire in the late 90s after riding the dot-com bubble, once stated that he personally owned 17,732 Bitcoin.

Being so bullish on Bitcoin, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that, since that revelation, Saylor has added some more coins to his BTC trove. What makes it more plausible is that Saylor’s company, MicroStrategy, controlled more than 152,000 BTC as of July 31, following a conscious decision to adopt cryptocurrency as its primary reserve asset.

In fact, at the beginning of 2024, Saylor started selling part of his stake in MicroStrategy for what could be an eye-popping $216 million, with reports indicating he plans to use some of the proceeds to buy more Bitcoin for himself.

Changpeng Zhao

Meet the whales: Who owns the most Bitcoins? - 5

Former Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao is thought to be one of the largest Bitcoin holders in the world. The Chinese-born crypto entrepreneur got into Bitcoin in 2014 after reportedly selling his apartment for $1 million. Depending on when he sold his property, the million dollars could have bought him anywhere between 1,230 and 3,076 BTC.

Although the exact number of Bitcoin in his possession is unknown, the latest “Bloomberg Billionaires Index” has Zhao’s net worth at $31 billion. Given that the 46-year-old had previously stated that he owns very little fiat currency, it is safe to say that a fair chunk of that net worth could be in digital assets, most of it Bitcoin.

Public companies holding the most Bitcoin

While a sizable portion of Bitcoin is in the hands of individuals, more institutional investors have taken up the cryptocurrency. Per data from CoinGecko, 25 publicly traded companies hold 1.2% of the total Bitcoin supply, which adds up to about 233,000 coins.

The following are the institutions whose BTC holdings qualify them for whale status:

MicroStrategy

Per CoinGecko’s database, MicroStrategy holds 152,800 Bitcoin, which is about 0.728% of its circulating supply. At current prices, the coins are worth approximately $3.9 billion. The company spent an estimated $4.12 billion to buy its Bitcoin, meaning it is currently looking at about $200 million in lost value.

The company first started buying BTC in 2020, mirroring its former CEO Michael Saylor’s affinity for the cryptocurrency.

Marathon Digital

Coming a distant second in the list is Marathon Digital, a Bitcoin mining company based in Las Vegas. At last count, Marathon owned 12,964 BTC valued at about $338 million. The company occasionally sells some of its holdings, including 750 in July 2023.

Galaxy Digital

Headed by CEO Mike Novogratz, Galaxy Digital Holdings is a New York-based crypto financial services company. Per CoinGecko’s data, the crypto firm holds 12,545 BTC with a market value of $327 million.

Coinbase

Coinbase is a publicly listed crypto exchange headed by Brian Armstrong. It holds a total of 10,766 BTC bought for a combined $207 million. Interestingly, as of November 2022, the exchange also had about 2 million BTC belonging to customers. This was revealed by the company CEO in a Twitter (now X) exchange with Changpeng Zhao.

Tesla

Rounding off our list of publicly traded BTC whales is Elon Musk’s electric automobile manufacturer, Tesla. As of August 2023, Tesla held 10,500 Bitcoins worth a total of $336 million.

The company initially bought about $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin in 2021 after stating it would start accepting payments in cryptocurrency. A couple of months later, Tesla sold 10% of its BTC holding as Musk reportedly sought to test whether the coin could be liquidated easily without majorly affecting the market.

In 2022, Tesla offloaded 75% of its remaining Bitcoin after it started losing value following the advent of a crypto winter that weakened the entire digital asset market. The carmaker indicated that it recouped $936 million in the sale.

Honorable mentions

While below our 10,000 BTC threshold, companies like Hut 8 Mining, Block Inc., and Riot still possess sizable Bitcoin holdings. At the time of writing, Hut 8 owned 9,315 Bitcoins valued at $242 million. Block Inc., a multinational technology conglomerate founded by former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, holds 8,027 Bitcoins with a market value of $209 million.

On its part, Riot, another Bitcoin mining company, owns 7,094 coins worth an estimated $185 million.

Crypto exchanges and private institutions

Binance, Coinbase, Kraken, and Coincheck are just a few of the major crypto exchanges that hold significant amounts of Bitcoin. However, the coins in their custody often legally belong to their customers.

Regardless, the sheer volume of transactions that are run on these platforms gives them considerable influence in the crypto market. Often, when one of them moves some of its holdings from one wallet to another, it causes a stir among the crypto community and may even nudge the price of Bitcoin in either direction.

Of the top 100 BTC wallets identified by BitInfoCharts, nine belong to Binance, including the most prominent BTC address that holds 248,597 coins. In total, Binance’s wallets have 607,863 Bitcoins, all valued at about $15.8 billion.

Bitfinex’s biggest identified wallet contains 178,010 BTC, and it is the second-largest Bitcoin address in the world. The exchange also owns another wallet holding 19,711 coins for a combined total of 197,721 Bitcoin, boasting a value of $5.1 billion.

The third biggest BTC holder is a mysterious address that amassed 118,300 coins in three short months. There were speculations regarding the identity of the owner of the wallet. An X user going by the name DivXMan linked the wallet with American investment firm BlackRock, which is currently awaiting approval from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to run a spot Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF).

Later, Arkham Intelligence, a blockchain intelligence platform, labeled the wallet Robinhood: Jump Trading Custody.

Private companies with extensive Bitcoin holdings include:

Mt. Gox

Founded in July 2010 by Jed McCaleb, Mt. Gox was once the biggest Bitcoin exchange in the world, accounting for more than 70% of all transactions in the world.

However, on Feb. 24, 2014, the Shibuya-based exchange suspended all trading and filed for bankruptcy protection following the loss of more than 700,000 Bitcoin worth an estimated $473 million.

Currently, the exchange reportedly holds 141,686 BTC via a Japanese trustee. The coins are tied up in bankruptcy proceedings but are set to be offered to users who lost their assets in 2014 following approval of a civil rehabilitation plan in 2021.

Block.one

Block.one is a software development firm responsible for the EOSIO network and the EOS crypto token. According to industry reports, the company holds 140,000 Bitcoin, which is about 0.7% of the circulating supply.

Tether Holdings

As part of its reserve attestation for the first quarter of 2023, Tether Holdings, the operator of the USDT stablecoin, revealed that it owned 52,670 BTC worth $1.3 billion. The coins are part of the assets used to back USDT and ensure it maintains its 1:1 ratio with the U.S. dollar.

Tezos Foundation

The Tezos Foundation is a Swiss nonprofit charged with managing and funding the Tezos (XTZ) network. In 2019, the Foundation held 39,700 BTC. However, over the years, it has gradually sold the majority of its holdings and reportedly now owns only 17,500 coins. Still, that amount puts it well within the top 50 biggest wallets in the world and makes it one of the biggest private holders of BTC.

Government holdings

In addition to individuals, public companies, and private organizations, some governments are also known to hold Bitcoin. The stockpiles may have come from loot seized from criminals, donations from well-wishers, or a deliberate pro-Bitcoin policy.

According to reports, the U.S. government is sitting on 207,189 Bitcoin, valued at $5.4 billion. The coins mostly come from asset seizures, including those from the Colonial Pipeline hackers, the Silk Road dark web marketplace, and a criminal named Jimmy Zhong, who was associated with the platform.

The U.S. government seemingly had much more Bitcoin but disposed of more than 185,000 in 11 auctions between 2014 and 2023.

Also, according to CryptoQuant CEO Ki Young Ju, the Chinese government is in possession of 194,000 Bitcoin seized in the 2019 PlusToken scam.

https://twitter.com/ki_young_ju/status/1587917712126144512?s=20

If there is any truth in Ki’s allegations, then it makes the Chinese government a bigger BTC whale than MicroStrategy.

Research conducted in 2023 by Sachin Jaitly, a partner at Morgan Creek Capital, also revealed that Australia has custody of more than 26,000 Bitcoins obtained from multiple asset seizures linked to Silk Road. Additionally, Jaitly’s research also revealed that, as of June 2023, Bhutan owned 13,104 BTC gained from its crypto-mining operations since 2020.

While a much smaller player than most of the names in this article, El Salvador, which became the first country to make Bitcoin legal tender in 2021, owns a sizable stash of 2,473 coins.

Bottom line

The Bitcoin ownership landscape is complex and paradoxical. While cryptocurrency was created to promote decentralization and provide a democratic alternative to traditional financial systems, a significant portion of its supply is heavily concentrated in the hands of a small group of individuals and organizations. 

These whales have the potential to exert substantial influence over the market, which can lead to price volatility and may counteract the original purpose of Bitcoin. 

As the cryptocurrency industry continues to mature, it remains to be seen how this dynamic will evolve and whether measures will be taken to democratize Bitcoin ownership further. 

Ultimately, the future of Bitcoin and its influence on the broader financial market will depend on how these issues are addressed.

FAQs

How many Bitcoin holders are there?

As of 2024, the number of Bitcoin holders is estimated to be around 106 million. However, this number might not precisely represent the number of individuals who own Bitcoin, as a single person can have multiple wallets.

How many Bitcoin millionaires are there?

Due to Bitcoin’s pseudonymous nature, it is hard to determine the exact number of Bitcoin millionaires. According to BitInfoCharts, there are currently 100,034 addresses holding Bitcoin valued at $1 million or more. However, that figure is not conclusive since a single individual or organization can control multiple addresses, and one address may belong to more than one individual.

What makes Bitcoin valuable?

Several factors contribute to the value of Bitcoin:
Its scarcity:
Its decentralized nature
Its utility as a transfer of value
The demand and speculation around it