SVB’s failure will have a ripple effect across technology ‘for years to come’
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“With SVB in essence the Godfather of the Silicon Valley banking ecosystem for the past few decades in the tech world, we believe the negative ripple impact of this historical collapse will have a myriad of implications for the tech world going forward,” Dan Ives, analyst at Wedbush Securities, said in a note on Tuesday.
SVB’s collapse began last week when it said it needed to raise $2.25 billion to shore up its balance sheet. Venture capital firms told their portfolio companies to withdraw money from the bank and other clients looked to get their cash before it became unobtainable. This effectively led to a bank run.
The bank had to sell assets, mainly bonds, at a massive loss.
U.S. regulators shut down SVB on Friday and took control of its deposits. Regulators then said Sunday that depositors at SVB would have access to their money, in a move aimed at stopping further contagion.
But the episode has the potential to impact the technology world in several ways, from making it harder for startups to raise funds to forcing firms to change their business model, according to investors and analysts who spoke to CNBC.
‘Last thing we needed’
SVB was critical to the growth of the technology industry, not just in the U.S. but in places like Europe and even China.
The 40-year old institution had an intimate link to the technology world offering traditional banking services as well as funding companies that were deemed too risky for traditional lenders. SVB also provided other services like credit lines and lines to startups.
When times were good, SVB thrived. But over the past year, the U.S. Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates, hurting the once high-flying technology sector. The funding environment has got harder for startups in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.
SVB’s collapse has come at an already difficult time for startup investors.
“This whole Silicon Valley Bank thing is the last thing we needed and was completely unexpected,” Ben Harburg, managing partner of Beijing, China-based venture capital fund MSA Capital, told CNBC.
Startups have had to tighten their belt while technology giants have axed tens of thousands of workers in a bid to cut costs.
In such an environment, SVB played a key role in providing credit lines or other instruments that allowed startups to pay their employees or ride out hard times.
“Silicon Valley Bank was very paternalistic to this sector, they not only provided payroll services, loans to founders against their illiquid credit, but lines of credit as well. And a lot of these companies were having trouble already raising equity and they were counting on those lines to extend their runway, to push out the cash burn beyond the recession we all expect.” Matt Higgins, CEO of RSE Ventures, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Tuesday.
“That evaporated overnight and there’s not another lender that’s going to be stepping in to fill those shoes.”
Paul Brody, global blockchain leader at EY, told CNBC Monday that a crypto firm called POAP, which is run by his friend, has half of the company’s money tied up in SVB and can’t get it out. The amount at SVB is “more than payroll can cover,” suggesting it might be hard to pay employees. A spokesperson for the company wasn’t immediately available for comment, and CNBC was unable to independently verify Brody’s comments.
The SVB collapse will also likely put the focus on startups to pivot to profitability and be more disciplined with their spending.
“Companies will have to reboot the way they think about their business,” Adam Singolda, CEO of Taboola, told CNBC’s “Last Call” on Monday.
Hussein Kanji, co-founder of London-based Hoxton Ventures, said that over the next three years there will be more restructurings at companies, though some are holding off.
“I’m seeing a lot of ‘kick the can down the road’ behavior which isn’t that helpful. Do the hard things and don’t delay or procrastinate unless there is very good reason to. Things don’t often get easier in the future simply because you wish for them to,” Kanji told CNBC via email.
Wedbush’s Ives said that there could also be more collapses, adding that early stage tech startups with weaker hands could be forced to sell or shut down.
“The impact from this past week will have major ripple impacts across the tech landscape and Silicon Valley for years to come in our opinion,” Ives said in a note Sunday.
—CNBC’s Rohan Goswami and Ari Levy contributed to this report.
Lyft CEO and president to step down, former Amazon exec David Risher named as replacement
David Risher, a former retail executive at Amazon, will be CEO of the ridesharing company beginning April 17, when Green will step aside to serve as chair of the board. Zimmer will transition out of his role on June 30 to serve as vice chair of the Lyft board. Lyft’s current chairman Sean Aggarwal will step down from his post but will remain on the board, the company said
Lyft shares rose around 5% after hours on the news.
Green and Zimmer founded Lyft in 2012 and took the company public in 2019. Lyft shares have fallen more than 70% in the last year.
“I am honored to step into the CEO role at such an important moment in the company’s history, and am prepared to take this business to new levels of success,” Risher said in a statement.
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Risher joined Amazon in 1997 as its first vice president of product and store development. He was a top lieutenant of Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos, and went on to serve as senior vice president of marketing and merchandising before exiting the company in 2002. Risher has been on Lyft’s board since 2021.
— CNBC’s Annie Palmer, Laura Batchelor and Deirdre Bosa contributed to this report.
Amazon seller consultant admits to bribing employees to help clients; will plead guilty
Ephraim “Ed” Rosenberg wrote in a LinkedIn post that he will plead guilty in federal court to a criminal charge, stemming from a 2020 indictment that charged six people with conspiring to give sellers an unfair competitive advantage on Amazon’s third-party marketplace. Four of the defendants have already pleaded guilty, including one former Amazon employee who was sentenced last year to 10 months in prison.
Rosenberg, who’s based in Brooklyn, is a well-known figure in the world of Amazon third-party sellers. He runs a consultancy business that advises entrepreneurs on how to sell products on the online marketplace, and navigate unforeseen issues with their Amazon account. Rosenberg’s Facebook group for sellers, ASGTG, has over 68,000 members, and he hosts a popular conference for sellers each year.
“For a time, some years ago, I began to obtain and use Amazon’s internal annotations — Amazon’s private property — to learn the reasons for sellers’ suspensions, in order to assist them in getting reinstated, if possible,” wrote Rosenberg, who is due to appear in U.S. District Court in Seattle on March 30, for a change of plea hearing, according to court records. “On some occasions, I paid bribes, directly and indirectly, to Amazon employees to obtain annotations and reinstate suspended accounts. These actions were against the law.”
As recently as last month, in LinkedIn messages to CNBC, Rosenberg denied prosecutors’ allegations, calling the case a “conspiracy” and claiming he was framed. On Monday, Rosenberg said he “regrets” his involvement in the bribery scheme.
“In the course of this case, I have made some public statements about this prosecution and the indictment,” Rosenberg said. “Those statements are not accurate and I disavow those statements. This statement I am making now is accurate and truthful and I will continue to stand by it.”
Since at least 2017, prosecutors allege Rosenberg and other consultants allegedly bribed Amazon employees to leak information about the company’s search and ranking algorithms and to share confidential data on their competition in the marketplace. In all, the individuals allegedly paid $100,000 worth of bribes to employees and reaped more than $100 million in competitive benefits, the DOJ said.
In 2018, Amazon fired four employees in India who were allegedly connected to the bribery scheme.
Previously unsealed court documents said Rosenberg allegedly sent a “veiled threat” to an Amazon employee at the company’s Seattle headquarters as part of the bribery scheme, Bloomberg reported. The documents also detailed defendants’ elaborate efforts to dodge detection by authorities, including allegedly stuffing a llama-shaped ottoman with cash believed to be bribes, according to Bloomberg.
Rosenberg is part of what’s become a sizable industry in helping sellers navigate the complexities and chaos of the Amazon marketplace, where some 2 million sellers are responsible for more than half of the goods sold on the site. Amazon launched its online marketplace in 2000, allowing everyone from established brands to mom-and-pop shops to sell products.
While the marketplace has helped Amazon haul in tens of billions of dollars in sales, it’s also become a notorious host to counterfeit, unsafe and expired goods. Behind the scenes, scammers have for years resorted to illicit tactics to squash competitors, artificially boost their listings or bypass Amazon’s marketplace rules.
Amazon has said it invests hundreds of millions of dollars per year to ensure products are safe and compliant. The providing of internal data to sellers by employees violates Amazon’s seller policies and code of conduct.
Rosenberg said attempts to bribe Amazon employees are “wrong and criminal.”
“No one should pay bribes to Amazon employees to provide private Amazon information,” Rosenberg wrote on Monday. “If it is apparent that internal information has been illegally leaked, no one should use it. Nor should anyone pay any Amazon employees for any other special favors regarding a seller’s account.”
An attorney for Rosenberg declined to comment.
An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that it has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior and teams that work to stop prohibited activity on the marketplace.
“Amazon is grateful to have worked with federal authorities in their thorough pursuit of this case,” the spokesperson said. “There is no place for fraud at Amazon, and we will continue to hold bad actors accountable.”
Binance and founder Changpeng Zhao violated compliance rules to attract U.S. users, CFTC alleges
The filing has the potential to upend the exchange’s operations and is potentially just the first salvo in a regulatory crackdown on the world’s largest crypto exchange. Beyond disgorgement and any monetary costs, the CFTC filing asked the court to impose further relief, including trading and registration bans.
The regulator alleged that Binance, Zhao, and Lim violated eight core provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act, including laws that require controls “designed to prevent and detect money laundering and terrorism financing.”
Just days prior to the CFTC filing, CNBC reported on how Binance employees worked to subvert the exchange’s compliance controls in China, using some of the same techniques that the CFTC alleges Binance to solicit U.S. users.
Zhao and Lim allegedly “actively cultivated lucrative and commercially important ‘VIP’ customers, including institutional customers, located in the United States,” the complaint said.
“Today’s enforcement action demonstrates that there is no location, or claimed lack of location, that will prevent the CFTC from protecting American investors. I have been clear that the CFTC will continue to use all of its authority to find and stop misconduct in the volatile and risky digital asset market,” CFTC chair Rostin Benham said in a statement.
Binance and Zhao took steps to purposefully obscure where the exchange’s subsidiaries were located, the regulator said. This was part of a larger strategy that Zhao said was an effort to “keep countries clean,” the regulator alleged in the filing.
A key part of Binance’s alleged effort to generate fees and solicit U.S. users was the exchange’s VIP program, for high net worth individuals, the CFTC filing said.
“Binance is aware of its VIPs’ identities and geographic locations because Binance monitors its sources of transaction volume and fee-based revenue as a matter of course in conducting its operations,” the CFTC complaint alleges.
Binance’s VIPs were offered special privileges when law enforcement agencies pursued them or froze their assets, the CFTC alleged, claiming Binance gave VIPs a heads up or suggested they take their assets off the platform.
“Do not directly tell the user to run,” Binance instructed its VIP team, the filing alleged. “If the user is a big trader, or a smart one, he/she will get the hint.”
CNBC previously reported on how Binance’s customer service and VIP representatives counseled users in mainland China on how to evade Binance’s compliance systems. The use of virtual private networks and alternative non-state documents was advised by some volunteers and employees to mainland Chinese traders. The CFTC filing alleges that Binance engaged in similar activity for its U.S. users.
“But as best we can we try to ask our users to use VPN or ask them to provide (if there are an entity) non-US documents. On the surface we cannot be seen to have US users but in reality we should get them through other creative means,” Lim told a Binance employee in 2020 according to the filing.
Lim allegedly advised against outright fraud but encouraged “creative means” to sidestep regulations. Binance “can encourage them to be a non kyc account,” Lim. KYC stands for know-your-customer, a set of principles that guide anti-money laundering programs for financial institutions and are a key part of fighting terrorist and illicit financing.
“We have made significant investments over the past two years to ensure we do not have US users active on our platform,” a Binance spokesperson said in a statement, calling the complaint “unexpected and disappointing.”
Zhao’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. But, Zhao posted a tweet that said “4” in an apparent response to the CFTC filing.
The number four is a call to Binance’s devoted international userbase to dismiss negative publicity about the exchange as “fake news.”
“The best path forward is to protect our users and to collaborate with regulators to develop a clear, thoughtful regulatory regime,” the Binance statement continued.
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