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DeFi: Who, what and how to regulate in a borderless, code-governed world?

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Hold onto your hats, boys and girls! It’s a new world — a financial system without intermediaries, that anyone can access 24 hours a day with only a mobile phone and a wallet! As Julien Bouteloup said to me: 

“In DeFi, what we are building is fully decentralised technology, fully transparent, run by mathematics. No one can beat that.”

He continued: “We are building on research papers, 40 years of research, fundamental research, discrete mathematics being built and put on-chain that no one can beat. You cannot beat that. GitHub didn’t exist in the ‘90s. First, the fact that we’re going at the speed of light, is because everything is open source, and everyone can participate.”

A Novum Insights report stated back in August that since 2020, the DeFi market has grown by a factor 40, with the total value locked in DeFi at around $61 billion at the time (while the current TVL stands at around $165 billion). Stablecoins’ capitalization, an important part of DeFi, grew in the first half of 2021 to $112 billion.

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Massive gains are being made but, at the same time, DeFi investors are also losing money because DeFi is not regulated, moderated, intermediated, hosted or validated by a central authority, only driven by smart contracts. So if a smart contract fails or is attacked, consumers have no remedy. Loretta Joseph, global digital asset regulatory expert, said to me: “Regulators protect consumers and investors. In DeFi, you don’t have any intermediaries to regulate, so it’s totally P2P. The question is how it will be regulated in the future. People are going to get scammed. When people start to get scammed, the first thing they do is complain to the regulator.”

Indeed, since 2019, DeFi protocols have lost about $285 million to hacks and other exploit attacks. And as the experts stated, the majority of hacks were due to developer incompetence and coding mistakes. That’s significant when the sector is entirely reliant on the code.

The challenges of regulation

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Hester Peirce said in an interview with Forkast.News about DeFi back in February: “It’s going to be challenging to us because most of the way we regulate is through intermediaries, and when you really build something that’s decentralized, there’s no intermediary. It’s great for resilience of a system. But it’s much harder for us when we’re trying to go in and regulate to figure out how to do that.”

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Regulatory concerns tend to be around the volatility of crypto markets as contrasted with government-backed fiat currency, the risk of money laundering and terrorist financing, the unregulated nature of the market, and the absence of recourse for financial losses. Nonfungible tokens are exploding, generating excitement, confusion, legal questions and massive gains. NFT markets are also attracting large crypto transactions, which will likely bother regulators, who may see the big money moves in NFTs as money laundering. At a macro level, the decentralization of the financial system and the ability to manage economic stability and protect consumer interests poses a further challenge to regulators.

DeFi decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are popular as a means of transferring cryptocurrencies across different blockchains. This supports crypto lending and yield farming. DAOs, by conservative estimates, oversee more than $543 million. In a DAO, information technology governance and corporate governance are one and the same. The organization is governed and operated by smart contracts, which are monitored and enforced by algorithms. The code both governs and executes. Should the algorithms fail, who then is responsible?

In a joint article, dubbed “Regulating Blockchain, DLT and Smart Contracts: a technology regulator’s perspective,” a group of researchers outline some key points to consider: (1) the importance of identifying central points which can be used to apply regulation to, such as miners, core software developers, end users. They even raise the potential for governmental or regulatory players to be potential participants; (2) issues of identifying liability — could core software developers be held to account?; (3) the challenges with the immutability and lack of update-ability of smart contracts; and (4) the need for quality assurance and technology audit processes.

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It is expected that exchanges and wallet providers will be a focus for regulators. Decentralized exchanges allow users to trade directly from their wallets in a P2P manner without intermediaries. Global money-laundering watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has exchanges in their sights. Christopher Harding, the chief compliance officer of Civic, noted that the FATF proposed guidelines which suggest that DApps will need to comply with country-specific laws enforcing FATF, AML, and Counter-Terrorism Financing requirements.

A recent review of 16 leading exchange platforms by the London School of Economics and Political Science found that just four were subject to a significant level of regulation related to trading, so there is a clear gap. Getting listed on any major exchange now requires a project to have passed auditing, but meaningful security doesn’t end there. Toby Lewis, CEO of Novum Insights, made the point:

“Also, remember that smart contracts can be attacked. Even if they are audited, it does not give you a guarantee that it will be exploit-free. Do your own research before you start.”

In an open-source environment where projects are developing at an average compound growth rate of 20% per year, finding just the right moment to regulate, wherein people are protected from risk but innovation is not constrained, is a classic problem to solve. Some governments have addressed achieving this balance by using regulatory sandboxes (U.K., Bermuda, India, South Korea, Mauritius, Australia, Papua New Guinea and Singapore), while some have gone straight to legislating (San Marino, Bermuda, Malta, Liechtenstein).

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Far from resisting regulation, leading DeFi figures embrace it as part of the maturing of the industry. In an interview with Cointelegraph, Stani Kulechov, the founder of DeFi lending platform Aave, suggests that peer review will be the future: “Auditors are not here to guarantee the security of a protocol, merely they help to spot something that the team itself wasn’t aware of. Eventually it’s about peer review and we need to find as a community incentives to empower more security experts into the space.” In the same article, Emeliano Bonassi spoke about ReviewsDAO, a peer review forum for connecting security experts with projects looking for reviews. Bonassi sees potential for this to become a learning opportunity where people with specialized knowledge can contribute to improving the security of the ecosystem.

Tan Tran, CEO of Vemanti Group, suggested: “Going forward, I do see accelerated adoption of platforms with permissionless financial products and services that can be used by anyone anywhere, but each will be governed by a regulated-party with centralized control to ensure accountability and compliance. This is not about stopping innovation. It’s more about deterring bad actors from exploiting unsophisticated consumers.” Giving an expert opinion on DeFi to Cointelegraph, Brendan Blumer, CEO of Block.one, concluded: “The real winners in the digital economy will be those that think long-term and take the time to ensure their products meet jurisdictional and professional service requirements.”

It certainly looks like exchanges and software developers could be in the sights of regulators. We anticipate regulators will look for ways to improve technology quality assurance processes and DeFi governance, which can only be done in conjunction with the industry. Mark Taylor emphasized that regulators need to continue to work in partnership with crypto industry players to protect consumers.

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Julien Bouteluop explained: “We are actually building, in DeFi, everything that traditional finance has, but faster, stronger, more transparent and accessible by everyone that’s here. It’s really different. It means that anyone in the world can access technology and doesn’t need to ask permission from anyone. I think it’s necessary to push for innovation, and to build a better world.”

Who, what and how do we regulate in this global 24/7, borderless market? This is a whole new ball game. Regulators and industry will need to work hand in hand.

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DeFi Total Value Locked Hit ATH as Crypto Market Sees Resurgence

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The decentralized finance (DeFi) ecosystem has printed its highest Total Value Locked (TVL) today, riding on the back of the resurgence in the broader market. Per data from DeFi Llama, the TVL covering all blockchain protocols is now pegged at $223.23 billion, a massive uplift from the $21.4 billion recorded from January 1 this year. 

DeFi TVL Source: DeFiLlama

Per the DeFi Llama data, decentralized exchange liquidity pool on Ethereum designed for efficient stablecoin trading, Curve Finance, maintains the largest share of the pie with a value of $17.08 in TVL. Lending protocol, Aave ranks next with a total of $17.02 billion, while Maker also comes off with a total value locked of $15.43 billion. The growth of the DeFi ecosystem has largely maintained an upward trajectory, as more investors, including retail and institutional investors, began leveraging the earning options the emerging protocols that make up the ecosystem offers.

DeFi creates the most direct threat to traditional finance as the emergence of lending protocols for instance has lowered the barrier to entry for accessing loans. Many new investors also find it easy to commit their funds into the DeFi ecosystem as these protocols are governed by smart contracts, which makes them non-susceptible to the lapses of human-fueled organizational management.

Future Growth to be Backed by Mainstream Market

There is a more positive outlook in the broader digital currency industry, fueled by the optimism of approval of the first Bitcoin Futures Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) in the U.S. Per an earlier Coingape report, the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF could be coming as soon as next Monday, October 18, marking an end to the undying anticipation from investors about such a product.

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With the advent of the ETF, more funds will be pumped into the entire industry, and there is bound to be a trickle into the DeFi ecosystem. A number of investment managers, including Grayscale, are beginning to provide funds that track the performance of DeFi protocols, opening up additional avenues for more embrace of the DeFi tokens.

Besides the TVL, the tokens of DeFi projects are also seeing an additional boost with all protocols inking a market cap of $137.47 billion according to data from CoinMarketCap.

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Report: Driven by DeFi, North America’s crypto volume increased 1,000% year-over-year

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Digital analytics firm Chainalysis reported that the growth in North America’s crypto market has been driven by the rise in popularity of decentralized finance.

In its 2021 Geography of Cryptocurrency Report, Chainalysis said the monthly crypto transaction volume across North America grew by more than 1,000% from July 2020 to June 2021. The monthly volume reached a peak of $164 billion in May 2021 before dipping to just over $100 billion in June.

According to Chainalysis’ report, decentralized finance, or DeFi, was largely responsible for North America continuing to maintain its position as one of the largest crypto markets worldwide. DeFi transactions represented 37% of North America’s overall transaction volume from July 2020 to June 2021, with residents sending roughly $276 billion in crypto to platforms in the DeFi space. 

The Central, Northern and Western Europe region sent the most in crypto overall — $389 billion, roughly 40% of its overall transaction volume during the same time period. Chainalysis said “DeFi whales” were responsible for turning the region into the world’s biggest cryptocurrency economy, with the majority of institutional-sized transfers going towards platforms in decentralized finance.

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However, the report said North America’s DeFi transactions were led by retail investors in the last year, with many transactions under $10,000. Uniswap was the most popular DeFi platform in North America, with users having sent more than $100 billion in transaction volume between July 2020 and June 2021.

“Right now, DeFi is targeted towards crypto insiders,” said dYdX growth lead David Gogel. “It’s people who have been in the industry for a while and have enough funds to experiment with new assets.”

In addition, Eastern Asia’s crypto market has been declining, likely driven by the regulatory crackdowns on China’s crypto industry and mining in the region. Chainalysis reported P2P trade volume in China had dropped significantly over the last year, ranking the country in the 155th position worldwide compared to 53rd the year prior. Though Eastern Asia still received $591 billion in crypto transactions between July 2020 and June 2021 — a growth of 452% year-over-year — the firm labeled the region as the “slowest-growing” in its analysis.

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“Mining isn’t the only part of China’s cryptocurrency economy affected by the crackdown,” reported Chainalysis. “The government has taken other actions such as campaigning against cryptocurrency in state-sponsored media, placing official warning messages on cryptocurrency-related apps, and potentially leaning on social media companies to suppress cryptocurrency-related content.”

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DeFi Presents Multi-Billion Dollar Use Case To Disrupt Foreign Exchange Market, According to Shark Tank Star Kevin O’Leary

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Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary is saying that the foreign exchange market is a multi-billion dollar use case for decentralized finance (DeFi), a form of blockchain technology that supporters claim can revolutionize financial services by eliminating the need for intermediaries.

During this year’s SALT conference in New York City, O’Leary relates how investors must rely on foreign exchange middlemen to invest in overseas markets. He says the extra steps required in such dealings are often unnecessary and burdensome.

“Let’s say a traditional mandate, such as I want to go long Europe, I’m going to buy 50 stocks. I have to buy Swiss francs, Euro-based stocks and British pounds because I want to trade them on their domestic exchanges.

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In between me and that transaction is what’s called the bane of the earth – the FX trader, the currency trader who clips me every time I buy and sell. Adds zero value and sucks friction out of the system. I can’t wait until we solve this problem and give them a new career shining shoes, because they add no value whatsoever.”

The celebrity investor believes that DeFi has the potential to eliminate costly middlemen from the foreign exchange market system.

“This is where DeFi can take us, on just one use case. But it’s a multi-billion-dollar one, and I want to be alive to have a regulator domestically allow me a payment system to a Swiss franc, back and forth if I want to trade it 50 times a day, with zero FX traders. That’s my mission in life, to help them find a real job.”

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In May 2020, O’Leary led a $20 million fundraising round for what is now WonderFi Technologies, a Canadian firm that plans to launch a platform to simplify access to DeFi.

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