You can glimpse the opportunity for old-school finance here: More automated and transparent processes, with fewer middle-men, might save money and help avoid the kind of shenanigans that led to the collapse of financial services company Greensill Capital.
But the reality today is that even these DeFi projects still come with significant risks. Sift through the fine print and it’s clear that a lot of things could go wrong. The counterparty chain is complex – one offering, for instance, features an India-based entity, connected to a Delaware-based entity, connected to a pool of crypto assets managed by another entity.
There also appears to be limited legal recourse for investors, and little power over issuers, who earmark the proceeds for general funding of “business operations.” If something goes wrong with the algorithmic management of an event like a loan default, there don’t seem to be many answers.
The more bank-like the DeFi project, the more likely it is that bank-like rules, and costs, will follow. On top of regulation, regular banks – so-called “TradFi” – are wading in. French bank Societe Generale is proposing to refinance a tokenized portfolio of covered bonds by borrowing from a DeFi platform. It would be the first such move by a major lender, and a sign the financial sector would rather co-opt than be disrupted by crypto-anarchy.
Whether directly or indirectly, sheriffs are moving into town.
Now, to be sure, the cavalry is still playing catch-up, and the ingenuity of fraudsters is still very much on display; the philosophy driving today’s dabblers should remain “buyer beware.” This is the Wild West phase of DeFi after all, fintech consultant Peter Lugli says. “I wouldn’t bet the farm; maybe the sickly horse.”
In the meantime, the corporate world’s interest has been piqued. Even Facebook, which is in the regulatory spotlight, is chasing its own stablecoin ambitions with a pilot digital-payments project in the U.S. and Guatemala. Maybe the irony is that, in the future, those stuffy Metaverse offices envisioned by Mark Zuckerberg will end up being backed by metaverse money – half-real, half-virtual, but fully regulated.
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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the European Union and France.