Decentralized finance, or DeFi, is a cryptocurrency use case that has recently been attracting significant attention. DeFi refers to financial services using smart contracts, which automatically execute transactions if certain conditions are met.
Smart contracts are automated enforceable agreements that do not need intermediaries, such as banks or lawyers, and use online blockchain timestamping as proof of authority instead.
The beauty of a smart contract is that it can hold value, for instance by holding ETH or an ERC20 token, without the need to enforce the agreement, because it proceeds automatically when the pre-set conditions are met.
These contracts were first introduced as “Ricardian Contracts'' in 1994 by Nick Szabo, a computer scientist, legal scholar, and cryptographer. DeFi draws inspiration from blockchain, the technology behind the Bitcoin digital currency, and allows several entities to permissionless-ly hold a copy of a history of transactions, meaning it is not controlled by a single, central source.
Between September 2017 and September 2020, the total value locked up in DeFi contracts has grown significantly, from $2.1 million to $6.9 billion (£1.6 million to £5.3 billion). Since the beginning of August 2020 alone, its rise has grown even faster, and as of April 2021, it stands above $45 billion.
DeFi has grown in the last five years from a dwarf to a giant. Uniswap, the decentralized exchange that currently has the largest trading volume, collected billions of dollars in trading fees in 2020-2021.
These fees partially act as rewards for users participating in liquidity provider pools, which “feed the MetaMask fox”, but mostly, the fees head straight back to the Ethereum network.
The fees on the Ethereum network are based on gas price and gas limit, meaning that the fees on Uniswap and other Ethereum-based exchanges increase with the usage of Ethereum itself. A simple token swap on Uniswap can cost hundreds of dollars in gas fees, making it unsuitable for small traders.
High fees result from 80% of all transactions made on Uniswap being performed by arbitrage bots. They don't mind paying $80-220 to make an instant profit of $400-1000, so they are coded to pay the gas, which drives up the fees. It is expected that this will end soon due to Ethereum starting a new deflationary wave in an attempt to alleviate the problem.
If all goes well, the gas prices will, most likely, return back to the range of 10-20 GWEI units for a single transaction. Nevertheless, even this amount is too high for many potential DeFi traders.
DeFi utilizes stablecoins, which are cryptocurrencies pegged to an asset outside of cryptocurrency. The purpose of this is to stabilize the price of original assets. The US dollar, DAI, and USDT (Tether) are the most common examples, reflecting the historical dominance of the Dollar in the global economy.
DeFi applications are currently widely spread across a field of cryptocurrencies, and cryptocurrency users can use them through Decentralized exchanges (DEXs). There, traders interact with supply and demand created directly by other users, but not using assets that belong to a Centralized exchange providing custodial services.
On top of that, in truly decentralized exchanges, the traders are 100% responsible for their assets and for managing and storing their private keys, which are thus the keys to their assets. DeFi users that manage their keys or credentials are part of a group called Self-sovereign identities (SSI).
SSI describes a digital movement that recognizes the needs of individuals to have complete control over their identity without the intervening administrative authorities.
This also means that the DEX has no power over your assets and, while the exchange could be attacked, your assets remain safe, since they were never deployed in the DEX application and remain still in the user's wallet.
Decentralized lending platforms use smart contracts to replace intermediaries such as banks, who act as counterparty. These platforms can apply other blockchain capabilities such as tokenization, where, for instance, a house is tokenized to a non-fungible token (NFT) and used as collateral to borrow cryptocurrencies.
The information is stored in the smart contract in the form of a Decentralized identifier, which proves that the house can actually be claimed by the owner of the NFT. The obtained cryptocurrencies can then be used for Bitcoin purchases, and the purchased Bitcoin can be lent for a fee or used to purchase another Bitcoin.
DeFi also provides prediction markets. These are markets focused on betting or lottery winning, where a user can bet on an outcome of an event or contribute their funds to a common pool to be eligible to win a prize (PoolTogether).
With cryptocurrencies, there are no restrictions related to wealth, social status, or religion; almost everyone can permissionless-ly and pseudonymously access and use DeFi applications.
This is an advantage for those who cannot access traditional financial services because of the lack of formal documentation or the absence of such services in their country. Also, the current conditions and rate of annual percentage yield (APY) attract various investors to DeFi ecosystems every day.
With the proper solutions that help meet the regulation in mutually accepted settlements, it will be possible for DeFi to thrive moving forward, slowly becoming the financial investment choice of the future. Why? Because even though most current DeFi projects could be considered volatile, they still provide a prospect of high returns.
Additionally, from the current perspective of the law, DeFi is a non-custodial system that does not take possession of your money and does not transmit any, either. As such, the system is not regulated in the same way as financial institutions.
Long story short, it's Bitcoin-based. Or, more precisely, it's a Bitcoin supported by the Ethereum-based smart contract language, Solidity.
You could stop reading now, but since the most valuable content of this article is yet to come, bear with me.
Many IT, blockchain, and cryptographic experts consider Bitcoin the greatest contribution to blockchain technology of all time. Like an insignia of liberty, it creates a borderless opportunity for anybody to join the technological and financial revolution.
It has the power to define the overall trend of all other cryptocurrencies, and also a strong narrative that inspires thousands of people every day. Vitalik Buterin - the Father and co-founder of Ethereum - was no exception.
Vitalik Buterin, in his pre-Ethereum days, was using his blockchain expertise as a tech journalist, contributing to various magazines and publications, including Bitcoin Magazine.
Back then, he mostly wrote about Bitcoin: what was possible to achieve with Bitcoin, and where its limitations were. For his work, he was paid in BTC, and if he had kept this BTC till now, it would be the highest paycheck ever paid to a blogger.
Vitalik spotted the limitations BTC had back in 2012/2013, and together with Gavin Wood (who later engineered Polkadot), launched Ethereum to bring “composability” (scripting) to the blockchain. While Bitcoin was created as an alternative to national currencies and thus aspires to be a medium of exchange and a store of value, Ethereum was intended as a platform to facilitate immutable, programmatic contracts, and applications utilizing its own, separate cryptocurrency.
That is how blockchain mania really started. People had an opportunity to build something on a blockchain and use it in everyday life. Was it better, cheaper, or faster? Sometimes yes.
The “unfortunate idea” (according to Buterin himself) to put everything on the blockchain instead of keeping things off-chain - such as when two parties were in conflict, or for keeping the data integrity immutable - led to many scalability problems.
The second problem that the Ethereum network has at the moment is outgrowing itself. The high amount of users and decentralized applications creates the demand for transactions made on the ETH network.
Even with a recent (May 2021) protocol that helped to decrease transaction fees from being insanely high, Ethereum is still too expensive for regular people who want to share something or help each other using transactions of small value.
This also destroys the idea of “airdrops”, the cryptocurrency a user can obtain randomly by chance, or by fulfilling a set of criteria. However, the transaction fees connected with swapping airdrops effectively delete their value completely.
As of April 2021 on Uniswap, the most popular Ethereum based DeFi exchange, a user needs to pay:
This is not Uniswap’s fault. On one hand, Ethereum is a work of genius. An incubator for great ideas and a laboratory for experiments that surpass and expand what's technologically possible. On the other hand, Ethereum turned from a hyper-inclusive idea into a hyper-exclusive blockchain for the wealthy.
Imagine a Bitcoin DeFi platform that adopts all the new features and adapts brand new technologies that have successfully landed on Ethereum. But how could Bitcoin do that?
The answer is: By using Bitcoin and its native side-chains, similar to plug-ins that extend the abilities of a piece of software without the need to change its core, such as the RootKit (RSK) blockchain.
The Bitcoin-based solution would provide a DeFi user with the power to trade, make money, interact with the platform, and not get ruined on GWEI fees. In a Bitcoin-based solution like this, as little as 0.0001 BTC in your wallet would give you the freedom of making multiple transactions out of your wallet.
At the time of writing this article, the amount of 0.0001 BTC is worth 5.56 USD. And yes, this reminds me of Ethereum back in 2017 when a tiny bit of ETH stored in a wallet would cover transaction fees for a few months even in heavy traffic.
The Bitcoin solution for DeFi that I am about to describe needs to face three Bitcoin paradoxes that the BTC currently has.
1) Until late 2020, DeFi platforms for Bitcoin were not widely accepted. Bitcoin holders and supporters could not operate in a safe, user-friendly way with their Bitcoin while staying on the Bitcoin blockchain. Ironically, with Bitcoin, you have an amazing decentralized financial instrument, but every time you want to use it, you have to go into a centralized service.
These centralized services are not good enough anymore.
2) Even though Bitcoin has the most extensive liquidity pool of all cryptocurrencies, 90% of this liquidity is not connected to DeFi. All this Bitcoin sits in centralized exchanges or cold wallets. Bitcoin is not losing its power against ETH; rather the use of BTC we currently experience is just the tip of an iceberg that will be revealed with a proper DeFi solution that utilizes the power of other Bitcoin sidechains. There, people will be able to earn profits on their assets by providing liquidity, staking, or just lending their BTC to other users. And all this for very low fees.
3) The Ethereum network dominates DeFi. The desire to use Bitcoin in DeFi resulted in BTC being wrapped in Ethereum-native ERC-20 tokens to become a part of the DeFi scheme. As a result, BTC is, awkwardly, executed on the Ethereum network and in Ethereum smart contracts. Thus, "wrapped" bitcoins (WBTC) as a way of Bitcoin participation in Ethereum's DeFi system create a significantly higher transaction rate than the Bitcoin-native Lightning network.
Don't worry! The solution is on it's way.
The answers are pretty simple.
A person can be free if, and only if, they have the power to make a choice about their future and if they have freedom over their assets. That, after all, was the reason why Bitcoin was invented in the first place. The current DeFi state, in which - due to the fees - people are reluctant to use blockchain for anything except trading, is unbearable and screams for a solution. A solution that will turn those fees back to “I know about them and I’m okay with them”, instead of “I’m so frustrated I need to vent about this to my friends over a beer”.
Another thing to consider is the indomitable spirit of Bitcoin. In Bitcoin, there is no CEO, CTO, CMO, or an owner. It is a technology created by the people for the people. It was conceived by an anonymous author (“Satoshi Nakamoto”), who chose obscurity over glory and let the technology evolve in an open-source environment with 21 million of Satoshi spread out there for anybody to reach; to be stored, shared, and used to forever change their owners’ lives. Bitcoin is a reformation and revolution for financial freedom, dressed up as a "get rich quick" scheme, which sparked the fire and creates momentum. There are high hopes for the future of BTC - from those who believe in the idea of it, as well as those who have already profited from it.
As the “mother of all chains”, Bitcoin is the power behind all cryptocurrency markets. When Bitcoin rises, everything else prospers as well. When Bitcoin surges down, it drags everything down with it. It draws the attention of big governments and lures the biggest investors of all time. It is an unkillable, uncensorable, unstoppable element, which even has a web page dedicated to recording how many times in Bitcoin history people called it a bubble and an officially dead technology leading nowhere. It is an open-source digital splendor that motivated Vitalik Buterin to create Ethereum, and Bitcoin’s platform enables it to embrace all these other technologies created across all the other chains.
Everything that runs on Bitcoin is secured by its Proof of Work (PoW) consensus that has no match on the security-level playfield. People can argue that that's the price this world pays for having a Bitcoin network, which is so expensive to maintain and consumes so much energy.
However, think for a moment about all those skyscrapers and large office buildings in which the banks or financial institutions reside. How much energy do they consume? What was the carbon footprint of their construction? How much energy is needed to simply heat these buildings on a chilly day? Is, then, the Bitcoin PoW consensus really a problem for Greenpeace? The current Bitcoin carbon footprint cause by mining, where a lot of the consumed electricity is supplied by coal power plans, is not a fault of Bitcoin. Suppose a world consensus would agree to the use of atomic power over coal consumption, and all the countries got inspired by pioneers of the "coal-independent" movement, such as Iceland.
In that case, nobody could blame Bitcoin for being hungry for electricity.
In Iceland, about 85% of the total primary energy supply is derived from domestically produced renewable energy sources. This is a clear example of such a demonstration of the needed human thinking amelioration that would set the whole planet for humongous prosperity. Also, thank you, Mr. Musk for the proposed solution for decarbonized Bitcoin mining by utilizing solar energy (or at least for trying to piece together bread crumbs), which could be accumulated and sold to Bitcoin miners, thus reducing the Bitcoin carbon footprint in the future.
In the history of mankind, there has never been a technology like Bitcoin: at once so empowering for individuals and so completely non-violent. If you worry about its electricity consumption, I seriously question your priorities. - Edan Yago
Then, if we will go back to ETH DeFi, does this sound like a story in which Bitcoin is copy-pasting Ethereum? Not at all. It simply takes back what was borrowed and earns the interest from being the first of its kind - an interest in the form of mutual exchange of technologies. Without Bitcoin, there would be no Ethereum. Without Ethereum, Bitcoin wouldn't be as powerful as it is. In addition, the current narrative that BTC and ETH are competitors is not true, even if some people believe so. Ethereum, thought to be the mother of DeFi, when isolated without the influence of Bitcoin loses its power, and the same goes for Bitcoin.
Ethereum demonstrated concepts that could be decentralized and applied to monetary and financial layers built on Bitcoin and provided to a user through a Bitcoin-native platform. This platform, instead of wrapping BTC into an ERC-20 on a different chain, would do this in a Bitcoin-native way, using a decentralized application, so users would never have to use a centralized exchange again. After all, why should we use wrapped BTC on Ethereum DeFi and pay high fees in ETH when a Bitcoin can run on Bitcoin blockchain DeFi where a user would pay a fraction of today's fees in Satoshi?
Ethereum Average Transaction Fee measures the average fee in USD when an Ethereum transaction is processed by a miner and confirmed.
Tue May 11, 2021 - Ethereum Average Transaction Fee is at a current level of 51.21 USD, up from 28.04 yesterday and up from 0.3532 one year ago. This is a change of 82.62% from yesterday and 14.40K% from one year ago.
From the heavy use of wrapped BTC on the ETH network, the hunger for Bitcoin DeFi is almost palpable. What’s more, there is already a platform that overcomes all the above-mentioned blocks and unlocks the path to solve the Bitcoin paradoxes.
With Bitcoin-based DeFi, the finance world as we know it is about to change. And that change could completely unfold within the next 10 years.
Sovryn is a unique decentralized infrastructure powered by Bitcoin. It allows for Bitcoin to be used in its native ecosystem, in which sidechains are used as enhancers for the functionality of the main chain. This all without a need to change the main chain, but instead simply by adopting other blockchain technologies. The combination of Bitcoin and Sovryn DeFi creates what was missing on today’s internet: a homegrown economy based on scarcity and a decentralized, permissionless, borderless financial economic system.
Sovryn's Bitcoin-native protocol, already supported by users in 17 countries across the globe, advances financial sovereignty in a way that aligns with Satoshi Nakamoto's vision of a trustless, censorship-resistant, and peer-to-peer system of money. The founding team created the platform by expanding on proven technological advancements from Ethereum-based DeFi applications while improving on the known risk elements. The end result is a self-sustaining platform for trading, leveraging, and lending that runs on the Bitcoin-native RootStock `hodlers`, with incentives for long-term growth hard-coded in.
Every future movement is openly discussed on Sovryn’s social channels, then moved to the official Bitocracy forum, then moved to the Sovryn dApp governance reconciliation, where each staker has the right to vote for an aim of the future platform development. This process, in which the SOV tokens are used for an incentive-aligned protocol governance, is called Bitocracy. The more “skin in the game” a staker has, the more weight will be added to their votes. Stakers that help with building decentralization, which in turn improves security and helps to stabilize the price, are eligible to obtain rewards. Staking rewards are denominated in the tokens that platform fees are paid in. Sovryn stakers could end up receiving a variety of different tokens as staking rewards depending on what tokens users are paying their fees with.
Sovryn created a DeFi platform with an oracle-based, automated, decentralized token exchange that provides a spectrum of financial built-in primitives such as:
Most importantly Sovryn enables BTC `hodlers` to participate in DeFi while still remaining in full control of their assets without depositing BTC on a platform where they do not have full control over it. This is also the defining difference from exchanges like Bitstamp or Binance - that you are still in full control of your assets and private keys. When dealing with these exchanges, you need to deposit your asset first. However, with decentralized exchanges like Sovryn or Uniswap, you just connect the wallet with your holdings to the protocol, which acts as a portal to the world of exchanging money, but your asset still remains in your wallet.
It is a full-stack financial operating system that aims to connect the deep liquidity of Bitcoin with the tools and possibilities of the DeFi system. The full-stack financial operating system, which is interoperable with everything else but isn't reliant on trading, liquidity providing, market making, and lending mechanisms of other projects. Bitcoin acts as a reserve asset, which is combined with stable coins that act as the bridging asset to the rest of the fiat world.
Sovryn is a team-oriented, open-source protocol built on Bitcoin's layer 2 that allows you to start without any custodian and intermediary. The open-source way is a unique approach that invites people to join the community around the project and allows them to join and contribute in many ways.
It can act as the Bitcoin shard for Ethereum that provides a bridge, in the first phase, between two worlds that seem far away from each other right now, but they are bound by history and original purpose, and phase two in which they can be bonded together again.
It provides an application of competitive governance ideas that removes the domination of monopolies, which the bigger they grow, the less responsible towards people they get. This goes hand in hand with the introduction of competitive governance, which creates a higher element of responsiveness as a result of better governance accessible to everyone.
It operates on RSK, RootStock, which is a Bitcoin-native separate side chain, with smart contracts and faster and cheaper transactions than the BTC main chain. RSK is tied to Bitcoin in such a way that instead of being a completely separate chain, it is actually an extension or a second layer of Bitcoin.
RSK network uses:
Sovryn is the first DeFi protocol for Bitcoin using the RSK `hodlers` for its operation. However, it is possible for Sovryn to become its own `hodlers` in the future, while acting as a Bitcoin Layer 2 rollup. This will provide the needed scaling capacity and further decrease the fees and transaction times instead of increasing not only fees and transaction times, but also the number of fees paid for failing transactions, as the Ethereum - Uniswap combination did.
Rollup is a general approach to scaling open contracts which means contracts that everyone can see and interact with. In rollup, calls to the contract and their arguments are written on-chain as calldata, but the actual computation and storage of the contract are done off-chain.
Since Sovryn is built in the spirit of Bitcoin, you will see no fancy team pictures, only a GitHub repository with thousands of commits from contributors all over the world. You will see an engaged community that is hungry to get more feedback from the users and apply as many enhancements for user experience as possible.
In addition to the desire to connect the major cryptocurrency-oriented blockchains such as Etherum and Binance Smart Chain, Sovryn also innovates on the front of interacting with their community. In particular, Sovryn artists channel the Bitcoin narrative in a plethora of comics-like illustrations, spread all over the Sovryn universe.
Creative Director: tzu
Illustrator: Sun Wukong
DeFi on Bitcoin starts as a decentralized exchange, but the message behind it is stronger than that. In the future, we can witness a complete change in how regular people operate with their money and build their own financial independence.
Charitable donations to the poor are a humane necessity, and essential for short-term survival. In the long term, however, a different solution is needed. To illustrate, if you give a person in need several pounds of fish for free, they will eat well for a few days. However, if you teach them the skill to catch fish on their own, they can eat well as long as there are fish in the sea. On top of that, a lot of money sent to the poor with good intentions does not even fulfill its purpose, ending in the wrong hands anyway.
Many organizations that work for the "common good" are corrupt.
They take people's money, pay themselves huge salaries, and very little actually goes to the benefit of others.
On a related note, giving something away does not necessarily create incentives for people to change their lives and build their own wealth. Therefore, a more inclusive economy needs to be built with free-market economics in mind, for example in the form of micro-lending.
Micro-lending has become a very successful way of supporting the poor and goes in line with what Sovryn as a platform does. Making micro loans available with low interest, available to people from poor countries and with negligible balances in their accounts, that is what Sovryn stands for: Enabling people to create their own wealth.
Then the level of adoption. Hard to say what the milestone will be which leads to cryptocurrency total adoption, where people don't even realize that they are using it. But an example of a worker that is paid in Bitcoin could set a decent milestone.
A worker gets paid in a cryptocurrency of their choice, which can be:
Right now, payroll is still an obstacle that will take some time to overcome, but when a worker is paid in digital currency, they will spend digital currency, and that is the moment when the 'flippening' will truly begin. That will be the point in which you will be able to use cryptocurrency to get your wages paid and get rid of a bank.
Bitcoin is a way of introducing competitive governance around money.
It is a way for users to put more trust and responsibility towards themselves instead of pushing all the trust and money to a centralized exchange or third parties. These users, or early adopters, not only pave the way for later participants, but also help shape the future of the platform as a whole. The presence of early adopters is important since it creates the feedback needed to enhance the platform for the second wave of users, who could be less tech-savvy but more idealistically oriented. It is true that early adopters have to use imperfect GUI and a suboptimally documented process, but they are rewarded for their struggle in a way that makes the more play-it-safe later adopter green with envy. However, in the wider technology industry, it is not always the early adopters and first-comers who win the race. Historically, the second runners are the most successful ones, since they are those who followed, observed, and learned from the flaws and mistakes made by the pioneers. That is also where Bitcoin and projects around it can benefit from being able to adopt every part or new technology from any other chain, and bring them to Bitcoin in the form of a layer 2 permissionless side chain.
Ultimately, much like Saturn and its rings of celestial bodies, Bitcoin can play the part of the center of gravity in a universe built from technologically rich sidechains. These, in turn, can create an ecosystem that encircles the blockchain like a digital decentralized panoply that creates possibilities for independent economics. Even though many people still do not realize this, our generation has been provided with a special opportunity to participate in the most egalitarian redistribution of wealth that humankind has ever experienced. It is only up to you to seize the advantage of being alive in this century. You already have everything you need to participate, since the requirements for buying Bitcoin are identical to those for reading this article.
With DeFi powered by Bitcoin, you can use your BTC to its full potential and mitigate potential confiscation. Your assets are deposited in a trustless way, where the owner maintains all control, and everything happens on a platform that is as uncensorable as Bitcoin itself.
As a word of goodbye, don't be afraid of the volatility in the crypto market and buy when the assets are on sale, not when everybody wants to buy them. Each massive up-move has a correction, and each “bullish” cycle enters its consolidation phase and possible reversal, the same way as other markets have for the last 200 years.
Thank you so much to Jiří Herrmann for the style and language review.
About protocols discussed in this article:
Uniswap is a decentralized finance protocol that is used to exchange cryptocurrencies. Uniswap is also the name of the company that initially built the Uniswap protocol. The protocol facilitates automated transactions between cryptocurrency tokens on the Ethereum blockchain through the use of smart contracts. The protocol was initially built with unpaid work and an Ethereum foundation grant. Since April the work of Uniswap has been funded by Paradigm.
Ethereum is a decentralized, open-source blockchain with smart contract functionality. Ether (ETH) is the native cryptocurrency of the platform. It is the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, after Bitcoin. Ethereum is the most actively used blockchain. Ethereum is the community-run technology powering the cryptocurrency, ether (ETH) and thousands of decentralized applications.