In the broadest way, the discourse surrounding crypto has shifted from “what to do with it” to “how to do it.” This is especially the case with the authorities, which are no longer trying to deny decentralized finance but rather trying to figure out how to deal with the industry, as it is clear to everyone that it is here to stay. And their approach is that they either adjust or they will be left behind. This is the same with the legacy finance system: Decentralized finance (DeFi) projects provide better solutions, and people are starting to realize that — not just tech enthusiasts, but regular people. Hearing about DeFi from a taxi driver, from people chatting while waiting in line in a supermarket or during an intermission in a theater — that’s where I see indicators of mainstream adoption.

To gain more insight on the matter, I reached out to different experts from the blockchain industry, asking: “After 2020 was named the year of DeFi, did we already see mass adoption of decentralized finance in 2021? What could help it gain even more adoption going into 2022?”

Alan Konevsky of PrimeBlock

Alan is the chief legal officer of PrimeBlock, a sustainable Bitcoin mining operation and infrastructure solutions provider with locations spread across North America, and a part of the Bitcoin Mining Council.

“In terms of cryptocurrencies as technology pathways for other decentralized finance products and services, there has been good pick-up. To get into the larger threshold of adopters, it will take a combination of regulatory improvement, innovation, retail-facing products and services, and greater interoperability with legacy banking and financial services, because people are not moving 100% into DeFi right away.

Increasing institutional and retail acceptance of blockchain and digital infrastructure is critical. Obviously, Bitcoin and some other cryptocurrencies being accepted as an investable asset type is an important thing, and it’ll continue on its own. However, the really secular change here is the acceptance of distributed digital solutions as the new technology pathways for payments, banking and so on. It’s the acceptance of blockchain technology as the next-generation environment for banking and finance.”

Alexander Mitrovich of Unique Network

Alexander is the CEO and co-founder of Unique Network, a scalable blockchain for composable NFTs with advanced economies, and an NFT chain built for Polkadot and Kusama.

“Mass adoption of DeFi was not reached in 2021. What we saw was a rising adoption of crypto, mainly centralized crypto. Coinbase’s popularity does not equal DeFi adoption. What I do think is that DeFi would benefit from closer integration with nonfungible tokens. When NFTs become powered by DeFi, when typical consumers can collateralize their NFTs through DeFi, when DeFi powers the creative economy — that is when you will see quicker adoption of DeFi and all its benefits.”

Brad Yasar of Eqifi

Brad is the CEO of Eqifi, a decentralized finance platform for borrowing, trading and investing in digital assets backed by a regulated bank.

“2021 saw a mix of COVID still affecting our daily lives and ability to earn a living and opening the global trade and financial market after a very abnormal 2020. As a result, most people started looking at alternative options to going into a bank branch to get loans, as well as alternative assets to invest in to diversify from traditional stock-and-bond types of investment. This opened up people’s minds to crypto assets and decentralized finance products that diversify from traditional brick-and-mortar solutions. Combined with the already strong momentum DeFi had at the start of the year, we saw a significant increase in both the DeFi and crypto market caps.

With continued adoption by traditional financial businesses and increased education for the general public, I see continued strong growth for DeFi in 2022. Licensed and regulated projects like Eqifi are paving the way for a transition from anonymous, high-risk DeFi platforms to safer, more transparent versions that will be much more inviting to non-crypto and non-technical people looking to benefit from the high returns of DeFi that they have not been able to use up to this point. DeFi democratizes access to financial products that traditional banking and financing solutions have not been able to provide. With DeFi, we can offer more products cheaper to a much larger portion of the world population. If done right, this will be an excellent catalyst for global financial recovery.”

David Chaum of XX Network

David is the founder of XX Network, a consumer-scale, quantum-ready online platform that enables value to be communicated and exchanged without revealing so-called “metadata.”

“Everything is already global in 2021, and we have been on a decentralization trajectory for more than a decade. Corporations have been (sort of) decentralizing for years. Central banks around the world are rushing to create their own non-decentralized cryptocurrencies. Meanwhile, some small countries are replacing their fiat currency with Bitcoin. You know we’ve reached mass adoption in DeFi, though, when the Feds come knocking. Besides, DeFi is so 2020 — NFTs are 2021. And look at the latest congressional hearings — you’ll see that the government certainly thinks mass adoption is here. Their intentions are still to be decided, but I would venture to guess they do not come in peace.

Cross-chain currency trading peer-to-peer, with no expensive intermediaries — that would help DeFi. So would additional privacy measures. DeFi needs to look back at its original goals — to be truly trustless and anonymous — and reimagine privacy into all future applications.”

Donald Thibeau of the HBAR Foundation

Donald is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of the HBAR Foundation, which helps the development of the Hedera ecosystem by providing grants and other resources to developers, startups and entrepreneurs.

“DeFi in 2020 proved the ability of communities to come together to form financial markets without intermediaries, but it did not yet reach mass adoption over the course of 2021. We saw horizontal growth as similar DeFi protocols deployed across multiple chains and the beginning of vertical growth. The latter is critical to mass adoption. Vertical growth in DeFi refers to the inclusion of protocols generating yield and fees for users into more financial markets, banking infrastructure and more. We are seeing the beginning of this integration with organizations like Shinhan Bank experimenting with stablecoins and DLA Piper supporting token issuance platforms. DeFi in 2022 will be defined by its incorporation into traditional banking as well as application to new marketplaces beyond finance.”

James MacFarlane of Eden Network

James is the head of business development at Eden Network, an optional, non-consensus-breaking transaction-ordering protocol for Ethereum blocks. 

“If we look at the DeFi adoption journeys for consumers, we have centralized exchanges, then wallets and then decentralized exchanges. 

We have seen a huge growth in users on the CEX layer, but 2022 will be the year of the wallet and DEX for the mass market.

Users understanding the value in moving from the CEX layer to wallets like Rabby and Argent that give users very simple user interface journeys into DeFi will be the next stage of adoption in 2022.”

Johnny Lyu of KuCoin

Johnny Lyu is the CEO of KuCoin, a secure cryptocurrency exchange that makes it easier to buy, sell and store cryptocurrencies.

“The growing interest of institutions in cryptocurrencies is likely to remain the decisive driving force behind the decentralized finance industry. All the corporations that have shown their penchant for cryptocurrencies this year, like Paypal, Visa and MasterCard, are probably already working out plans on how to break into this market. That said, the scenario, which implies that DeFi products will become available in popular banking applications as early as 2022, looks quite realistic.”

Mark Lurie of Shipyard Software

Mark is the CEO and co-founder of Shipyard Software, a software company building DEXs for retail crypto traders.

“No, we are a long way from mass adoption of DeFi. There is certainly massive capital at play, including traditional institutions like Goldman Sachs setting up DeFi desks, but the total universe of DeFi users is only several hundred thousand people. The reason is because it is technically complicated to hold one’s own crypto and use DeFi applications. I find it hard and sometimes need to ask friends for help, and I’ve founded a DEX! Until it is simple, it won’t be adopted by the masses. But it won’t be simple until regulations are clarified, allowing companies to develop more user-centric DeFi applications.”

Paolo Ardoino of Bitfinex

Paolo is the chief technology officer of Bitfinex, a digital asset trading platform offering state-of-the-art services for digital currency traders and global liquidity providers.

“DeFi continued to grow this year. As far as 2022 goes, I would encourage people to look at the Lightning Network as being, in many ways, DeFi in its truest form. Unlike many of the non-Bitcoin-based chain projects that often have a speculative component based upon the appreciation of a protocol’s token, the Lightning Network is all about payments and building services. 

In a way, DeFi — with all its lending pools and projects running these lending pools — is more centralized than the Lightning Network. The Lightning Network has a different concept of DeFi, where you can interact directly with a single entity or person without any intermediary. 

It will be interesting to see how the growth of the Lightning Network in 2022 plays out, especially in the context of the DeFi component being latent within the technology. This is an area that it could well be worth keeping an eye out for.”

Rodrigo Vicuna of Prime Trust

Rodrigo is the chief financial officer of Prime Trust, a blockchain-driven trust company that provides API-driven open banking solutions.

“DeFi has grown significantly over the last year, from around $700 million in 2020 to an estimated $60 billion to $80 billion in TVL in 2021. Some are estimating this to grow even more in 2022. Mass adoption of DeFi sits somewhere between the early adopter stage and mass growth. Institutional investors are increasingly adding Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies to their portfolios, and worldwide adoption of crypto has jumped by over 880%. This shows that the digital asset and crypto industry has further expanded into the mainstream. 

For 2022, we anticipate a convergence of institutional and individual users in addition to typical integrators. One of the challenges that DeFi still faces is the costly entry point for new users. Crypto is still unknown for many users, and the volatility and varied regulations from governing bodies are adding to this unknown; however, new and nascent market segments will continue to emerge. Over the past year, we’ve seen a 200% increase in alternative trading systems for digital assets, a 120% increase in registered investment advisor wealth-tech platforms, a 54% increase in infrastructure businesses like trading firms and blockchain development platforms, a 47% increase in retail crypto on-ramps and neobanks, and a 22% increase in crypto exchanges using our platform. We only expect this growth and adoption to continue throughout 2022.”

Simon Lapscher of Liquality

Simon is a co-founder of Liquality, a multichain browser extension wallet.

“I think we can all agree that DeFi protocols remain at an early stage relative to the wider crypto industry. According to DeFi Llama, the total value of crypto assets in DeFi surged from roughly $5 billion to nearly $160 billion over the past year, but this is largely because of crypto traders and investors, not due to wider mass adoption. As Ethereum layer twos and alternative layer ones like Terra, Solana, Avalanche and others mature, more and more user-facing applications no longer need to deal with prohibitive gas fees, which will significantly drive adoption. This, combined with incredibly easy-to-use and incentivized DApp integrations at the wallet level, will be what drives DeFi and other areas further into mass adoption territory. If you can be anywhere in the world, download a mobile app, and go from fiat to over 20% yield in Anchor (Terra) in just a few clicks without having to understand complicated blockchain concepts, it’s a game-changer.”

Tristan Frizza of Zeta Markets:

Tristan is the core contributor to Zeta Markets, an under-collateralized DeFi derivatives platform, providing liquid derivatives trading to individuals and institutions alike.

“We’ve seen a Cambrian explosion in the DeFi ecosystem in 2021, with peak TVL approaching $300 billion vs the 2020 peak of $21 billion. This sounds like the growth surely has to slow. Yet, DeFi still represents just a fraction of CeFi trading volumes.

At Zeta, we see a clear opportunity for more and more CeFi infrastructure to be built on-chain in a permissionless manner. This will unlock innovative products that have previously been impossible to implement. The following has already started to happen:

  • Composability trumps the siloed products of CeFi, which has created really powerful network effects and will continue to do so.

  • DeFi UX continues to improve, DApps on Solana, in particular, are now improving with the looks and feels of CEX products (i.e., Robinhood).

  • On-chain derivatives are still in their infancy but are already showing promise (dYdX surpassing Coinbase in trading volume).

  • On-chain primitives like oracles and order books are now a reality.

DeFi growth sustaining itself and achieving its potential blockchain speed and transaction costs will be critical. CeFi markets rely on speed and deep liquidity. This dependency is already showing some truth, with DeFi expanding outside of the Ethereum ecosystem. We suspect this is a trend that is likely to continue in 2022 and expand the DeFi pie as a whole — cross-chain bridging will be a big theme for DeFi in the years ahead as we move toward a multi-chain world.”

These quotes have been edited and condensed.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the authors’ alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.