With the current hype surrounding cryptocurrencies and digital currencies in Kenya, the Netflix documentary Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King is timely. The 1 hour and 30-minute documentary premiered on Netflix on March 30th, 2022, and is directed by Luke Sewell. The documentary follows goaded crypto investors of a company known as Quadrigacx, a Canadian company, after its founder, Gerald (Gerry) Cotten, mysteriously dies while on a honeymoon holiday in India.
At the start of the documentary, we are introduced to the company Quadriagacx and the founder through the eyes of his friends. The friends enlighten the viewers that they met him at a Bitcoin club and had quickly become acquaintances as they all shared a common interest in Bitcoin. They also describe him as a “nerd” and a fun-loving enthusiast who was always smiling and wasn’t capable of scamming people. The friendship they shared seemed to be superficial as they were not even aware that he was married and had even written a will. This description contrasts with that of the investors. It’s important to note that the investors never met or interacted with Gerry, the founder, or his co-founder, and their description of him is posthumous and guided by the emotional loss of their money.
As the plot unfolds, we get to see the company “through the eyes of the investors,” so to speak, and follow the mysterious disappearance of Bitcoins worth 250 million. Crypto investors are not convinced that he is really dead. They are of the opinion that he has faked his death to evade “returning” money. All the evidence points to foul play, with the investors discovering that he was actually married and had written a will appointing his wife as the trustee of his wealth and estates. Throughout the documentary, the investors have a ping-pong blame-shifting game between the wife, Jenny, and Gerry, who, according to them, both had suspiciously become wealthy, and Jenny had actually changed her name three times. The investors are in constant communication via telegram, a social media platform, with each other and are working together to look for an investigative journalist to further probe this suspicious death.
After a further thorough investigation, the plot thickens as the viewers learn that Gerry had a criminal record and had been scamming people from the age of 15. His co-founder, who appears only once in the documentary, had a criminal record as well and stated that they had a falling out just before Gerry died.We also learn that after the company had started doing financially poorly, he had moved money from his company to various other companies through other exchange platforms. And once the pressure from investors had become unbearable, he could only pay the investors who made the most noise. The forensic accountant in charge of the case describes the company as having moved from the original model to that of a Ponzi scheme.
The investigations ruled out foul play. The doctor in India confirmed that Gerry had actually died from complications as a result of crohn’s disease. We also find out through her sister that Jenny, his wife, had indeed changed her name from her father’s surname to her first husband’s name, and later she changed it again after her divorce. The viewers are, however, left in suspense as they don’t get to meet Gerry’s wife, Jenny, with whom we would have loved to hear her side of the story and also her description of Gerry as a husband.
This documentary is informative as it first highlights the power of social media. Although the investors have not met each other physically, they were able to come together, appoint a journalist and uncover the truth about their lost investments. We also learn the downside of social media, i.e., the rumors and speculations that were tarnishing Gerry and Jenny. Secondly, it also highlights the challenges encountered by most investors as they try to follow their investments once a company starts to fail and ultimately closes down. Thirdly, it highlights the importance of doing background checks on the founders and directors of a company before any investments. Fourthly, it shows why it’s important to diversify investments into many investment vehicles, and lastly, it shows how companies suffer once their founders and co-founders, who mostly carry the vision of the company, die.
I like this documentary as it highlights the ignorance, naivety, and greed in nearly all of us as we rush to compete and be like the Joneses, so to speak, without thinking of future consequences. In a world where success is measured by what you have, or own, your style of dressing, competition with peers and friends is the order of the day. To keep up, people are quick to invest in any get-rich project that seems secure and has the highest returns.
What lessons can we learn as Kenyans? Kenya is ranked 1st in the world in peer-to-peer currency trading volume and 5th worldwide for total cryptocurrency activity. Like all investors in Africa, we are drawn to the P2P exchanges that offer the highest returns, are easy to use, fast, and work well with other local financial platforms. The big question is, then, how well do we know these exchange platforms? Do we know who owns them? Where are they based? How many employees do they have and what is their business model? I am sure we don’t.
This case of Quadriga CX resonates well with many local cases where investors, without doing any background checks on the founders and co-founders, take huge loans and mortgages, in the case of real estate companies, and invest millions only to lose the money in less than a year when the company becomes bankrupt or closes under unclear circumstances.
I hope that going forward, as we seek the best investment vehicles for our hard-earned savings and look for ways to substitute our income, we will deeply consider not putting it in one investment vehicle but in several. Secondly, we will do thorough checks on the investment company of choice and, lastly, we will invest in financial advisors to guide us through the best possible investment that will not necessarily lead us to more debt.