Institutional DeFi looks to CeFi for future-proof compliance
The decentralised nature of blockchain has underpinned its success from the earliest days of Bitcoin. The launch of Ether, the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalisation, introduced a new type of blockchain called Ethereum designed to do much more than send minted coins from A to B. Ethereum ushered in a new era for blockchain with the smart contract, a game changing feature that has since been used to make a whole plethora of DeFi applications and is rewriting the rule book on how we think about the role of centralised finance.
by Chris Aruliah, Chief Product Officer, BCB Group
Smart contracts are the driving force behind DeFi and have enabled a torrent of innovation on blockchain protocols attracting a rapidly growing user base. Anyone can deploy a smart contract onto a public blockchain which can be developed in a way that ensures the code is unchangeable and automatically runs whenever pre-programmed conditions are met by users. The unchangeable nature of such smart contracts removes the need for an overseer to check that an agreement is being carried out as intended. This trustless peer-to-peer environment is creating incredible efficiency and scale with the total value locked in smart contracts over $200 billion, up from $1 billion in 2020. As a result concepts like Web3 have become part of our lexicon with higher levels of liquidity flowing into smart contracts run on DeFi platforms.
DeFi exchanges like Uniswap and Pancakeswap don’t use fiat currency, which maintains a level of autonomy from traditional finance. Investors who want to profit from financial products unique to DeFi need to use centralised exchanges like Coinbase or Kraken to use their fiat to buy Ether or tokens compatible with DeFi platforms.
These newly acquired assets then need to be transferred to a wallet like MetaMask which makes it possible to connect with and use a decentralised exchange. To convert these assets back to fiat this process is done in reverse with funds returning to a CeFi system connected to fiat payment rails and banks. This highlights how reliant DeFi is on a reliable integration with traditional finance that requires compliant on and off KYC ramps. While this centralised and decentralised alliance is the start of opening up DeFi markets to institutional investors there are considerations such as counterparty risk that need to be taken into account.
A primary incentive for investors to lock their funds into DeFi smart contracts is the profit being made on yield farming and lending protocols generating returns with interest rates far exceeding opportunities on offer in traditional finance. The increased liquidity on these platforms has created a huge demand for borrowing with smart contracts automating the entire process. Unlike CeFi exchanges, DeFi exchange transactions are public with a high degree of transparency though users are pseudonymous, only represented by a series of numbers (wallet address), and while they have used KYC ramps on centralised exchanges to buy crypto assets needed to invest on DeFi platforms, institutions may also need to prove who they are lending to.
Providing a robust guarantee that all those participating in a DeFi liquidity pool have met stringent KYC and AML standards would provide institutional investors with the confidence to capitalise in this space. The most ardent supporters of decentralisation may argue that further centralised control would be a step backwards and that the reason for the success of DeFi has been because of the firm resistance to centralisation. The current hybrid approach of CeFi bridging the gap to DeFi from fiat to crypto liquidity pools will see further iterations to accommodate a wider market with both decentralisation purists and traditional finance players able to find DeFi platforms that leverage the latest smart contracts to best suit their individual needs.
December 08, 2023
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