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The first time Gabriel Trompiz heard about the FTX student ambassador program was through a LinkedIn message.
He had been identified as someone who could represent and promote the crypto exchange at his college. Trompiz promptly applied through the link he was sent and became an FTX campus ambassador shortly afterward.
No contracts were signed, and Trompiz says he wasn’t paid. But he was given a task: promoting the company to fellow students to help build its userbase in Europe.
FTX was already running a campus ambassador program in Africa, with the same goal of advertising the exchange to fellow students. Calls for students to get involved and become campus ambassadors were shared on FTX Africa’s Twitter account.
Fortunate Atueyi, who attends the University of Nigeria, was one of them and frequently hosted events and workshops about FTX.
“They’re expecting to see about 500 to 1,000 or 1,500 students in attendance. So you teach them about cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology and most importantly the benefits of using FTX,” he told CNBC’s Make It.
Unlike Trompiz, Atueyi says he was paid — as long as he fulfilled certain tasks and met targets that is. The role was not limited to providing education about the exchange. Instead, he said referring people and getting them to sign up, and making sure they started trading and depositing money was a crucial part of it.
Documents seen by CNBC confirm Trompiz’ and Atueyi’s involvement with FTX as student ambassadors. Neither FTX nor the law firms representing the embattled crypto exchange, Sullivan & Cromwell and Landis, Rath & Cobb, responded to a CNBC request for comment on this article.
In Europe and the U.S., FTX was mostly known for trading cryptocurrencies. But in Africa, the platform was also used to exchange local currency for U.S. dollars and store funds for individuals and businesses — effectively using FTX as a de-facto bank.
FTX filed for bankruptcy and halted the withdrawal of funds by customers in November 2022. Many had tried to pull their investments after rival exchange Binance sold all of its holdings of FTX’s native token FTT and concerns about the firm’s liquidity spread rapidly.
A bankruptcy court case is ongoing in the U.S., but it is still unclear what amount of assets can be recovered and when customers may regain access to any of their investments.
Elsewhere in Nigeria, Imran Yahya was an FTX campus ambassador at Bayero University. “As an ambassador, you preach using it,” he told CNBC’S Make It.
As well as promoting the exchange on campus, he advertised it to his broader local community and created content for FTX.
“There is nothing fishy from my own side,” he said. He gave people information about FTX without any obligation to spend money, and they trusted him and his advice, he explained. Many of these people lost money in FTX’s collapse.
Similarly to investors and other FTX employees, the student ambassadors were blindsided by FTX’s bankruptcy. Atueyi first noticed rumors about how bad the company’s financial situation really was on Twitter, but more senior employees reassured him that FTX was “bigger than this” and that the rumors were spread by competitors.
“I just saw it as normal business strategies,” he said.
Trompiz and Yahya were similarly taken aback, and all three of them lost some money. In part, this is because as students, they only had limited disposable income to invest, but Trompiz also already stored most of his crypto investments in a wallet rather than with FTX.
Despite the losses, the three student ambassadors are not ready to give up on crypto and digital assets. While they have learned some lessons from the experience, their outlook has not significantly shifted.
“The only thing that the collapse of FTX taught me that there is no company that is too big to fail,” Yahya said, adding that the only thing he would do differently in the future is being more careful.
Atueyi has a similar view: “I will just have to play it extra safe,” he said.
For him, this is about trust and understanding that as much as exchanges might say they are decentralized, they still control your money.
“I kind of trusted them. I was like, I was part of the people saying FTX was too big to fail,” he said. “I don’t think it is, like, wise to leave your money there, and they have full control over your money. So just like any bank,” Atueyi explained.
Trompiz shares his view on decentralization. “The more I get into crypto and the more I learned about it, I see that the actual point of it is decentralization,” he said.
He believes exchanges like FTX are helpful for the broader industry and for increasing adoption of digital assets — but using them is “like contradicting yourself.” Going forward, he therefore plans to rely on them less and refocus his investments on other digital asset areas like DeFi.
So while the collapse of FTX lost them money, caused feelings of guilt and impacted personal relationships, they are coming to terms with it. As Atueyi says: “I personally just love cryptocurrencies … Things like this are going to happen.”