DeFi will fuel a new Roaring Twenties

The DeFi boom started in 2015 when the Ethereum network went live, and since then it has grown by 33x to 1.2 million per day on the Ethereum blockchain alone, and it would be even bigger if other chains were added to this figure.

The current DeFi sector “represents only 0.1% of its maximum potential,” writes Artem Tolkachev. As he says, “DeFi is a natural product made possible by blockchain technology and has the right and ready infrastructure to propel the technology to a bigger playing field.”

What has contributed to DeFi growth?

The answer is the use of DeFi services such as Uniswap, which facilitates over $1 billion swaps each day, as well as lending and borrowing protocols such as Aave, Compound and BondAppetit. Combined they form a market worth tens of billions.

The TradFi (traditional finance) market is of course much bigger at trillions of dollars, and currently DeFi can’t offer the same extensive list of services as TradFi. At the moment, DeFi is mostly confined to lending, borrowing, decentralized trading and yield-aggregating, but it also has the advantage of playing an important role in the future of NFTs and in Web 3.0, otherwise known as the Metaverse.

The key to DeFi growth

The TradFi market is ripe for disruption, writes Tolkachev, and that is where DeFi can excel. For example, consumer payments are worth $500 billion per year in revenue for banks worldwide, but this could be tapped into with a frictionless UI, a global stablecoin and broad acceptance points.

And in capital markets, security tokens are an inevitable trend that regulators will eventually need to approve and construct the regulatory framework so that centralized and decentralized exchanges – at least the ones that adhere to the know-your-customer (KYC) requirement — can tap into the trillion-dollar TradFi equity market.

There is also the 1 billion plus daily global credit card transactions to be captured, and even moving 1% of them onto the Ethereum blockchain, or another of the DeFi-friendly smart contract blockchains, would multiply the number of its transactions by eight.

And there is the revenue from DeFi protocols. At the moment this is estimated to have a value of $5 billion annually, which is a fraction of the $2.3 trillion global retail banking revenue; $2 trillion global cross-border payment revenue and $35 billion global stock exchange revenue. Tolkachev says, “The TradFi industry is so lucrative that seizing a 1% market share means 10x-ing the DeFi revenue.”

Furthermore, it is estimated that DeFi has not really yet penetrated the general crypto user market, with only 5% of the 221 million global crypto users accessing DeFi services, revealing a massive untapped market for DeFi that can be captured as the UI/UX is improved.

DeFi is only three years old, so it needs to be given time to grow. The DeFi builder community has grown stronger in 2021 with more programmers from the traditional startups and big tech joining the blockchain and DeFi scene. Tolkachev says, “with the resources and talent flowing into the space now, growing 100x in the next 5 years is not a dream, it is inevitable.”

CBDCs: Is privacy important to the people?

According to a public consultation on the possibility of a digital euro conducted by the European Central Bank (ECB), the responses of over 8,000 individuals and businesses suggested that privacy was the number one concern for 43% of them, when talking about the issuance of a central bank digital currency.

Fabio Panetta, an ECB board member, declared that the digital euro could meet those requirements without relaxing security standards. The survey also revealed that 18% wanted any CBDC to provide secure payments, while 11% focused on cross-border payments within the European Union. Panetta said, “As I have already mentioned, privacy emerges as the most important feature of a digital euro. Protecting users’ personal data and ensuring a high level of confidentiality will therefore be a priority in our work.”

Cointelegraph reports that the ECB has been exploring privacy enhancing techniques, even before the concept of a digital euro emerged and its research indicated “that a digital system could still be monitored for illicit activity, while still allowing for transparency and privacy.”

A decentralized CBDC is preferable, but unlikely

However, while the ECB may be working on privacy for its CBDC, Anne Fauvre-Willis, chief operating officer at Oasis Labs, thinks that even though the EU has supported the concept of consumer privacy in the past, “that won’t count for much if the digital euro is issued on a centralized system.”

She asked, “Instead of enabling this via a centralized bank, why not empower a decentralized protocol to do this instead?” The obvious answer would be to use the Ethereum blockchain for a digital Euro, so that it would have the same level of decentralization and autonomy as ETH. But if she is right, it appears there is little chance of a central bank allowing all control of its money to be decentralized.

The public will vote for ‘Ease’ over privacy

However she points out that the public’s behaviour may simply go for whatever is easiest, rather than worry about privacy. “In regards to people adopting the digital euro, unfortunately I think ease will win over privacy alone,” said Fauvre-Willis. She added, “Privacy is a feature but it’s not enough to drive people on its own to change their behaviour. Instead for those of us who really believe in privacy we have to simultaneously strive to make compelling and life changing products and as we do we need to put privacy at the centre of what we make.”

Currently, the ECB is still in its research stages regarding a digital Euro, with a final decision expected some time during summer 2021. The region is somewhat behind others in the CBDC race, and need to pick up their pace if it is to compete with other nations’ digital versions of the national currency.

Has China really changed its tune on crypto?

I am of course talking about China’s recent turnaround regarding cryptocurrencies. The change of tone coming from Beijing and the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), with regard to cryptocurrencies makes you pause to think, ‘What’s all this about?’

China’s central bank is now referring to bitcoin as an ‘alternative investment’, signalling something is afoot in the country that cracked down on digital assets four years ago.

Of course it is a welcome shift in perspective from the Chinese, and many are describing it as ‘progressive’. At the same time, they are closely monitoring the PBoC for signs of forthcoming regulatory changes in relation to the crypto sector.

During a panel hosted by CNBC at the Boao Forum for Asia on Sunday,

Li Bo, deputy governor of the PBOC, said, “We regard Bitcoin and stablecoin as crypto assets … These are investment alternatives.” He went on to say, “They are not currency per se. And so the main role we see for crypto assets going forward, the main role is investment alternative.” This indicates an unwillingness to see bitcoin and other similar tokens, such as Litecoin, as a means of payment, but at least it is a move towards a broader acceptance of cryptocurrencies in China.

As CNBC points out, China was once one of the world’s biggest buyers of bitcoin, before banning ICOs in 2017 and closing down crypto exchanges in the same year, both moves prompted by a perceived financial instability in the digital asset sector.

Li said, in explaining more about what he meant by calling them investment alternatives: “Many countries, including China, are still looking into it and thinking about what kind of regulatory requirements. Maybe minimal, but we need to have some kind of regulatory requirement to prevent … the speculation of such assets to create any serious financial stability risks.”

Flex Yang, CEO and founder of Babel Finance, called the comments “progressive”, while Vijay Ayyar, head of business development at cryptocurrency exchange Luno said, “I think it is quite significant and is definitely different to their previous statements or positions on public cryptocurrencies.”

When asked about what he thought had changed China’s thinking following the PBoC announcement, Ayyar said, “Governments are realizing that it is a viable and established, yet growing, asset class and need to regulate it. China regulating crypto would be another massive boost to the industry in China and globally.”

At the moment, China is still trialling its digital yuan, which will eventually replace the cash and coins in circulation, and there is a rumour that the country may wish to trial with foreign visitors to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

As with everything to do with China and finance – watch this space!

Private finance is taking crypto mainstream

Last year was a turning point for cryptocurrencies. It turned blockchain from being a space for geeks into one where governments, institutions and retail traders now had a seat at the table. The 2021 GameStop story also played a major role in a change of perception.

Most interestingly, as Alex Shipp explains in an article for Cointelegraph, “cryptography and its primary feature, privacy, have been relegated from the front-and-center role they once played as cryptocurrency’s main attractions.” This has been replaced by the enticements of DeFi apps that offer “enhanced liquidity, yield farming and unprecedented economic models.”

Will 2021 be DeFi’s big year?

DeFI has become the Shangri-La of cryptocurrency it seems. Its allure is pervasive across the cryptocurrency landscape, with investors enchanted by its “double-digit APRs and seamless user experience,” which holds better long-term prospects for them than the “subtle, systemic benefits conferred by a privacy-centric exchange.”

Privacy is no longer the primary reason for entering the crypto space. Moreover, as the perceived benefits of DeFi grow, consumers are more than happy to make trade-offs to keep it growing. They really don’t want to forfeit these for the sake of privacy.

DeFi is the current Disruptor-in-chief within an already disruptive community. Now we can expect another to emerge – PriFi, or Private Finance. This, says Shipp, “brings privacy back on-stage by bringing it back on-chain — that is, into the Ethereum and Polkadot ecosystems — to integrate privacy into a robust network of rapidly evolving applications of decentralized finance.”

It’s significant because until now, “privacy solutions have remained siloed on standalone, privacy-oriented blockchains, isolated from the ever-expanding features of the DeFi landscape.” This ‘movement’ wants users to be able to have access to privacy without any trade-offs. Shipp says it could not have come at a more critical moment. Why?

The answer is GameStop. I won’t reprise the story, because I’m sure you know it. However, one critical factor is that after the hedge funds got caught over-leveraged in short positions, centralized companies, such as Robinhood, Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade and others, restricted trading “thereby protecting the remaining capital of the exposed funds.”

This caused outrage amongst the retail investors, because these companies had essential hung them out to dry. What they learnt was, as Shipp says, “For retailers in 2021, that has meant awakening to a pair of sobering realizations: that centralized markets only remain free as long as they serve centralized powers and that surveillance is a primary supporting feature employed by such power structures.”

The trading restrictions placed on the retail traders highlighted the need for “a new line of emergent derivatives: fully private, on-chain synthetic assets whose values are securely pegged to traditional financial instruments — stocks, commodities, bonds, insurance products and more.”

The crypto space is opening up in ways the first enthusiasts probably never dreamt of, and while it may not suit purists, it is driven by the demands of the market. You could say everything has changed, and nothing has changed – depending on your perception.