Decentralized Finance: An Emerging Alternative
The global financial system has created massive wealth, but its centralized nature means the spoils have gone to the people who are best connected to the financial centers of the world.
As global inequality continues to rise, how can wealth building tools become more accessible to the rest of the global population?
Luckily, technological developments and their rapid adoption make this the right time for a new decentralized financial system to emerge:
- The Internet: 3.9 billion users by the end of 2018
- The proliferation of smartphones: Two-thirds of the unbanked have mobile phones
- Digital banking: over 2 billion users by end of 2018
- Bitcoin and Blockchain: the emergence of new public blockchains
Today’s infographic comes to us from investment app Abra, and it highlights how public blockchains could help to enable a decentralized finance system.
What is Decentralized Finance?
Decentralized finance describes a new decentralized financial system that is built on public blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum. After all, Bitcoin and Ethereum aren’t just digital currencies — they’re foundational open source networks that could be used to change how the global economy works.
There are six primary features that differentiate public blockchains from the private networks used by governments and traditional financial institutions:
- Permissionless: Anyone in the world can connect to the network
- Decentralized: Records are kept simultaneously across thousands of computers
- Trustless: A central party isn’t required to ensure transactions are valid
- Transparent: All transactions are publicly auditable
- Censorship Resistant: A central party cannot invalidate user transactions
- Programmable: Developers can program business logic into low-cost financial services
In such a financial system, users will have access to apps that use public blockchains to participate in new open global markets – but how would this shape the global financial system for the better?
The Potential Impact of Decentralized Finance
Here are five ways that decentralized finance will have an impact on the world:
1. Wider Global Access to Financial Services
With decentralized finance, anyone with an internet connection and a smartphone could access financial services. There are a variety of barriers that prevent access in the current system:
- Status: Lack of citizenship, documentation, credentials, etc.
- Wealth: High entry-level funds required to access financial services
- Location: Vast distance from functioning economies and financial service providers
In a decentralized financial system, a top trader at a financial firm would have the same level of access as a farmer in a remote region of India.
2. Affordable Cross-Border Payments
Decentralized finance removes costly intermediaries to make remittance services more affordable for the global population.
In the current system, it’s prohibitively expensive for people to send money across borders: the average global remittance fee is 7%. Through decentralized financial services, remittance fees could be below 3%.
3. Improved Privacy and Security
In decentralized finance, users have custody of their wealth and can transact securely without validation from a central party. Meanwhile, in the current system, custodial institutions put people’s wealth and information at risk if they fail to secure it.
4. Censorship-Resistant Transactions
In a decentralized financial system, transactions are immutable and blockchains can’t be shut off by central institutions like governments, central banks, or big corporations.
In places with poor governance and authoritarianism, users can divest to the decentralized financial system to protect their wealth. For example, Venezuelans are already adopting Bitcoin to protect their wealth from government manipulation and hyperinflation.
5. Simple Use
Plug and play apps will allow people to intuitively use decentralized financial services without the complexity of the centralized system.
With a decentralized system, a woman in the Philippines could receive a loan from the U.S., invest in a business in Colombia, and then pay off her debt and purchase a home – all through interoperable apps.
The Potential Blue Sky
Unless governments and central banks suddenly cease to exist, it’s difficult to imagine a world where decentralized finance completely replaces their centralized counterparts.
But what if they can co-exist?
Public blockchains can interact with the traditional financial system to create a new hybrid model:
- Users could conduct economic activity on public blockchains and exchange their new wealth into the centralized system.
- Users could hedge against systemic risk by diversifying their wealth holdings in both the central and decentralized system.
Like the internet with knowledge, decentralized finance could help democratize the financial system.
But will we allow it?
Mapped: Cryptocurrency Regulations Around the World
Cryptocurrency regulations are essential for the future of digital finance, making it more attractive for businesses, banks, and investors worldwide.
Mapped: Cryptocurrency Regulations Around the World
Following the unprecedented cryptocurrency boom in 2017, investors and governments alike could no longer ignore the growth of decentralized finance.
The world has become increasingly fascinated with cryptocurrencies and the ways they are enabling greater access, such as being able to send funds to remote places or securing capital for small businesses.
To aid this, cryptocurrency regulations are being slowly introduced into global financial markets. Regulations help to monitor these emerging digital currencies, and to allow for clearer guidelines and a measure of security.
The Regulatory Landscape
Today’s graphic from ComplyAdvantage maps out major regulatory cryptocurrency and exchange landscapes around the world, showing how sentiments towards digital currencies are evolving.
To do this, ComplyAdvantage measured cryptocurrency regulatory environments using their own Light-to-Tight scale, based on the following criteria:
- Cryptocurrencies and exchanges status? (Ban = 3 points, Regulated = 2 points, Grey Area = 1 point)
- Cryptocurrency considered legal tender? (Yes = 1 point, No = 0 points)
- Planned legislation to increase crypto regulation? (Yes = 1 point, No = 0 points)
Which jurisdictions have the strictest and most relaxed regulations for cryptocurrencies?
Regulations by Region
Global attitudes towards the rise of cryptocurrencies have shifted greatly over the past few years. While the term cryptocurrency is a bit of a misnomer, some countries do consider digital currencies legal tender, with many viewing cryptocurrencies as commodities.
Below is a table of the major countries that are pursuing cryptocurrency regulations:
|Country||Cryptocurrencies||Exchanges||Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)|
|Australia||Legal; treated as property||Legal, must register with AUSTRAC||Regulated|
|Switzerland||Legal; generally accepted as payment||Legal, regulated by SFTA||Regulated|
|Malta||Not legal tender||Legal, regulated under the VFA Act||Regulated|
|Estonia||Not legal tender||Legal, must register with the Financial Intelligence Unit||Regulated|
|Gibraltar||Not legal tender||Legal, must register with the GFSC||Regulated|
|Luxembourg||Not legal tender||Legal, must register with the CSSF||Regulated|
|Canada||Not legal tender; some retailers accept as payment||Legal, regulation varies by province; final federal regulations expected late 2019||Regulated|
|Mexico||Legal, accepted as payment in some contexts||Grey area; first crypto exchange in opened mid 2019||Regulated|
|Lithuania||Not legal tender||Legal, must register with the Lithuanian Finance Ministry||Grey area|
|United States||Not legal tender; some retailers accept as payment||Legal, regulation varies by state; SEC expected to publish updated crypto regulations late 2019||Grey area|
|UK||Not legal tender; considered assets||Legal, registration requirements with FCA||Grey area|
|Russia||Not legal tender||Grey area; regulations to be determined by the end of 2019||Grey area|
|Japan||Legal; treated as property||Legal, must register with the Financial Services Agency||Grey area|
|Nigeria||Legal||Grey area; regulations upcoming from Central Bank of Nigeria||Grey area|
|Singapore||Not legal tender||Legal, no registration required||Grey area|
|South Korea||Not legal tender||Legal and regulated, must register with FSS||Banned|
|India||Not legal tender; digital rupee may be in the works||Effectively illegal, but global and federal regulations being considered||Banned|
|China||Bitcoin considered property; all other cryptocurrencies banned||Illegal, but a global regulatory framework being considered||Banned|
Japan has one of the most progressive regulatory climates for cryptocurrencies, widely considering bitcoin as legal tender and passing a law in mid-2017 recognizing cryptocurrencies as legal property. In late 2018, Japan also approved self-regulation for the crypto industry.
By contrast, China currently has one of the most restrictive environments in the world for cryptocurrency. China banned bitcoin transactions in 2013, as well as ICOs and crypto exchanges in 2017─though many have found workarounds through sites not yet firewalled.
Cryptocurrency and exchange regulations in the EU are determined by individual member states, and are considered legal across the bloc.
Digital currency offers great promise, through its ability to reach people and businesses in remote and marginalized regions.
—Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of IMF
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Switzerland has one of the most open climates for cryptocurrencies and exchanges in Europe. In 2016, the city of Zug, known as “Crypto Valley”, started accepting bitcoin as payment for city fees. Swiss Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann announced his goal in 2018 to make Switzerland the world’s first “crypto-nation”.
Both Canada and the U.S. take a similar approach to cryptocurrency legislation at the federal level, as both countries view cryptocurrencies as securities. However, provincial and state regulations differ widely in their taxation requirements of profits from crypto investments.
Regulations throughout Latin and South America run the full legislative spectrum.
- Bolivia: unilateral ban on cryptocurrencies and exchanges
- Ecuador: the first country to launch its own token; ban on all cryptocurrencies aside from its government-issued SDE token (Sistema de Dinero Electrónico = electronic money system)
- Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile: cryptocurrencies widely accepted as payment
- Venezuela: cryptocurrencies widely accepted; this makes sense, considering the economic crisis and subsequent freefall of the bolívar
The Importance of Cryptocurrency Regulations
Cryptocurrency’s journey is the story of a technology rapidly outpacing the laws that govern it.
Governments around the world are keenly aware of this problem. Members of the G20 published a request in June 2019 for a global regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies to be implemented to better manage the benefits and challenges that cryptocurrencies bring.
Regulation for both cryptocurrencies and crypto exchanges is essential for the future of digital finance─bringing legitimacy to the digital financial market, and making it more attractive for new businesses, established banks, and investors worldwide to more easily conduct business within this emerging ecosystem.
Mapping the Major Bitcoin Forks
Bitcoin forks play a key role in Bitcoin’s evolution as a blockchain. While some have sparked controversy, most Bitcoin forks have been a sign of growth.
Mapping the Major Bitcoin Forks
The emergence of Bitcoin took the world by storm through its simplicity and innovation. Yet, plenty of confusion remains around the term itself.
The Bitcoin blockchain—not to be confused with the bitcoin cryptocurrency—involves a vast global network of computers operating on the same distributed database to process massive volumes of data every second.
These transactions tell the network how to alter this distributed database in real-time, which makes it crucial for everyone to agree on how these changes should be applied. When the community can’t come to a mutual agreement on what changes, or when such rule changes should take effect, it results in a blockchain fork.
Today’s unique subway-style map by Bitcoin Magazine shows the dramatic and major forks that have occurred for Bitcoin. But what exactly is a Blockchain fork?
Types of Blockchain Forks
Forks are common practice in the software industry and happen for one of two reasons:
- Split consensus within the community
These forks are generally disregarded by the community because they are temporary, except in extreme cases. The longer of the two chains is used to continue building the blockchain.
- Changes to the underlying rules of the blockchain
A permanent fork which requires an upgrade to the current software in order to continue participating in the network.
There are four major types of forks that can occur:
1. Soft Forks
Soft forks are like gradual software upgrades—bug fixes, security checks, and new features—for those that upgrade right away.
These forks are “backwards compatible” with the older software; users who haven’t upgraded still have access to the network but may not be able to use all functionality in the current version.
2. Hard Forks
Hard forks are like a new OS release—upgrading is mandatory to continue using the software. Because of this, hard forks aren’t compatible with older versions of the network.
Hard forks are a permanent division of the blockchain. As long as enough people support both chains, however, they will both continue to exist.
The three types of hard forks are:
Scheduled upgrades to the network, giving users a chance to prepare. These forks typically involve abandoning the old chain.
Caused by disagreements in the community, forming a new chain. This usually involves major changes to the code.
- Spin-off Coins
Changes to Bitcoin’s code that create new coins. Litecoin is an example of this—key changes included reducing mining time from 10 minutes to 2.5 minutes, and increasing the coin supply from 21 million to 84 million.
3. Codebase Forks
Codebase forks copy the Bitcoin code, allowing developers to make minor tweaks without having to develop the entire blockchain code from scratch. Codebase forks can create a new cryptocurrency or cause unintentional blockchain forks.
4. Blockchain Forks
Blockchain forks involve branching or splitting a blockchain’s whole transaction history. Outcomes range from “orphan” blocks to new cryptocurrencies.
Splitting off the Bitcoin network to form a new currency is much like a religious schism—while most of the characteristics and history are preserved, a fork causes the new network to develop a distinct identity.
Summarizing Major Bitcoin Forks
Descriptions of major forks that have occurred in the Bitcoin blockchain:
- Bitcoin / Bitcoin Core
The first iteration of Bitcoin was launched by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. Future generations of Bitcoin (aka Bitcoin 0.1.0) were renamed Bitcoin Core, or Bitcore, as other blockchains and codebases formed.
A codebase fork of Bitcoin. Developers released a hard fork protocol called Segwit2x, with the intention of having all Bitcoin users eventually migrate to the Segwit2x protocol. However, it failed to gain traction and is now considered defunct.
- Bitcoin ABC
Also a codebase fork of Bitcoin, Bitcoin ABC was intentionally designed to be incompatible with all Bitcoin iterations at some point. ABC branched off to form Bitcoin Cash in 2017.
- Bitcoin Gold, Bitcoin Diamond, Other Fork Coins
After the successful yet contentious launch of Bitcoin Cash, other fork coins began to emerge. Unlike the disagreement surrounding Bitcoin Cash, most were simply regarded as a way to create new coins.
Some of the above forks were largely driven by ideology (BTC1), some because of mixed consensus on which direction to take a hard fork (Bitcoin ABC), while others were mainly profit-driven (Bitcoin Clashic)—or a mix of all three.
Where’s the Next Fork in the Road?
Forks are considered an inevitability in the blockchain community. Many believe that forks help ensure that everyone involved—developers, miners, and investors—all have a say when disagreements occur.
Bitcoin has seen its fair share of ups and downs. Crypto investors should be aware that Bitcoin, as both a protocol and a currency, is complex and always evolving. Even among experts, there is disagreement on what constitutes a soft or hard fork, and how certain geopolitical events have played a role in Bitcoin’s evolution.
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