Decentralized finance—often called DeFi—refers to the shift from traditional, centralized financial systems to peer-to-peer finance enabled by decentralized technologies built on the Ethereum blockchain. From lending and borrowing platforms to stablecoins and tokenized BTC, the DeFi ecosystem has launched an expansive network of integrated protocols and financial instruments. Now with over $7 billion worth of value locked in Ethereum smart contracts, decentralized finance has emerged as the most active sector in the blockchain space, with a wide range of use cases for individuals, developers, and institutions. Whereas our traditional financial system runs on centralized infrastructure that is managed by central authorities, institutions, and intermediaries, decentralized finance is powered by code that is running on the decentralized infrastructure of the Ethereum blockchain. By deploying immutable smart contracts on Ethereum, DeFi developers can launch financial protocols and platforms that run exactly as programmed and that are available to anyone with an Internet connection. The breakthrough of DeFi is that crypto assets can now be put to use in ways not possible with fiat or “real world” assets. Decentralized exchanges, synthetic assets, and flash loans are completely novel applications that can only exist on blockchains. This paradigm shift in financial infrastructure presents a number of advantages with regard to risk, trust, and opportunity
Importance of DeFi
DeFi continues to play an important role in the evolution of the financial sector for many reasons. For one, DeFi expands the functionality and reach of money. Since all you need to participate in the DeFi sector is a Smartphone, there is huge potential to expand the global economy. Consequently, analysts see this sector as one of the most important currently under development in the crypto space. This commitment to the development of a DeFi ecosystem is easy to recognize. Importantly, DeFi is the fastest growing sector in blockchain. According to recent reports, DEFI tokens continually outperform their counterparts. Additionally, since this time period represents the beginning of this integration stage, the market now possesses the unique opportunity to see an entirely new industry blossom.
Dapps (Decentralized Applications)
DeFi depends heavily on Dapps. To understand DeFi’s capabilities, you need to grasp the concept behind Dapps. Dapps are programs designed to function within decentralized networks. These networks can be blockchains, Tor networks, or Distributed Ledgers Technologies (DLT). The key component of these protocols is their decentralized nature. There is no central authority, corporations, or agency that monitors and approves the business functions of these applications. In fact, Dapps require very little human intervention. Instead, these platforms integrate advanced smart contracts to streamline their business systems. Smart contracts are preprogrammed protocols that initiate upon receiving crypto to their address. Importantly smart contracts can handle a huge variety of tasks from customer approval to making payments.
What Are the Benefits of Decentralized Finance?
Decentralized finance leverages key principles of the Ethereum blockchain to increase financial security and transparency, unlock liquidity and growth opportunities, and support an integrated and standardized economic system.
Highly programmable smart contracts automate execution and enable the creation of new financial instruments and digital assets.
Tamper-proof data coordination across a blockchain’s decentralized architecture increases security and auditability.
Ethereum’s composable software stack ensures that DeFi protocols and applications are built to integrate and complement one another. With DeFi, developers and product teams have the flexibility to build on top of existing protocols, customize interfaces, and integrate third-party applications.
On the public Ethereum blockchain, every transaction is broadcast to and verified by other users on the network (note: Ethereum addresses are encrypted keys that are pseudo-anonymous). This level of transparency around transaction data not only allows for rich data analysis but also ensures that network activity is available to any user. Ethereum and the DeFi protocols running on it are also built with open source code that is available for anyone to view.
The DeFi sector functions without gatekeepers. As such, anyone can develop a DeFi application and offer it to the world. Additionally, anyone can participate in DeFi Dapps without concern for approval. This strategy is far cry from today’s financial system that requires potential users to traverse a myriad of regulatory verification systems before they can participate in the global economy.
By using Web3 wallets like MetaMask to interact with permissionless financial applications and protocols, DeFi market participants always keep custody of their assets and control of their personal data.
Key Components of DeFi
Today, there are more DeFi apps than ever. These applications are already saving businesses and customer’s time and money. In fact, DeFi platforms have begun to emerge across nearly every financial sector. As the DeFi sector expands, it’s important to understand what characteristics all DeFi Dapps have in common. Here are the most common:
DeFi application should be open source. Open source coding refers to the fact that the coding is made public. In this way, anyone can audit it and validate its functionality, security, and capabilities. Open-source codes are far more stable and secure than private codes because of this community interaction. Additionally, it provides more confidence in the platform because users can rest assured that no hidden malicious coding is operating in the background
Dapps represent an expansion in the way developers envision financial platforms. Anyone from around the world can participate in DeFi platforms. You just need a Smartphone with internet access and you can enter the DeFi community in minutes. Consequently, DeFi Dapps have the ability to provide the unbanked of the world with access to financial services for the first time in recorded history. This openness is a huge upgrade from the current banking system that leaves around 40% of the global population without any form of banking. Importantly, when you think of unbanked populations it’s easy to picture a village somewhere in the tropics or desert but the reality is much different. For example, a recent study found that 25% of US households remain unbanked. It’s in these locations that DeFi has an immediate effect.
Due to the open nature of the DeFi environment, developers are able to exercise more flexibility in their platforms. Users gain considerable options through the integration of third-party application integrations as well. In fact, users can even choose to build their own interfaces if they find the current options insufficient
Like most Decentralized Finance (DeFi) protocols, Compound is a system of openly accessible smart contracts built on Ethereum. Compound focuses on allowing borrowers to take out loans and lenders to provide loans by locking their crypto assets into the protocol. The interest rates paid and received by borrowers and lenders are determined by the supply and demand of each crypto asset. Interest rates are generated with every block mined. Loans can be paid back and locked assets can be withdrawn at any time. Built on top of that principle is cTokens, Compound's native token that allows users to earn interest on their money while also being able to transfer, trade, and use that money in other applications.
Many consider decentralized exchanges as the logical next step in the evolution of the crypto sector. These peer-to-peer trading platforms provide users with a more streamlined UX (user experience), tighter security, and more flexibility. Traditional exchanges function via a centralized organization that facilitates, monitors, and approves all trades within the platform.
The problem with this approach is that it leaves too many attack vectors open. Hackers can target the exchange and make off with millions. A quick Google search demonstrates numerous examples of exchange hacks in which the central organization suffered huge losses. In many instances, these firms were forced to discontinue operations due to the losses.
Decentralized exchanges eliminate many of these concerns. When a user exchanges an asset via a decentralized exchange, the platform never holds the assets directly. Instead, smart contracts are used to enable a simultaneous wallet-to-wallet swap. In this way, there is no main point of weakness within the platform for a hacker to exploit.
Crypto traders on decentralized exchanges benefit from lower exchange fees, faster transaction settlement, and full custody of their assets. In July 2020, trading volume across decentralized exchanges reached over $4 billion.
The Uniswap platform introduced an innovative mechanism known as Automated Market Making. This protocol enables near-instant settlement between parties. Importantly, the protocol is set to close trades as close to the current market value as possible. You can even lend out your crypto and earn some interest via the platform’s Pooling feature
Decentralized finance may be the next big disruption to the financial system. Powered by blockchain technology, this new wave of applications and services will help bring financial services to the underbanked, reduce transaction costs, and enhance security all while providing users a seamless experience from anywhere in the world. Like any new technology, it is important to take a step away from the hype and critically examine the challenges that lie in the path to mass adoption. For DeFi, these include challenges reach into the legal sphere, and touch on interoperability as well as transaction speeds. Only by addressing and overcoming these challenges will DeFi reach the potential that seems to be all the buzz in the blockchain-verse.