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With any new technology, it’s important to ask — what problem does it solve and who does it benefit?
This question often sparks debate and backlash around what real use cases blockchain technologies have. While many ideas are being explored, one of the most promising are blockchain-based financial applications, broadly referred to as Decentralized Finance (DeFi). If you’re not familiar with DeFi yet, it’s worth paying attention. It’s been working for years and is solving genuine pain points of individuals and businesses globally. Also, by making sense of DeFi, you’ll better understand the potential applications of blockchain technologies more broadly.
Traditionally, we rely on centralized entities like banks to fulfill our basic financial needs. We trust them to protect our savings, provide us with loans and facilitate day-to-day payments. It’s hard to imagine a world without them, but that’s exactly what DeFi promises.
This vision — of banking without the banks — is made possible by smart contracts, which are computer programs stored on the blockchain that automatically run when certain conditions are met.
By leveraging smart contracts and blockchain infrastructure, DeFi has a number of advantages over traditional financial institutions. It’s:
global and permissionless: users are no longer limited to local banking services, but can instead access DeFi apps from anywhere in the world
trustless: since smart contracts automatically execute, human intervention isn’t required, meaning you don’t need to rely on, or trust, third parties
always-on: DeFi is available 24/7, and isn’t limited by opening hours
transparent: the code of DeFi apps, as well as data on their usage, is publicly auditable
You might still wonder why any of that matters when the financial services you use daily are for the most part, fine. It’s important to understand that there are many different participants within the global financial system, each with unique contexts and needs. Some may be similar to you, while others face entirely different circumstances
Why is DeFi valuable?
To help you understand the value of DeFi, we’ll explore how DeFi applications benefit users including:
- unbanked individuals
- financially savvy individuals
- individuals, businesses, or nonprofits transacting globally
1) Unbanked individuals
Many of us take for granted the fact that we have bank accounts and can access basic financial services. Unfortunately, approximately 1.7 billion people are unbanked, due to factors such as geographical limitations, distrust in financial institutions, or the inability to meet minimum requirements. In fact, there may be little to no economic incentives for banks to cater to these potential customers.
However, the World Economic Forum estimates that 1.1 billion have access to a mobile phone. This presents a large opportunity for DeFi to connect the unbanked to decentralized financial services. Unlike traditional institutions, DeFi is able to scale financial services products to anyone around the world with minimal costs. For example, DeFi applications like AAVE or Compound would allow the unbanked to earn interest on their savings or even borrow money.
2) Financially savvy individuals
On the other end of the spectrum are individuals who are savvy enough to be saving and investing, and who might even have a mortgage or investment properties. They’re already in a great position, but DeFi could make things even better.
As with any other industry, a major benefit of automation is lower costs. Think about how much it costs your bank to employ their staff, use office buildings or operate physical branches. Since smart contracts can cut out intermediaries like banks, this means DeFi applications are more cost-efficient. These savings are passed onto individuals who use DeFi applications, through higher interest rates on savings — again, using applications like AAVE or Compound. For example, for every additional 1%, you earn on a balance of $10,000 is an extra $100 saved per year.
What’s more exciting is that the open and transparent nature of smart contract code means code and DeFi applications are composable. In other words, they’re like digital LEGO blocks which can be combined in unique ways. For example, Yearn is a DeFi application which automatically reinvests your savings to optimize your earnings. If AAVE has better rates than Compound, it’ll direct your funds there. In contrast, if you wanted to do the same with your traditional savings, you’d be manually setting up new accounts and transferring money between those accounts.
3) Individuals, businesses, or non-profits transacting globally
In our increasingly globalized and digital economy, individuals and businesses both have growing needs to make and accept payments in foreign currencies. For example, when individuals are shopping online for international goods, or when businesses pay salaries to global staff. The problem today isn’t that we can’t facilitate international payments — but it is expensive and often slow.
Blockchains naturally alleviate this problem since crypto tokens can be transferred globally and instantly. However, while the value of most crypto assets fluctuates wildly, it’d make the most sense to transact and store wealth in stable currencies. DeFi’s answer to this is stablecoins like USD Coin (USDC), Tether (USDT), and Dai, which are designed to maintain a stable price. You can think of these stablecoins as a digital-only form of cash, which lets you leverage the benefits of crypto infrastructure.
Using stablecoins, users can pay anyone around the world, at any time, without paying high fees or waiting for banks to open. On the other side of the transaction, businesses can receive payments instantly without high international transaction fees. Similarly, nonprofits can use applications like Endaoment to fundraise from global donors quickly. More importantly, the open data of blockchains means the movement of funds by nonprofits is more transparent and can be more closely scrutinized.
What are the risks of DeFi?
Despite these benefits, there are risks you need to be aware of when using DeFi applications. This includes:
1. Smart contract risk: since smart contracts are created from computer code, they can be prone to hacks. In 2022 alone, hackers have stolen over $3 billion of assets, with DeFi being the primary target; and
2. A lack of consumer protection: if you lose your funds due to a hack or a scam while using DeFi, no one is obliged to help or reimburse you because as we know, DeFi removes intermediaries who would typically provide that support
On the plus side, the openness of blockchain code means that with every vulnerability that’s exploited and fixed, the DeFi industry becomes safer overall. Everyone can learn from everyone else’s mistakes and experiences, which is unlike the siloed nature of traditional financial institutions.
Currently, there’s still friction around the experience of using DeFi, but as with any new technology, user experience problems will be solved. Companies like Coinbase, Argent, and Minke are already working to abstract away that complexity into slick mobile apps. In time, there’s a chance DeFi will fundamentally change how we all engage with financial services. As blockchains achieve greater scalability, it’s possible we’ll see a blockchain-based payment network operating at the scale of Visa and MasterCard. For the benefits that DeFi can, and already brings, it’s a no-brainer to try to make it work.
“A blog by Atlas DEX and Codora ApS”
Despite the name, they’re not really “smart” — they can only do exactly as they’re programmed.
What are Smart Contracts? | How they power the DeFi Ecosystem
So what exactly are smart contracts?
Smart contracts are code or computer programs stored on blockchains which automatically run when certain conditions are met. Despite the name, they’re not really “smart” — they can only do exactly as they’re programmed.
You can think of smart contracts as digital agreements. However, they have unique properties which distinguish them from ordinary contracts or agreements. For example, they’re:
trustless — once conditions that have been agreed upon are met, smart contracts will automatically execute. They don’t require human intervention, which means you don’t need to rely on or trust third parties to fulfil the agreement
immutable — mart contract code can’t be changed or manipulated once it’s been published to the blockchain, and
transparent — the code and details of the agreement are publicly accessible
When paired with user-friendly interfaces, smart contracts can be used to create decentralized applications (dApps). Here’s an overview of some of the dApps available on Ethereum.
Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform which allows creators to fundraise for creative projects. It uses an all-or-nothing model, meaning creators only receive funding if their fundraising goal is met by a certain deadline. If you were to support a project, you would have to trust Kickstarter to hold your funds until that deadline, and then either return it to you, or distribute it to the creator.
However, with smart contracts, you don’t need to trust third parties like Kickstarter. For example, PartyBid is a dApp which enables crowdfunded purchases of digital assets, using a similar all-or-nothing model. Its smart contract holds the funds and depending on the outcome, it’s programmed to either let users claim tokens representing their ownership of the successfully purchased asset or re-claim their funds.
Another area where trust can be eliminated is in peer-to-peer marketplaces. Think about the experience of buying or selling electronic event tickets using platforms like Facebook Marketplace. As a buyer, if you make payment first, will you receive a legitimate ticket? Has it been sold to anyone else? Or as a seller, if you send the ticket first, will you receive payment? Without knowing the other party, we have to rely on signals like the quality of their personal profile.
Smart contracts remove that uncertainty. For example, OpenSea is a dApp which enables the buying and selling of digital assets. Instead of needing to vet the other party to your transaction, OpenSea’s smart contracts will automatically facilitate the correct exchange of digital assets and funds for you.
Banks are another example of an intermediary which can be cut out using smart contracts. Very simply, banks collect deposits and use those deposits to fund loans. When you ask your bank for a loan to buy property, they’ll do extensive checks to make sure you can repay it based on your personal circumstances. As part of the agreement, the bank will hold your property as collateral so that they can sell it if you fail to repay the loan.
As an alternative, decentralized financial (DeFi) applications such as AAVE have made it possible to get loans without talking to anyone. All you need to do is deposit funds as collateral into the AAVE smart contract and then choose what, and how much, you want to borrow. Unless you’re engaging in financial crimes, AAVE doesn’t even care who you are or where you’re from, and unlike your bank, it’s accessible 24/7. With smart contracts, there’s an opportunity to enable access to cheaper, trustworthy and more transparent financial services for anyone across the globe.
The future of smart contracts
Clearly, not everything needs or can be programmed into a smart contract. However, where the rules of an agreement can be clearly defined and set in stone, smart contracts can be incredibly beneficial and efficient.
What makes them even more exciting is that smart contract code is open and transparent. This turns them into digital LEGO blocks which are composable, meaning they can be freely combined in different ways. For example, Atlas DEX leverages other smart contracts to aggregate the best prices for token swaps and enable swaps to occur between blockchains.
Together, the flexibility and composability of smart contracts is enabling faster development of blockchain-based applications. While it’s impossible to know what will eventually be created, we can be sure that innovation is happening at a much faster pace!
A blog by Codora and Atlas DEX.
Read on to find out more about the environmental impact of blockchain technology.
Not All Crypto Currencies Are Created Equal
The underlying reason for the high energy usage, according to experts, is the process known as “Proof of Work,” which requires miners to create the cryptocurrency while receiving coins. If left unaltered, this carbon-intensive procedure may jeopardize the widespread adoption of this revolutionary technology in the long run.
New kinds of algorithms, on the other hand, are developing that may offer a foundation for more long-term working methods. One of these is ‘Proof of Stake,’ which verifies transactions based on how many coins a network member has rather than their computer processing capacity. There are efforts to decrease the mining industry’s dependence on fossil fuels, in addition to the move away from the computational power-intensive Proof of Work method.
Green Reputation And Investment
If cryptocurrencies are to thrive in the long run and continue to provide the advantages of accessibility, security, and transparency, it will be necessary to include sustainability into their ethos and design. Sustainability is also gaining traction as a platform for cryptocurrencies to develop new and distinctive value propositions that set them apart in the market. For instance, the Eco Coin is backed by ecological assets, with each ECO Coin representing one tree. This currency allows businesses to incentivize, monitor, and reward environmentally responsible employee behavior that helps them achieve their overall sustainability objectives. Governments across the globe are enacting stronger climate change legislation, and ESG investment is pushing change in many sectors, including finance. Although cryptocurrencies are still a new and unpredictable market, their environmental credentials will be scrutinized more closely. This shift is providing businesses with new possibilities to strengthen their brand reputations via sustainable initiatives, as well as a strong new source of distinction.
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