The world is waking up to the impressive capabilities of the blockchain.
As a foundational technology that things can be “built on top” of, the potential applications of the blockchain go way beyond just payments or cryptocurrencies. In fact, the blockchain could revolutionize how we interact with intellectual property, capital markets, insurance, healthcare, government, and many other sectors.
Introducing Smart Contracts
In particular, an exciting enabler of blockchain technology is the concept of self-executing “smart contracts”.
Today’s infographic comes from Etherparty, a smart contract creation tool, and it helps provide a welcoming introduction to how smart contracts work on the blockchain.
Smart contracts are going to change everything from the legal industry to the backbone of the stock market.
Here’s how these self-executing contracts actually work.
The Anatomy of a Smart Contract
Smart contracts help you exchange money, property, shares, or anything of value in a transparent, conflict-free way while avoiding the services of a middleman. Built upon the blockchain, a smart contract is usually:
- Pre-written logic in the form of computer code
- Stored and replicated on the blockchain
- Executed and run by the network of computers running the blockchain
- Can result in updates to accounts on the ledger (i.e. payment for an executed contract)
Using the Ethereum platform, smart contracts can be programmed using basic logic. On the most basic level, they can:
- Perform calculations (i.e. calculating interest)
- Store information (i.e. membership records)
- Send transactions to other accounts (i.e. payment for a good or service)
But most importantly, it is important to know that smart contracts are autonomous. They are not controlled by anyone – instead, they self-execute based on a set of instructions that two parties have agreed to (ie. the code).
Benefits of Smart Contracts
Smart contracts are appealing for a variety of reasons:
- Autonomy: There is no need to rely on third parties, which could be biased or not have your interests at heart.
- Trust: Your documents are encrypted on a shared ledger, and all parties can have access to them.
- Redundancy: Documents are duplicated many times over on the blockchain, and can’t ever be “lost”.
- Safety: Documents are encrypted, making them near-impenetrable by hackers.
- Speed: These contracts automatically self-execute, saving you precious time.
- Savings: Smart contracts save you money by taking out the middleman.
- Precision: Smart contracts execute the exact code provided, ensuring zero errors.
- Transparency: For organizations like governments, they could add another level of transparency to dealings.
The blockchain is already a disruptive technology, and with these benefits – the potential behind smart contracts is another facet to be excited about.
Visualized: FTX’s Leaked Balance Sheet
As Sam Bankman-Fried’s crypto exchange FTX files for bankruptcy, this graphic visualizes FTX’s balance sheet leaked by the Financial Times.
Visualizing FTX’s Balance Sheet Before Bankruptcy
In a difficult year for the crypto space that has been full of hacks, failing funds, and decentralized stablecoins going to zero, nothing has compared to FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried’s (SBF) rapid implosion.
After an astronomical rise in the crypto space over the past three years, crypto exchange FTX and its founder and CEO SBF have come crashing back down to earth, largely unraveled by their misuse of customer funds and illicit relationship with trading firm Alameda Research.
This graphic visualizes FTX’s leaked balance sheet dated to November 10th, and published by the Financial Times on November 12th. The spreadsheet shows nearly $9 billion in liabilities and not nearly enough illiquid cryptocurrency assets to cover the hole.
How did FTX wind up in this position?
How FTX’s Bankruptcy Unfolded
FTX’s eventual bankruptcy was sparked by a report on November 2nd by CoinDesk citing Alameda Research’s balance sheet. The article reported Alameda’s assets to be $14.6 billion, including $3.66 billion worth of unlocked FTT and $2.16 billion of FTT collateral.
With more than one-third of Alameda’s assets tied up in FTX’s exchange token FTT (including loans backed by the token), eyebrows were raised among the crypto community.
Four days later on November 6th, Alameda Research’s CEO, Caroline Ellison, and Sam Bankman-Fried addressed the CoinDesk story as unfounded rumors. However, on the same day, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao (CZ) announced that Binance had decided to liquidate all remaining FTT on their books, kicking off a -7.6% decline in the FTT token on the day.
Back and Forth with Binance’s CZ
While Ellison publicly offered to buy CZ’s FTT directly “over the counter” to avoid further price declines and SBF claimed in a now-deleted tweet that “FTX is fine. Assets are fine.”, FTX users were withdrawing their funds from the exchange.
The next day, the acquisition fell apart as Binance cited corporate due diligence, leaving SBF to face a multi-directional liquidity crunch of users withdrawing funds and rapidly declining token prices that made up large amounts of FTX and Alameda’s assets and collateral for loans.
FTX’s Liabilities and Largely Illiquid Assets
In the final days before declaring bankruptcy, FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried attempted a final fundraising in order restore stability while billions in user funds were being withdrawn from his exchange.
The balance sheet he sent around to prospective investors was leaked by the Financial Times, and reveals the exchange had nearly $9 billion in liabilities while only having just over $1 billion in liquid assets. Alongside the liquid assets were $5.4 billion in assets labeled as “less liquid” and $3.2 billion labeled as “illiquid”.
When examining the assets listed, FTX’s accounting appears to be poorly done at best, and fraudulently deceptive at worst.
Of those “less liquid” assets, many of the largest sums were in assets like FTX’s own exchange token and cryptocurrencies of the Solana ecosystem, which were heavily supported by FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried. On top of this, for many of these coins the liquidity simply wouldn’t have been there if FTX had attempted to redeem these cryptocurrencies for U.S. dollars or stablecoin equivalents.
While the liquid and less liquid assets on the balance sheet amounted to $6.3 billion (still not enough to equal the $8.9 billion in liabilities), many of these “less liquid” assets may as well have been completely illiquid.
Relationship with Alameda Research
When looking at FTX’s financials in isolation, it’s impossible to understand how one of crypto’s largest exchanges ended up with such a lopsided and illiquid balance sheet. Many of the still unfolding details lie in the exchange’s relationship with SBF’s previous venture that he founded, trading firm Alameda Research.
Founded by SBF in 2017, Alameda Research primarily operated as a delta-neutral (a term that describes trading strategies like market making and arbitrage that attempt to avoid taking directional risk) trading firm. In the summer of 2021, SBF stepped down from Alameda Research to focus on FTX, however his influence and connection with the firm was still deeply ingrained.
A report from the Wall Street Journal cites how Alameda was able to amass crypto tokens ahead of their announced public FTX listings, which were often catalysts in price surges. Alongside this, a Reuters story has revealed how SBF secretly moved $10 billion in funds to Alameda, using a bookkeeping “back door” to avoid internal scrutiny at FTX.
While SBF responded to the Reuters story by saying they “had confusing internal labeling and misread it,” there are few doubts that this murky relationship between Alameda Research and FTX was a fatal one for the former billionaire’s empire.
Visualized: The State of Central Bank Digital Currencies
Central bank digital currencies are coming, but progress varies greatly from country to country. View the infographic to learn more.
Visualized: The State of Central Bank Digital Currencies
Central banks around the world are getting involved in digital currencies, but some are further ahead than others.
In this map, we used data from the Atlantic Council’s Currency Tracker to visualize the state of each central banks’ digital currency effort.
Digital Currency – The Basics
Digital currencies have been around since the 1980s, but didn’t become widely popular until the launch of Bitcoin in 2009. Today, there are thousands of digital currencies in existence, also referred to as “cryptocurrencies”.
A defining feature of cryptocurrencies is that they are based on a blockchain ledger. Blockchains can be either decentralized or centralized, but the most known cryptocurrencies today (Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.) tend to be decentralized in nature. This makes transfers and payments very difficult to trace because there is no single entity with full control.
Government-issued digital currencies, on the other hand, will be controlled by a central bank and are likely to be easily trackable. They would have the same value as the local cash currency, but instead issued digitally with no physical form.
Central Bank Digital Currencies Worldwide
105 countries are currently exploring centralized digital currencies. Together, they represent 95% of global GDP. The table below lists the data used in the infographic.
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Launched||Retail|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Launched||Retail|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Launched||Retail|
|United Arab Emirates||Pilot||Wholesale|
|Trinidad andd Tobago||Research||Undecided|
When aggregated, we can see that the majority of countries are in the research stage.
We’ve also divided the map by region to make viewing easier.
What are the Benefits?
A major benefit of government-issued digital currencies is that they can improve access for underbanked people.
This is not a huge issue in developed countries like the U.S., but many people in developing nations have no access to banks and other financial services (hence the term underbanked). As the number of internet users continues to climb, digital currencies represent a sound solution.
To learn more about this topic, visit this article from Global Finance, which lists the world’s most underbanked countries in 2021.
Just 9% of countries have launched a digital currency to date.
This includes Nigeria, which became the first African country to do so in October 2021. Half of the country’s 200 million population is believed to have no access to bank accounts.
Adoption of the eNaira (the digital version of the naira) has so far been relatively sluggish. The eNaira app has accumulated 700,000 downloads as of April 2022. That’s equal to 0.35% of the population, though not all of the downloads are users in Nigeria.
Conversely, 33.4 million Nigerians were reported to be trading or owning crypto assets, despite the Central Bank of Nigeria’s attempts to restrict usage.
Status in the U.S.
America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, has not decided on whether it will implement a central bank digital currency (CBDC).
Our key focus is on whether and how a CBDC could improve on an already safe and efficient U.S. domestic payments system.
– Federal Reserve
To learn more, check out the Federal Reserve’s January 2022 paper on the pros and cons of CBDCs.
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