There will only ever be 21 million BTC, meaning that most people on Earth can own just a tiny fraction of a coin at most. In reality, though, distribution is far more lopsided. Some early adopters and wealthy holders have thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of BTC.
The transparency of the blockchain means it’s relatively easy to track the biggest addresses, and in many cases link them to real-world identities – whether individuals, companies, or other entities.
So who owns the most bitcoins, and what are their reasons for holding?
How Many Crypto Millionaires Are There?
Bitcoin has exploded in price from a few cents in 2010 to a peak of $69,000 in 2021. Even now, with BTC down nearly two-thirds from those highs, most holders are in profit.
Unsurprisingly, crypto has minted a fair number of millionaires in the brief time it has existed. According to the Crypto Wealth Report from Henley Global, there are a total of 210 million Bitcoin users worldwide, though this figure likely includes addresses that have since been emptied, or that carry only ‘dust’ (tiny balances of a few satoshis), as well as coins held on centralised platforms. Blockchain data provider Glassnode reports that 48 million Bitcoin addresses hold a non-zero amount, which is a more realistic measure of current users.
The report goes on to suggest there are only 6 bitcoin billionaires in the world, and 22 crypto billionaires in total. A further 78 holders are bitcoin centimillionaires ($100 million), and there are 182 crypto centimillionaires.
These ultra-wealthy might be a rare breed, but there are far more regular millionaires. Henley’s report found that 40,500 holders own $1 million or more in BTC, and 88,200 crypto users overall are millionaires.
For context, UBS’s Annual Wealth Report recently found that the number of global dollar millionaires was 59.4 million at the end of 2022, down from 62.9 million at the end of 2021. The culprits that knocked those 3.5 million millionaires off the list are high inflation and a strong dollar, which has devalued other currencies in USD terms. That means just 1 in every 1,500 millionaires is a bitcoin millionaire. The future of wealth may be digital, but we’re not there yet.
Who Are The Biggest Holders?
While there are some large bitcoin holders, the biggest accounts are generally not controlled by individuals – with one notable exception. Instead, institutions and even countries feature in the list of mega-whales.
The largest holder is Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin, who is believed to own around 1 million BTC, with a current market value of an incredible $26 billion. These were coins he acquired in the very earliest days of Bitcoin, when it was possible to mine with just a regular desktop computer, rather than the specialised hardware needed today.
None of the coins linked to Satoshi have ever moved, so far as we can tell. Because he disappeared back in December 2010, we don’t know for sure why that’s the case, but there are several possibilities:
- He no longer has the private keys, only mining BTC as a means of bootstrapping the network.
- He does not want to draw attention to himself by spending them (a transaction involving Satoshi-linked coins would instantly be seized upon by the community).
- He does not need the money, or possibly has since died.
Whatever the reason, unlike most other major holders, Satoshi does not appear to keep his bitcoins for profit.
No one comes close to Satoshi, who holds almost 5% of all the BTC that will ever exist. The next largest amount controlled by a single entity is the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, which has an impressive 643,572 BTC, or 3% of all BTC. Grayscale is seeking to convert its Trust into a spot Bitcoin ETF, and has been in the news recently after it took the SEC to court and won over the regulator’s decision to deny its application.
Next on the list comes the US government, who hold 207,189 BTC. These, of course, are not an investment: they were seized as the proceeds of crime, and will likely be auctioned off in the future. The US has been disposing of bitcoin this way since 2014, when venture capitalist Tim Draper bought 30,000 BTC seized from the Silk Road at around $630 per coin. Other nation-state holders include China, with 194,000 BTC, and the Ukrainian government, which holds 46,351 BTC (partly from donations), currently worth $1.2 billion. El Salvador, which has designated bitcoin as legal tender, holds 2,381 BTC.
Mt Gox, the defunct bitcoin exchange, still has 200,000 BTC that were ‘discovered in an old-format wallet’ in 2014, after the organisation collapsed, taking traders’ money with it. These should be paid out to claimants in the near future. EOS developers Block.one holds 140,000 BTC, and Tether is the third-largest holder among privately-owned companies, with 55,000 BTC.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Microstrategy was the largest holder among publicly-owned corporations, with 152,800 BTC as of July 31. CEO Michael Saylor is an unapologetic Bitcoin bull (though back in 2013 was a skeptic who believed Bitcoin’s days were numbered), and has been buying bitcoin as an inflation hedge since 2020. The company’s enormous holdings have turned Microstrategy into a proxy for BTC, and MSTR stock is bought by institutions who have no other easy way to gain exposure given the current regulatory landscape. No other publicly owned company comes close to Microstrategy’s weight; even Coinbase only holds 9,000 BTC.
One of the best strategies for building your crypto holdings is dollar-cost averaging. This involves dripping small amounts of money into the market at regular intervals, for example, investing $100 of bitcoin on the same day every month. This has the effect of smoothing out the up-and-downs of the market, while gradually increasing your exposure.
Use a regulated and trustworthy exchange like TimeX to buy and sell bitcoin and other popular crypto assets.