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Who Is Gary Gensler? Everything To Know About the SEC Chairman

11 mins
Fact Checked
by May Woods
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Gary Gensler took office in April 2021 as the United States Securities and Exchange Commission chairman. He is a public official who has held various executive positions within the financial industry and the federal government. This article examines Gary Gensler’s background, working history, and his approach to regulating cryptocurrencies as the SEC chair. 

Who is Gary Gensler?

Gary Gensler was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Sam Gensler and Jane (neé Tilles) on Oct. 18, 1957. He was raised as one of five children in Baltimore, where his dad worked as a pinball and cigarette machine vendor for local bars. Sam Gensler would take Gary and his siblings to empty the vending machines, introducing Gary to finances early in life. 

Sam Gensler was also a lobbyist for the industry and would attend legislative sessions on taxes and licensing fees with Gary in tow, which piqued his son’s interest in politics.


Gary Gensler attended Pikesville High School and graduated in 1975, receiving a Distinguished Alumnus Award. Later, he joined the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to study economics. Gensler joined the university’s rowing team as a coxswain in his undergraduate years. He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in economics after three years, followed by a master’s in business administration the next year. His twin brother Robert also went to the University of Pennsylvania.


Gary Gensler married Francesca Danieli (formerly Francesca Costagliola) in 1986 and had three daughters: Lee, Anna, and Isabel. Francesca Danieli was a collage artist and filmmaker best known for the “One Nice Thing” film and collections of photographic projects that challenged contemporary political rhetoric. She died of breast cancer in 2006 at the age of 52 in a Baltimore hospice.


After graduation, Gary Gensler joined a top investment bank, Goldman Sachs, working in the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) department. He was made partner at Goldman Sachs at 30 years old, making him the youngest partner in the firm’s history. He is also famous for negotiating one of the largest media deals for the NFL by securing a $3.6 billion deal with five networks for the rights to televise sports.

Careers and employment

Gary Gensler began his career at Goldman Sachs in 1979, where he worked for 18 years and advanced to become the firm’s co-head of finance. He has worked in several public service and political roles after he left Goldman Sachs. He also served on the board of a for-profit college, Strayer University. 

Gensler worked as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management and as a senior advisor to the MIT Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative. In addition, he was the co-director of MIT’s Fintech@CSAIL. He taught Practice of Global Economics and Management, covering blockchain technology and cryptocurrency courses.

Government service

Gary Gensler started his political career in the Clinton administration. His first appointment was as the Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets in the U.S. Treasury Department, where he served as a senior advisor for Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin from 1997 to 1999. 

Gensler then served as Undersecretary for Domestic Finance under Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers from 1999 to 2001. Here, he fought to exempt credit default swaps from regulation. During his time in the Clinton administration, he advised the Treasury Secretaries on developing federal policies on domestic finances. While at the Treasury Department, Gensler was awarded the Alexander Hamilton Award for his services.

In 2009, Gensler was nominated and appointed the 11th Chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) under the Obama administration. He developed a reputation as a strict enforcer of left-to-center financial regulations. Gensler worked to transform the $400 trillion swaps market through stringent regulations after the 2008 financial crisis. 

He lobbied to support the Dodd-Frank Act and led the CFTC in writing rules that would regulate the swaps market when the Act took effect. He is also known for his investigative efforts in the interbank offered rate (LIBOR) financial scandal. Gensler’s effort as Chair of the CFTC led to financial institutions getting fined hundreds of millions in penalties for manipulating LIBOR and artificially reducing rates.


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Gensler left CFTC in 2014 and was awarded the 2014 Tamar Frankel Fiduciary Prize for his reforms in the financial sector. In January 2021, President Biden nominated Gensler as the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Senate confirmed his five-year term in April 2021.

Gensler at the SEC

In his first year in office, Gensler addressed regulatory concerns on cryptocurrencies and other digital assets. He argues that most cryptocurrencies should fall under the SEC as securities. As the SEC Chairman, Gensler has built a strong reputation as a no-nonsense regulator who is quickly building a legacy from his crackdown on cryptocurrency regulation.

What is Gary Gensler’s salary and net worth?

As chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler received a monthly salary of around $32,000. His most recent disclosure estimated his net worth is between $40 million and $116.2 million, as per Fox News Digital Analysis.

As a former investment banker, Gensler has amassed employment assets and retirement accounts worth between $3.1 million and $12 million. His other assets, mostly investments in exchange-traded funds (ETF), are valued between $36.9 million and $104 million, according to his public financial disclosures.

What is Gary Gensler’s primary source of income?

Gary Gensler has primarily worked in public service roles in recent years. He currently serves as the SEC chairperson and earns around $32,000 monthly. His net worth has steadily increased since being appointed CFTC Chair in 2009. He also earns considerably from his investments and shares in various companies.

How did Gary Gensler make his money?

Apart from his public service position in the past three government administrations, Gary Gensler worked for 18 years at Goldman Sachs, one of the largest investment banks in the world. He built an impressive investment portfolio from his experience with the firm. He also served as a professor at MIT.

Gary Gensler vs. Bitcoin ETFs

Since he was appointed SEC Chair, Gensler has engaged in several legal battles with the cryptocurrency community. His strongest stance has been against spot Bitcoin ETFs; the regulator has a history of rejecting spot ETF applications over market manipulation and fraud concerns.

However, in 2022, Grayscale Bitcoin Trust, a crypto asset manager, won a court case against the SEC to overturn the rejection of their spot Bitcoin ETF proposal. This loss may have been the catalyst for the regulator that had previously only approved Bitcoin futures ETF to greenlight more spot Bitcoin ETF applications, which were finally approved by the SEC in January 2024.  

Want the inside scoop on how to take advantage of ETF news and prepare for a bitcoin ETF? Check our complete guide to help you make the most of ETF approval.

Gensler was also at the center of the drama around the eventual spot ETF approval on Jan. 10, 2024. The first hint of approval came from an SEC tweet on Jan. 8, 2024, that was later claimed to be a hack.

Gensler faced significant backlash for the debacle. Many pointed out that the SEC employing two-factor authentication on its X account should be the bare minimum, particularly as Gensler is known for making cyber security a core pillar of his agenda at the SEC.

ETF approval then came officially the following day.

Gary Gensler vs. XRP

The Securities Exchange Commission accused Ripple of selling XRP to retail buyers without registering the tokens as securities. The SEC claimed that XRP tokens are securities that fall within the Securities Act of 1933. Thus, it said they satisfy the Howey test. The Howey test is a legal framework in the U.S. that determines if transactions are considered securities. The SEC also accused Ripple executives of market manipulation by promoting XRP tokens to bolster company operations.

Surprisingly, Ripple Labs decided to engage in a legal battle with the SEC rather than offer settlements for the lawsuit. Ripple Labs lawyers argued that the organization never received notice from the SEC that XRP can be classified as securities and that the commission was biased in its accusations.

The Ripple case ended partly in favor of Ripple Labs when the preceding judge ruled that the organization did not violate the Securities Act in selling and distributing XRP tokens on public exchanges. However, the ruling also found that Ripple broke Securities laws when it offered XRP to institutional investors.

Gensler and the FTX Fiasco

In November 2022, FTX, one of the largest crypto exchanges at the time, collapsed when Gensler was cracking down on the crypto industry. Some critics blame Gensler for not having done enough to catch on to the FTX collapse and neglecting to provide regulatory clarity for the industry. 

FTX was based in the Bahamas, where there is little regulation and oversight over financial services. The platform’s founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, is considered the main culprit in the collapse of FTX. His ties with FTX and Alameda Research were the main focus of investigating the platform’s bankruptcy. 

Gensler had held meetings with Bankman-Fried eight months before the collapse, discussing the possibility of a new SEC-approved exchange. However, it is unclear how much Gensler looked into Bankman-Fried’s other ventures.

While some people blame the SEC for not protecting them, others are complaining that Gensler is working outside his jurisdiction by enforcing regulations on cryptocurrencies.

Gensler and Binance job application controversy 

Binance vs SEC

In 2023, the SEC, under Gary Gensler’s leadership, sued Binance and its CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao on allegations of offering BNB tokens to the public as unregulated securities.

The SEC also accused Binance of co-mingling customer funds and that allowed U.S. citizens to trade on its platform when it was supposed to block U.S. users. The suit also accused CZ of inflating Binance.US trading volumes through other entities he owned.

Binance lawyers asked Gensler to recuse himself from the case, citing prior history between him and CZ. According to the lawyers, in 2019, Gensler met with CZ in Japan and had a conversation where the SEC chair offered to serve as an advisor for Binance. At the time, Gensler was teaching at MIT, and the filing claims that he and CZ maintained contact after the meeting, even holding an interview with CZ as part of his MIT course.

Why does Gensler matter in the world of crypto?

SEC Chair Gary Gensler is a regulator who has rocked the crypto industry and garnered different responses from the community in his approach to enforcing crypto regulation.

Gensler’s statements on all cryptocurrencies, apart from Bitcoin, being securities have far-reaching implications. He holds a seat with a lot of pull in the finance world, and crypto enthusiasts were optimistic about his appointment due to his prior knowledge of blockchain technology. Gensler also has extensive experience in the finance industry, which spurred the hope that he would open more doors for institutional crypto adoption.

“I believe that the SEC, working with the CFTC [U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission] and others, can stand up more robust oversight and investor protection around the field of crypto finance.”

Gary Gensler testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs:

He had talked extensively about blockchain technology’s ability to change the financial landscape during his MIT lectures, and as SEC Chair, he can bridge the gap between traditional finance and cryptocurrency.

Blockchain technology has real potential to transform the world of finance. Though
there are many technical and commercial challenges yet to overcome, I’m an
optimist and want to see this new technology succeed. It could lower costs, risks
and economic rents in the financial system.

Gary Gensler: Committee on Agriculture House of Representatives

However, his aggressive approach to enforcing crypto-unfriendly regulations, including lawsuits against major exchanges and classifying most cryptocurrencies as securities, doesn’t sit well with the community. Critics have expressed that the blanket classification of crypto as securities — and overseeing cryptocurrency with the same regulations as traditional systems — could prove problematic.

The future of Gary Gensler in the SEC

Gary Gensler has proven to be a proactive SEC Chair since his appointment. His aim to increase oversight and accountability in the crypto industry is commendable, but his aggressive approach has garnered a lot of criticism from the community.

As much as regulatory clarity in the crypto industry is required for quicker mainstream adoption, there is a need first to find a solution between the interoperability of existing regulations and crypto finance.  

Frequently asked questions

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What does SEC mean?

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Alex Lielacher
Alex Lielacher is the founder & CEO of Rise Up Media, a content marketing agency that works with a range of bitcoin businesses. He first came across bitcoin in 2011 and has worked full-time in the cryptocurrency industry since 2016. Alex started his career in the banking industry in London, working in bond trading and sales. After a little over half a decade, he swapped his seat on the trading floor for a spot in cafés around the world, where he started his career as a freelance...