The year 2021 will bring DeFi into adolescence

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Following the explosive growth of decentralized finance in the second half of 2020, we’re asking ourselves what the next chapter will look like. What would it take for DeFi to expand beyond crypto-native assets and communities and start eating financial services as we know it?

The second half of 2020 surpassed many of our expectations, and the market has only accelerated since then. Total value locked in DeFi rose from less than $1 billion at the start of June to $13 billion at the end of the year and over $27 billion since then. Catalyzed by Compound’s COMP token launch, we saw a wave of yield farming and a rapid inflow of assets.

Related: Was 2020 a ‘DeFi year,’ and what is expected from the sector in 2021? Experts answer

Perhaps more excitingly, we’ve started to see the foundations of a new financial system taking shape — with applications that enable everything from self-custodial exchanges to lending and borrowing, payments, portfolio management and insurance. New forms of value are being created: not just the promise of yield in a low-rate environment but also access to financial services for crypto-exposed businesses and individuals and for the underbanked more generally.

Today, DeFi is the preserve of a small subset of crypto-native users and assets and is seen by its critics as the wild west. Will this change? Here are a few thoughts on what comes next.

New asset types — New sources of liquidity in DeFi

The first iterations of decentralized exchanges were fraught with liquidity issues. Early adopters faced a significant lag in order matching, and token pairs were limited. Automated market makers and liquidity pools have become a widespread solution to this, with daily trading volumes on decentralized exchanges currently on the order of $2 billion — and DeFi projects continue to find innovative ways to incentivize the provision of liquidity. This will continue. For borrowers, we believe there remains a clear need to bring down collateralization requirements and indeed to use alternative forms of collateral.

Perhaps the greatest opportunity lies outside the universe of crypto-native assets. There are trillions of dollars of potential collateral up for grabs in real-world assets: Users want to borrow money against the assets that they already have and often cannot access the liquidity they need by conventional means. Tokenization of real-world assets can dramatically increase the size of the DeFi universe.

Scaling issues addressed at layer one and/or layer two

Ethereum’s scalability constraints are often cited as a factor limiting the adoption of DeFi. High gas prices and indeed high Ether (ETH) prices can render lower-value transactions unviable. This limits the attractiveness of nonfungible token marketplaces and other retail-focused services. Meanwhile, high-frequency professional trading requires layer-two solutions due to limited on-chain transaction throughput.

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