This story appears in the Apr/May 2022 issue of Forbes Asia. Subscribe to Forbes Asia
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This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of Korea’s Richest 2022. See the full list here.
South Korea’s first crypto industry billionaires, Song Chi-hyung and Kim Hyoung-nyon, join the list after the value of the company they cofounded rose 21-fold in less than a year. Dunamu, operator of the country’s largest cryptocurrency exchange Upbit, saw its valuation soar to $17 billion after Hybe, which manages K-pop powerhouse BTS, acquired a 2.5% stake for about $400 million in November. The jump catapulted Song, Dunamu’s 43-year-old chairman, and Kim, 46, executive vice president, into the three-comma club with net worths of $3.7 billion and $1.95 billion, respectively.
Hybe, founded by billionaire Bang Si-hyuk (No. 12 with a net worth of $3.3 billion), and Dunamu are joining forces to sell digital photocards of BTS in the form of non-fungible tokens. NFTs, which are digital collectibles authenticated using blockchain technology, have surged in popularity over the past year, with brands and celebrities alike jumping on board. The nascent industry generated $25.5 billion in trades in 2021, 185 times more than the previous four years combined, according to analytics platform DappRadar.
Launched in 2012, Dunamu runs both a cryptocurrency and a traditional securities trading platform. Its crypto exchange Upbit is one of four crypto exchanges to survive South Korea’s regulatory crackdown, which shuttered nearly 40 bourses last September for failing to meet new rules that included partnering with a local bank to restrict accounts to users with real names. Upbit processed nearly $6.1 billion in spot trades in digital assets over a 24-hour period as of March 29, the second-highest after global leader Binance, according to tracker CoinGecko.