Decentralized finance (DeFi) is changing the way that people all over the world think about money faster than any previous financial revolution. Banks, which have monopolized the way we’ve accessed money since antiquity, are finally seeing their status being challenged. Now, it’s DeFi which is starting to provide an alternative that could turn the economic landscape on its head and democratize access to finance.
This seismic shift in power away from governments and banks and towards real people is long overdue, particularly in developing nations where DeFi is already emerging as a tool for remittances and small loans. Financial inclusion is another significant advantage that DeFi can deliver, particularly when 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked.
The growth of the DeFi space is staggering. By taking concepts from traditional finance and turning these into transparent protocols through smart contracts, DeFi provides a trustless ecosystem that delivers anything from insurance to loans to savings accounts. The appeal for DeFi is evident, with the total value of assets held in DeFi financial products nearly topping $175 billion.
Yet, with DeFi on the rise and governments and banks not wanting to lose control of the monetary system, they are turning their attention to issuing digital currencies themselves. Central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) are seen as a way of maintaining control over the monetary system while giving users faster and cheaper transactions. If we fast forward to the year 2030, what elements of decentralization can we expect to see in our everyday lives?
DeFi in the future
Imagine, if you will, that the year is 2030. Célia, a young Parisian woman, pulls out her phone to buy a Eurostar ticket from Paris to London. When she reaches the payment screen, she chooses her primary digital wallet. Switching over to her wallet, Célia sees that her digital euro balance has gone down. Nowadays, nobody holds cash savings, as loans can be taken out and paid back within a person’s wallet depending on the value of any assets they own and are paid back automatically over time.
While DeFi is playing a primary role in 2030, so, too, are CBDCs, which have become the default tool for banks worldwide. China is leading the way in following the success of its previous trials. However, they lean toward greater state control, scrutiny and censorship. As a result, DeFi has become the primary way that individuals who value freedom choose to manage finances and now underpins the world financial system. And because of DeFi’s prominence, we've said goodbye to bank accounts, enabling us to access and use our money anywhere at any time and loans to be borrowed when required.
Cryptocurrency’s aim to make money universally available worldwide means that underlying DeFi protocols provide liquidity on swaps, borrowing and lending. And despite the complexity of DeFi, end users are not aware that they’re interacting with these global liquidity sources directly as complete privacy is ensured on all DeFi and spending.
On top of that, we transact all international payments on layer two zero-knowledge proof rollups (zk-Rollups), a scaling solution that bundles up hundreds of transactions off-chain into an Ethereum smart contract thus helping to reduce congestion on the blockchain. A cryptographic proof, known as a SNARK, is produced, ensuring the validity proof and is posted on layer one. Delivering free and open alternatives to government money, Bitcoin (BTC), Ether (ETH) and permissionless stablecoins are spent and swapped straightaway for any major government coins.
Defeating DeFi’s challenges
The way DeFi is going, this is certainly a plausible future for it. Ultimately, though, for DeFi to reach what many may consider a utopian future, some hurdles need to be overcome first.
One area to consider is the barriers to widespread adoption. For instance, the vulnerability of smart contracts, the unpredictability of the DeFi market, regulatory issues and accessibility to emerging technologies.
Other centers around the space being too complex for the average trader or investor. And blockchain inefficiency is a problem that needs to be addressed, particularly relating to energy consumption and the cost of transactions on Layer 1 protocols on the blockchain. While alternatives have so far compromised on security, early-stage technological solutions are coming to the fore. Examples of this include ZK-proof cryptography, or layer-two solutions, packing more transactions into the space, and therefore reducing cost.
Of course, some of DeFi’s challenges can’t be mentioned without talking about the naysayers. For instance, Dan Berkovitz, Commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), believes that DeFi is a “bad idea.” And Tom Mutton, the Bank of England’s fintech director, had said that any CBDC would be “ten times more efficient per transaction” than Bitcoin. Yet, one has to question if he realizes that zk-Rollups are already 1,000 times more efficient than Bitcoin?
What is DeFi doing to overcome these hurdles?
More education is needed. The DeFi Education Fund is an example of one organization attempting to educate policymakers on the benefits of the DeFi ecosystem and to help achieve a regulatory framework for it. In a bid to boost knowledge of DeFi, it’s funding applicants working on DeFi research and advocacy in legal research and DeFi practices, among other things. With an increased understanding of DeFi, mainstream adoption will be easier as new users are onboarded.
Another means of expanding the number of users is by improving the user’s experience. This is already seen with layer-two protocols, which are building wallets and infrastructure that support DeFi. And by doing so, they remove friction and cost and deliver better ways for users to recover lost keys while making the space less complex.
Long-term, though, regulatory clarity is something that will give confidence to traditional investment service providers such as banks and institutions while creating a pathway for allowing users to access DeFi on their terms within existing apps. What’s great about this is that many customers won’t even know they are interacting with a blockchain behind the scenes as all the complex wallet interactions will be hidden. It is this collaboration between traditional finance and decentralized finance that could give DeFi the push it needs to broaden further into the mainstream.
Taking action now
It’s clear that DeFi is here to stay and could become the core of finance in 2030. For that to happen though, more needs to be done today.
Right now, it’s the growing development of CBDCs that pose both a threat and an opportunity to DeFi as more nations experiment with them and governments begin to adopt them. But, just because CBDCs are gaining pace, that doesn’t mean DeFi can’t find its place in our future world too.
Yet, if people want to control their own money and know where it’s coming from while giving developing nations access to banking, then DeFi is where the future is heading. The core elements of DeFi infrastructure, such as decentralized exchanges (DEXs), borrowing and lending protocols, exchange aggregators that automatically find the best prices and cross-chain bridges, will also be needed by CBDCs in the future if these government currencies want to be able to interoperate with each other and be used as fully digital money.
DeFi is therefore playing a role as an innovation laboratory, allowing different infrastructure issues to get tested at a break-neck pace and ensuring that the correct infrastructure required by CBDCs will already be available when they are being rolled out around the world. CBDCs that adapt to make use of the rapid innovation in public blockchains and DeFi will benefit through connection to massive liquidity pools, allowing users, for example, to instantly swap between digital euro and Ethereum, or to use DeFi infrastructure to earn a yield on the digital pound.
It’s the CBDCs that are purposely disconnected from DeFi that will lose out to private stablecoins — one of the fastest-growing sections of the crypto industry. But, we do not need to rush to make this a contemporary reality. There are plenty of hurdles that DeFi needs to overcome before we see the kind of mainstream adoption that becomes present in everyday life.
By 2030, our Parisian friend Célia may not know or care what part of her transactions are CBDC and DeFi, and it shouldn't matter to her. There is still lots of work to be done to make that a reality. We hope that by 2030, Célia will be just one of the hundreds of millions of individuals who are enjoying the bright uplands of a decentralized financial world, one that will have forever changed the way we view money.
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