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Decentralized Finance: An Emerging Alternative to the Global Financial System

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Decentralized Finance: An Emerging Alternative to the Global Financial System

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?

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Where Will the Next Billion Internet Users Come From?

When it comes to worldwide internet use, which regions are the most disconnected? And which regions have the most opportunity for growth?

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Where Will the Next Billion Internet Users Come From?

Internet adoption has steadily increased over the years—it’s more than doubled since 2010.

Despite its widespread use, a significant portion of the global population still isn’t connected to the internet, and in certain areas of the world, the number of disconnected people skews towards higher percentages.

Using information from DataReportal, this visual highlights which regions have the greatest number of people disconnected from the web. We’ll also dive into why some regions have low numbers, and take a look at which countries have seen the most growth in the last year.

Top 10 Most Disconnected, by Number of People

The majority of countries with lower rates of internet access are in Asia and Africa. Here’s a look at the top 10 countries with the highest numbers of people not connected to the web:

RankCountry / TerritoryUnconnected People% of Population
1India685,591,07150%
2China582,063,73341%
3Pakistan142,347,73565%
4Nigeria118,059,92558%
5Bangladesh97,427,35259%
6Indonesia96,709,22636%
7Ethiopia92,385,72881%
8Democratic Republic of Congo71,823,31981%
9Brazil61,423,29529%
10Egypt46,626,17046%

*Note: Rankings only include countries/territories with populations over 50,000.

Interestingly, India has the lowest levels of connectivity despite having the second largest online market in the world. That being said, 50% of the country’s population still doesn’t have internet access—for reference, only 14% of the U.S. population remains disconnected to the web. Clearly, India has some untapped potential.

China takes second place, with over 582 million people not connected to the internet. This is partly because of the country’s significant rural population—in 2019, 39% of the country’s population was living in rural areas.

The gap in internet access between rural and urban China is significant. This was made apparent during China’s recent switch to online learning in response to the pandemic. While one-third of elementary school children living in rural areas weren’t able to access their online classes, only 5.7% of city dwellers weren’t able to log on.

It’s important to note that the rural-urban divide is an issue in many countries, not just China. Even places like the U.S. struggle to provide internet access to remote or rugged rural areas.

Top 10 Most Disconnected, by Share of Population

While India, China, and Pakistan have the highest number of people without internet access, there are countries arguably more disconnected.

Here’s a look at the top 10 most disconnected countries, by share of population:

RankCountry / Territory% of PopulationUnconnected People
1North Korea100%25,722,103
2South Sudan92%10,240,199
3Eritrea92%3,228,429
4Burundi90%10,556,111
5Somalia90%14,042,139
6Niger88%20,977,412
7Papua New Guinea88%7,761,628
8Liberia88%4,372,916
9Guinea-Bissau87%1,694,458
10Central African Republic86%4,132,006

There are various reasons why these regions have a high percentage of people not online—some are political, which is the case of North Korea, where only a select few people can access the wider web. Regular citizens are restricted from using the global internet but have access to a domestic intranet called Kwangmyong.

Other reasons are financial, which is the case in South Sudan. The country has struggled with civil conflict and economic hardship for years, which has caused widespread poverty throughout the nation. It’s also stifled infrastructural development—only 2% of the country has access to electricity as of 2020, which explains why so few people have access to the web.

In the case of Papua New Guinea, a massive rural population is likely the reason behind its low percentage of internet users—80% of the population lives in rural areas, with little to no connections to modern life.

Fastest Growing Regions

While internet advancements like 5G are happening in certain regions, and showing no signs of slowing down, there’s still a long way to go before we reach global connectivity.

Despite the long road ahead, the gap is closing, and previously untapped markets are seeing significant growth. Here’s a look at the top five fast-growing regions:

RankRegionChange in internet use (From 2019 to 2020)
1Central Africa+40%
2Southern Asia+20%
3Northern Africa+14%
4Western Asia+11%
5Caribbean+9%

Africa has seen significant growth, mainly because of a massive spike of internet users in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—between 2019 and 2020, the country’s number of internet users increased by 9 million (+122%). This growth has been facilitated by non-profit organizations and companies like Facebook, which have invested heavily in the development of Africa’s internet connectivity.

India has also seen significant growth—between 2019 and 2020, the number of internet users in the country grew by 128 million (+23%).

If these countries continue to grow at similar rates, who knows what the breakdown of internet users will look like in the next few years?

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The World’s Tech Giants, Ranked by Brand Value

Tech giants and e-commerce brands are thriving—and running circles around less pandemic-proof brands.

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The World’s Tech Giants, Ranked by Brand Value

The pandemic has businesses everywhere on the ropes, with many firms filing for bankruptcy since lockdowns began. Despite the uncertainty, tech giants and major digital retail brands are still thriving—and some are running circles around those that are less pandemic-proof.

Using data from Kantar and Bloomberg, a recent brand report released by BrandZ shows which tech companies are proving their worth to consumers during COVID-19 chaos. With data covering almost 4 million consumers, BrandZ also reveals that the tech sector leads the world’s 100 most valued brands in terms of financial power and consumer sentiment.

Here’s how the top 20 tech brands from the report stack up:

RankCompanyBrand Value (2020)Change (%)
#1🇺🇸 Apple$352 billion+14%
#2🇺🇸 Microsoft$327 billion+30%
#3🇺🇸 Google$324 billion+5%
#4🇨🇳 Tencent$151 billion+15%
#5🇺🇸 Facebook$147 billion-7%
#6🇺🇸 IBM$84 billion-3%
#7🇩🇪 SAP$58 billion0%
#8🇺🇸 Instagram$42 billion+47%
#9🇺🇸 Accenture$41 billion+6%
#10🇺🇸 Intel$37 billion+17%
#11🇺🇸 Adobe$36 billion+29%
#12🇰🇷 Samsung$33 billion+7%
#13🇺🇸 Salesforce$30 billion+13%
#14🇺🇸 LinkedIn$30 billion+31%
#15🇨🇳 Huawei$29 billion+9%
#16🇺🇸 Oracle$27 billion+2%
#17🇺🇸 Cisco$26 billion-9%
#18🇺🇸 Dell$18 billion-2%
#19🇨🇳 Xiaomi$17 billion-16%
#20🇨🇳 Baidu$15 billion-29%

Out of the top five tech brands, Microsoft made the biggest moves with 30% brand value growth. Other big movers in the top 20 were Instagram (owned by Facebook), Adobe, and LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft), rising 47%, 29%, and 31%, respectively.

Broken down by nation, U.S. brands are dominating tech’s heavy hitters, claiming 14 of the world’s top 20 tech brands. Chinese brands round out much of the remaining top 20, including tech entertainment and social media giant Tencent, which rose 15% in brand value since 2019.

Big Tech’s Heavyweights

Tech’s top brands are raking in billions of dollars, capturing consumer mindshare, captivating people, and comforting them during volatile months. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Tencent, and Facebook—tech’s leading contingent—have made those moves look easy during what are rough times for many world brands. 

While most tech brands in the upper half of the top 20 saw significant increases in brand value, only Facebook and IBM were in decline from 2019, at -7% and -3% respectively. The biggest loss in tech’s top 20 came from China’s Baidu, which fell by -29% in 2020.

Waning consumer trust, thanks in part to the perceived misuse of personal data, is a gap that tech’s popularity alone won’t fill forever. (Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, nearly 25% of Facebook account holders reported being “extremely” or “very” concerned about their personal data.)

Pandemic-Proof Applications

Coming in at eighth place, Facebook-owned Instagram gained 47% in brand value—a huge percentage, but less than the whopping 95% growth it had in 2019.

On the whole, digital apps have been faring well during the pandemic, especially those built for entertainment, shopping, social connection, and delivery.

These brands had anticipated, even invented, the online-offline dynamics of modern life that became indispensable for survival during the lockdown homebound weeks of avoiding the contagion. 

— BrandZ 2020 Global Top 100 Report

Top Brands, by Category

While the brand value growth rates of tech giants aren’t entirely immune to the effects of COVID-19, the likes of Apple, Microsoft, and Google are growing steadily, surpassed only by e-commerce leader Amazon. 

With data collected into April 2020, BrandZ’s report on the world’s top 100 brands reflects multiple shifting needs and consumer concerns at a categorical scale. 

While consumer affinity for e-commerce and social media brands has increased, fast food and beer brands took a hit, despite reports of increased alcohol consumption and food delivery during lockdown. It would seem then, that consumers have been valuing their tools and means of consumption.

Of the report’s 14 brand categories, only six increased in value, mostly by less than 5%. Of the top risers, six were tech brands and six were mainly e-commerce. 

Other upwardly mobile brands were those in the apparel and personal care categories. Much like retail, those categories had an increasing reliance on technology to deliver their products. 

The above chart shows overall categorical changes for 2020 led by retail, tech, and insurance. In the opposite corner, energy, and bank brands took the biggest hits.

Rolling with the Punches

The economic impacts of COVID-19 are undeniable. Even still, BrandZ’s top 100 brands marked a steady increase of 6% in value in 2020, compared to 7% the previous year.

This pandemic has offered up era-defining change, with tech and e-commerce seizing the day. But in a climate where nothing can be taken for granted, brands large and small are still taking their knocks.

For now, the brands that are embraced by consumers will be those that can apply a salve to the blows that 2020 keeps delivering. 

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