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Decentralized Finance: On Blockchain- and Smart Contract-based Financial Markets

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Abstract and Figures

This paper explores the Decentralized Finance (DeFi) ecosystem. We examine how DeFi is emerging on top of the public Ethereum smart contract platform, compare it to the centralized architecture of traditional financial markets and highlight opportunities and potential risks of this ecosystem. We propose a multi-layered framework to analyze the implicit architecture and the various DeFi building blocks, including token standards, decentralized exchanges, decentralized debt markets, blockchain derivatives and on-chain asset management protocols. We conclude that DeFi still is a niche market with certain risks, but also has interesting properties in terms of efficiency, transparency, accessibility and interoperability. As such, it may potentially contribute to a more robust and transparent financial infrastructure. (JEL G15, G23, E59)
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Decentralized Finance: On Blockchain- and
Smart Contract-based Financial Markets
Fabian Schär
The term decentralized finance (DeFi) refers to an alternative financial
infrastructure built on top of the Ethereum blockchain. DeFi uses smart
contracts to create protocols that replicate existing financial services in a more
open, interoperable, and transparent way. This paper highlights opportunities
and potential risks of the DeFi ecosystem. I propose a multi-layered framework
to analyze the implicit architecture and the various DeFi building blocks,
including token standards, decentralized exchanges, decentralized debt markets,
blockchain derivatives, and on-chain asset management protocols. I conclude
that DeFi still is a niche market with certain risks but that it also has interesting
properties in terms of efficiency, transparency, accessibility, and composability.
As such, DeFi may potentially contribute to a more robust and transparent
financial infrastructure. (JEL G15, G23, E59)
First Version: 4. May 2020
This Version: 4. February 2021
Citation info:
This is the working paper. Please cite the journal versionavailable here.
Decentralized finance (DeFi) is a blockchain-based financial infrastructure that has
recently gained a lot of traction. The term generally refers to an open, permissionless, and
highly interoperable protocol stack built on public smart contract platforms, such as the
Ethereum blockchain (see Buterin, 2013). It replicates existing financial services in a more
open and transparent way. In particular, DeFi does not rely on intermediaries and
centralized institutions. Instead, it is based on open protocols and decentralized
applications (DApps). Agreements are enforced by code, transactions are executed in a
secure and verifiable way, and legitimate state changes persist on a public blockchain.
Thus, this architecture can create an immutable and highly interoperable financial system
with unprecedented transparency, equal access rights, and little need for custodians, central
clearing houses, or escrow services, as most of these roles can be assumed by "smart
DeFi already offers a wide variety of applications. For example, one can buy U.S.
dollar (USD)-pegged assets (so-called stablecoins) on decentralized exchanges, move
these assets to an equally decentralized lending platform to earn interest, and subsequently
add the interest-bearing instruments to a decentralized liquidity pool or an on-chain
investment fund.
The backbone of all DeFi protocols and applications is smart contracts. Smart
contracts generally refer to small applications stored on a blockchain and executed in
parallel by a large set of validators. In the context of public blockchains, the network is
designed so that each participant can be involved in and verify the correct execution of
any operation. As a result, smart contracts are somewhat inefficient compared with
traditional centralized computing. However, their advantage is a high level of security:
Smart contracts will always be executed as specified and allow anyone to verify the
resulting state changes independently. When implemented securely, smart contracts are
highly transparent and minimize the risk of manipulation and arbitrary intervention.
To understand the novelty of smart contracts, we first must look at regular server-
based web applications. When a user interacts with such an application, they cannot
observe the application's internal logic. Moreover, the user is not in control of the
execution environment. Either one (or both) could be manipulated. As a result, the user
has to trust the application service provider. Smart contracts mitigate both problems and
ensure that an application runs as expected. The contract code is stored on the underlying
blockchain and can therefore be publicly scrutinized. The contract's behavior is
deterministic, and function calls (in the form of transactions) are processed by thousands
of network participants in parallel, ensuring the execution's legitimacy. When the
execution leads to state changes, for example, the change of account balances, these
changes are subject to the blockchain network's consensus rules and will be reflected in
and protected by the blockchain's state tree.
Smart contracts have access to a rich instruction set and are therefore quite flexible.
Additionally, they can store cryptoassets and thereby assume the role of a custodian, with
entirely customizable criteria for how, when, and to whom these assets can be released.
This allows for a large variety of novel applications and flourishing ecosystems.
The original concept of a smart contract was coined by Szabo (1994). Szabo (1997)
used the example of a vending machine to describe the idea further and argued that many
agreements could be "embedded in the hardware and software we deal with, in such a way
as to make a breach of contract expensive…for the breacher." Buterin (2013) proposed a
decentralized blockchain-based smart contract platform to solve any trust issues regarding
the execution environment and to enable secure global states. Additionally, this platform
allows the contracts to interact with and build on top of each other (composability). The
concept was further formalized by Wood (2015) and implemented under the name
Ethereum. Although there are many alternatives, Ethereum is the largest smart contract
platform in terms of market cap, available applications, and development activity.
DeFi still is a niche market with relatively low volumes—however, these numbers are
growing rapidly. The value of funds that are locked in DeFi-related smart contracts
recently crossed 10 billion USD. It is essential to understand that these are not transaction
volume or market cap numbers; the value refers to reserves locked in smart contracts for
use in various ways that will be explained in the course of this paper. Figure 1 shows the
Ether (ETH, the native cryptoasset of Ethereum) and USD values of the assets locked in
DeFi applications.
Figure 1
Total Value Locked in DeFi Contracts (USD and ETH)
Data Source: DeFi Pulse
The spectacular growth of these assets alongside some truly innovative protocols
suggests that DeFi may become relevant in a much broader context and has sparked
interest among policymakers, researchers, and financial institutions. This article is targeted
at individuals from these organizations with an economics or legal background and serves
as a survey and an introduction to the topic. In particular, it identifies opportunities and
risks and should be seen as a foundation for further research.
DeFi uses a multi-layered architecture. Every layer has a distinct purpose. The layers
build on each other and create an open and highly composable infrastructure that allows
everyone to build on, rehash, or use other parts of the stack. It is also crucial to understand
that these layers are hierarchical: They are only as secure as the layers below. If, for
example, the blockchain in the settlement layer is compromised, all subsequent layers
would not be secure. Similarly, if we were to use a permissioned ledger as the foundation,
any decentralization efforts on subsequent layers would be ineffective.
This section proposes a conceptual framework for analyzing these layers and studying
the token and the protocol layers in greater detail.[1] It differentiates between five layers,
as shown in Figure 2: the settlement, asset, protocol, application, and aggregation layers.
1. The settlement layer (Layer 1) consists of the blockchain and its native protocol
asset (e.g., Bitcoin [BTC] on the Bitcoin blockchain and ETH on the Ethereum
blockchain). It allows the network to store ownership information securely and
ensures that any state changes adhere to its ruleset. The blockchain can be seen as
the foundation for trustless execution and serves as a settlement and dispute
resolution layer.
2. The asset layer (Layer 2) consists of all assets that are issued on top of the
settlement layer. This includes the native protocol asset as well as any additional
assets that are issued on this blockchain (usually referred to as tokens).
3. The protocol layer (Layer 3) provides standards for specific use cases such as
decentralized exchanges, debt markets, derivatives, and on-chain asset
management. These standards are usually implemented as a set of smart contracts
and can be accessed by any user (or DeFi application). As such, these protocols
are highly interoperable.
4. The application layer (Layer 4) creates user-oriented applications that connect to
individual protocols. The smart contract interaction is usually abstracted by a web
browser-based front end, making the protocols easier to use.
5. The aggregation layer (Layer 5) is an extension of the application layer.
Aggregators create user-centric platforms that connect to several applications and
protocols. They usually provide tools to compare and rate services, allow users to
perform otherwise complex tasks by connecting to several protocols
simultaneously, and combine relevant information in a clear and concise manner.
Figure 2
The DeFi Stack
Now that we understand the conceptual model, let us take a closer look at tokenization
and the protocol layer. After a short introduction to asset tokenization, we will investigate
decentralized exchange protocols, decentralized lending platforms, decentralized
derivatives, and on-chain asset management. This allows us to establish the foundation
needed for our analysis of the potential and risks of DeFi.[2]
2.1 Asset Tokenization
Public blockchains are databases that allow participants to establish a shared and
immutable record of ownershipa ledger. Usually, a ledger is used to track the native
protocol asset of the respective blockchain. However, when public blockchain technology
Settlement Layer (Ethereum) Blockchain
Native Protocol
Asset (ETH)
Asset Layer Fungible Token:
Non-Fungible Token:
ERC721/1155 ...
Protocol Layer Exchange Lending Derivatives Asset Mngmt
Application Layer
Aggregation Layer Aggregator 1 Aggregator 2 Aggregator 3
became more popular, so did the idea of making additional assets available on these
ledgers. The process of adding new assets to a blockchain is called tokenization, and the
blockchain representation of the asset is referred to as a token.
The general idea of tokenization is to make assets more accessible and transactions
more efficient. In particular, tokenized assets can be transferred easily and within seconds
from and to anyone in the world. They can be used in many decentralized applications and
stored within smart contracts. As such, these tokens are an essential part of the DeFi
From a technological perspective, there are various ways in which public blockchain
tokens can be created (see Roth, Schär, and Schöpfer, 2019). However, most of these
options can be ignored, as the vast majority of tokens are issued on the Ethereum
blockchain through a smart contract template referred to as the ERC-20 token standard
(Vogelsteller and Buterin, 2015). These tokens are interoperable and can be used in almost
all DeFi applications. As of January 2021, there are over 350,000 ERC-20 token contracts
deployed on Ethereum. [3] Table 1 shows the number of tokens listed on exchanges and
the aggregated token market cap in USD per blockchain. Almost 90 percent of all listed
tokens are issued on the Ethereum blockchain. The slight deviation in terms of market cap
originates from the fact that a relatively large portion of the USDT stablecoin has been
issued on Omni.
Table 1
Listed Tokens and Total Token Market Cap by Blockchain Platform
Data sources: and per September 3rd, 2020. Data
preparation in the style of Roth et al. (2019).
From an economic perspective, I am more interested in the asset's nature than in the
underlying technical standard used to implement the asset's digital representation. The
main motivation for adding additional assets on-chain is the addition of a stablecoin. While
it would be possible to use the aforementioned protocol assets (BTC or ETH), many
Binance Chain
RSK Smart Bitcoin
financial contracts require a low-volatility asset. Tokenization enables the creation of these
However, one of the main concerns with tokenized assets is issuer risk. Native digital
tokens, such as BTC and ETH, are unproblematic in this regard. In contrast, when someone
introduces tokens with a promise, for example, interest payments, dividends, or the
delivery of a good or service, the corresponding token's value will depend on this claim's
credibility. If an issuer is unwilling or unable to deliver, the token may become worthless
or trade at a significant discount. This logic also applies to stablecoins.
Generally speaking, there are three backing models for promise-based tokens: off-
chain collateral, on-chain collateral, and no collateral. Off-chain collateral means that the
underlying assets are stored with an escrow service, for example, a commercial bank. On-
chain collateral means that the assets are locked on the blockchain, usually within a smart
contract.4 When there is no collateral, counterparty risk is at its highest. In this case, the
promise is entirely trust-based. Berentsen and Schär (2019) have analyzed the three
categories in the context of stablecoins.
On-chain collateral has several advantages. It is highly transparent, and claims can be
secured by smart contracts, allowing processes to be executed in a semi-automatic way. A
disadvantage of on-chain collateral is that this collateral is usually held in a native protocol
asset (or a derivative thereof) and, therefore, will experience price fluctuations. Take the
example of the Dai stablecoin, which mainly uses ETH as its on-chain collateral to create
a decentralized and trustless Dai token pegged to the value of 1 USD. Since there is no
native USD-pegged token on Ethereum, Dai tokens must be backed by another asset.
Whenever anyone wants to issue new Dai tokens, they first need to lock enough ETH as
underlying collateral in a smart contract provided by the Maker Protocol. Since the
USD/ETH exchange rate is not fixed, there is a need for over-collateralization. If the value
of the underlying ETH collateral at any point falls below the minimum threshold of 150
percent of the outstanding Dai value, the smart contract will auction off the collateral to
cancel the debt in Dai.
Figure 3
Dai Stablecoin Key Metrics
Data Sources: DeFi Pulse, Coinmarketcap
Figure 3 shows some key metrics of the Dai stablecoin, including price, total Dai in
circulation, and the stability fee, that is, the interest rate that has to be paid by anyone who
is creating new Dai (see Section 2.3).
There are also several examples of off-chain collateralized stablecoins. The most
popular ones are USDT and USDC, both USD-backed stablecoins. They are both available
as ERC-20 tokens on the Ethereum blockchain. DGX is an ERC-20 based stablecoin
backed by gold, and WBTC is a tokenized version of Bitcoin, making Bitcoin available on
the Ethereum blockchain. Off-chain collateralized tokens can mitigate exchange rate risk,
as the collateral may be equivalent to the tokenized claim (e.g., USD claim, backed by real
USD). However, off-chain collateralized tokens introduce counterparty risk and external
dependencies. Tokens that use off-chain collateral require regular audits and precautionary
measures to ensure that the underlying collateral is available at all times. This process is
costly and, in many cases, not entirely transparent for the token holders.
While I am unaware of any functional designs for unbacked stablecoins, that is,
stablecoins that do not use any form of collateral to maintain the peg, several organizations
are working on that idea. Note that rebase tokens such as Ampleforth or YAM do not
qualify as stablecoins. They only provide a stable unit of account but still expose the holder
to volatility in the form of a dynamic token quantity.
Although stablecoins serve a vital role in the DeFi ecosystem, it would not do justice
to the subject of tokenization to limit the discussion to these assets. There are all kinds of
tokens that serve a variety of purposes, including governance tokens for decentralized
autonomous organizations (DAO), tokens that allow the holder to perform specific actions
in a smart contract, tokens that resemble shares or bonds, and even synthetic tokens that
can track the price of any real-world asset.
Another distinct category are so-called non-fungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs are tokens
that represent unique assets, that is, collectibles. They can either be the digital
representation of a physical object such as a piece of art, making them subject to the usual
counterparty risk, or a digitally native unit of value with unique characteristics. In any
case, the token's non-fungibility attributes ensure that the ownership of each asset can be
individually tracked and the asset precisely identified. NFTs usually are built on the ERC-
721 token standard (Entriken et al., 2018).
The following sections discuss the protocol layer and examine how tokens can be
traded using decentralized exchanges (Section 2.2), how they can be used as collateral for
loans (Section 2.3) and to create decentralized derivatives (Section 2.4), and how they can
be included in on-chain investment funds (Section 2.5).
2.2 Decentralized Exchange Protocols
As of September 2020, there are over 7,092 cryptoassets[5] listed on exchanges. While
most of them are economically irrelevant and have a negligible market cap and trading
volume, there is a need for marketplaces where people can trade the more popular ones.
This would allow owners of such assets to rebalance their exposure according to their
preferences and risk profiles and adjust portfolio allocations.
In most cases, cryptoasset trades are conducted through centralized exchanges.
Centralized exchanges are relatively efficient, but they have one severe problem. To be
able to trade on a centralized exchange, traders must first deposit assets with the exchange.
They thereby forfeit direct access to their assets and have to trust the exchange operator.
Dishonest or unprofessional exchange operators may confiscate or lose assets. Moreover,
centralized exchanges create a single point of attack and face the constant threat of
becoming the target of malicious third parties. The relatively low regulatory scrutiny
intensifies both problems and the immense scaling efforts many of these exchanges had to
go through within a short time. Accordingly, it is no surprise that some centralized
cryptoasset exchanges have lost customer funds.
Decentralized exchange protocols try to mitigate these issues by removing the trust
requirement. Users no longer must deposit their funds with a centralized exchange.
Instead, they remain in exclusive control of their assets until the trade is executed. Trade
execution happens atomically through a smart contract, meaning that both sides of the
trade are performed in one indivisible transaction, mitigating the counterparty credit risk.
Depending on the exact implementation, the smart contract may assume additional roles,
effectively making many intermediaries such as escrow services and central counterparty
clearing houses (CCPs) obsolete.
Early decentralized exchanges such as EtherDelta have been set up as walled gardens
with no interaction between the various implementations. The exchanges had no shared
liquidity, leading to relatively low transaction volumes and large bid/ask spreads. High
network fees, as well as cumbersome and slow processes to move funds between these
decentralized exchanges, have rendered supposed arbitrage opportunities useless.
More recently, there has been a move toward open exchange protocols. These projects
try to streamline the architecture of decentralized exchanges by providing standards on
how asset exchange can be conducted and allowing any exchange built on top of the
protocol to use shared liquidity pools and other protocol features. However, most
importantly, other DeFi protocols can use these marketplaces and exchange or liquidate
tokens when needed.
In the following subsections, I compare various types of decentralized exchange
protocols, some of which are not exchanges in the narrow sense but have been included in
the analysis, as they serve the same purpose. The results are summarized in Table 2.
Table 2
Most Popular Decentralized Exchange Protocols
Protocol Name
Protocol Type
Price Discovery
Off-Chain Order Books
P2P Negotiation
Constant Function Market Maker
Smart Contract
Constant Function Market Maker
Smart Contract
Constant Function Market Maker
Smart Contract
Kyber Network
Reserve Aggregator
Proposal by Maker
Constant Function Market Maker
Smart Contract
Decentralized Order Book Exchanges
Decentralized order book exchanges can be implemented in a variety of ways. They
all use smart contracts for transaction settlement, but they differ significantly in how the
order books are hosted. One has to distinguish between on-chain and off-chain order
On-chain order books have the advantage of being entirely decentralized. Every order
is stored within the smart contract. As such, there is no need for additional infrastructure
or third-party hosts. The disadvantage of this approach is that every action requires a
blockchain transaction. Therefore, it is a costly and slow process for which even the
declaration of the intent to trade results in network fees. Considering that volatile markets
will require frequent order cancellations, this disadvantage becomes even more costly.
For this reason, many decentralized exchange protocols rely on off-chain order books
and only use the blockchain as a settlement layer. Off-chain order books are hosted and
updated by centralized third parties, usually referred to as relayers. They provide takers
with the information they need to select an order they would like to match. While this
approach indeed introduces some centralized components and dependencies to the system,
the relayers' role is limited. Relayers are never in control of the funds and neither match
nor execute the orders. They simply provide ordered lists with quotes and may charge a
fee for that service. The openness of the protocol ensures that there is competition among
the relayers and mitigates potential dependencies.
The dominant protocol that uses this approach is called 0x (Warren and Bandeali,
2017). The protocol uses a three-step process for trades. First, the maker sends a pre-signed
order to the relayer for inclusion in the order book. Second, a potential taker queries the
relayer and selects one of the orders. Third, the taker signs and submits the order to the
smart contract, triggering the atomic exchange of the cryptoassets.
Constant Function Market Maker
A constant function market maker (CFMM) is a smart contract-liquidity pool that
holds (at least) two cryptoassets in reserve and allows anyone to deposit tokens of one type
and thereby to withdraw tokens of the other type. To determine the exchange rate, smart
contract-based liquidity pools use variations of the constant product model, where the
relative price is a function of the smart contract's token reserve ratio. The earliest
implementation I am aware of was proposed by Hertzog, Benartzi, and Benartzi (2017).
Adams (2018) has simplified the model, and Zhang, Chen, and Park (2018) provide a
formal proof of the concept. Martinelli and Mushegian (2019) generalized the concept for
cases with more than two tokens and dynamic token weights. Egorov (2019) optimized the
idea for stablecoin swaps.
In its simplest form, the constant product model can be expressed as
𝑥𝑦 = 𝑘
, where
correspond to the smart contract's token reserves and
is a constant. Considering
that this equation must hold, when someone executes a trade, we get
(𝑥 + Δ𝑥) ∙ (𝑦 +
Δ𝑦) = 𝑘
. It can then be easily shown that
Δ𝑦 = !
"#$" − 𝑦
. Consequently,
will assume
negative values for any
Δ𝑥 > 0
. In fact, any exchange corresponds to a move on a convex
token reserve curve, which is shown in Figure 4A. A liquidity pool using this model cannot
be depleted, as tokens will get more expensive with lower reserves. When the token supply
of either one of the two tokens approaches zero, its relative price rises infinitely as a result.
Figure 4
Visualization of Liquidity Pool Token Reserves in a Constant Product Model
It is important to point out that smart contract-based liquidity pools are not reliant on
external price feeds (so-called oracles). Whenever the market price of an asset shifts,
anyone can use the arbitrage opportunity and trade tokens with the smart contract until the
liquidity pool price converges to the current market price. The implicit bid/ask spread of
the constant product model (plus a small trading fee) may lead to the accumulation of
additional funds. Anyone who provides liquidity to the pool receives pool share tokens
that allow them to participate in this accumulation and to redeem these tokens for their
share of a potentially growing liquidity pool. Liquidity provision results in a growing k and
is visualized in Figure 4B.
Prominent examples of smart contract-based liquidity pool protocols are UniSwap,
Balancer, Curve, and Bancor.
Smart Contract-Based Reserve Aggregation
Another approach is to consolidate liquidity reserves through a smart contract that
allows large liquidity providers to connect and advertise prices for specific trade pairs. A
user who wants to exchange token x for token y may send a trade request to the smart
contract. The smart contract will compare prices from all liquidity providers, accept the
best offer on behalf of the user, and execute the trade. It acts as a gateway between users
and liquidity providers, ensuring best execution and atomic settlement.
In contrast to smart contract-based liquidity pools, with smart contract-based reserve
aggregation, prices are not determined within the smart contract. Instead, prices are set by
the liquidity providers. This approach works fine if there is a relatively broad base of
liquidity providers. However, if there is limited or no competition for a given trade pair,
the approach may result in collusion risks or even monopolistic price setting. As a
countermeasure, reserve aggregation protocols usually have some (centralized) control
mechanisms, such as maximum prices or a minimum number of liquidity providers. In
some cases, liquidity providers may only participate after a background check, including
KYC (know your customer) verification.
The best-known implementation of this concept is the Kyber Network (Luu and Velner,
2017), which serves as a backbone protocol for a large variety of DeFi applications.
Peer-to-Peer Protocols
An alternative to classic exchange or liquidity pool models are peer-to-peer (P2P)
protocols, also called over-the-counter (OTC) protocols. They mostly rely on a two-step
approach, where participants can query the network for counterparties who would like to
trade a given pair of cryptoassets and then negotiate the exchange rate bilaterally. Once
the two parties agree on a price, the trade is executed on-chain via a smart contract. In
contrast to other protocols, offers can be accepted exclusively by the parties who have
been involved in the negotiation. In particular, it is not possible for a third party to front-
run someone accepting an offer by observing the pool of unconfirmed transactions
To make things more efficient, the process is usually automated. Additionally, one
can use off-chain indexers for peer discovery. These indexers assume the role of a directory
in which people can advertise their intent to make a specific trade. Note that these indexers
only serve to establish a connection. Prices are still negotiated P2P.
AirSwap is the most popular implementation of a decentralized P2P protocol. It was
proposed by Oved and Mosites (2017).
2.3 Decentralized Lending Platforms
Loans are an essential part of the DeFi ecosystem. There are a large variety of
protocols that allow people to lend and borrow cryptoassets. Decentralized loan platforms
are unique in the sense that they require neither the borrower nor the lender to identify
themselves. Everyone has access to the platform and can potentially borrow money or
provide liquidity to earn interest. As such, DeFi loans are completely permissionless and
not reliant on trusted relationships.
To protect the lender and stop the borrower from running away with the funds, there
are two distinct approaches:
First, credit can be provided under the condition that the loan must be repaid
atomically, meaning that the borrower receives the funds, uses, and repays them—all
within the same blockchain transaction. Suppose the borrower has not returned the funds
(plus interest) at the end of the transaction's execution cycle. In this case, the transaction
will be invalid and any of its results (including the loan itself) reverted. These so-called
flash loans (Wolff, 2018; Boado, 2020) are an exciting but still highly experimental
application. While flash loans can only be employed in applications that are settled
atomically and entirely on-chain, they are an efficient new instrument for arbitrage and
portfolio restructuring. As such, they are on track to become an essential part of DeFi
Second, loans can be fully secured with collateral. The collateral is locked in a smart
contract and only released once the debt is repaid. Collateralized loan platforms exist in
three variations: Collateralized debt positions, pooled collateralized debt
markets, and P2P collateralized debt markets. Collateralized debt positions are loans that
use newly created tokens, while debt markets use existing tokens and require a match
between a borrowing and a lending party. The three variations are discussed below.
Collateralized Debt Positions
Some DeFi applications allow users to create collateralized debt positions and thereby
issue new tokens that are backed by the collateral. To be able to create these tokens, the
person must lock cryptoassets in a smart contract. The number of tokens that can be created
depends on the target price of the tokens generated, the value of the cryptoassets that are
being used as collateral, and the target collateralization ratio. The newly created tokens are
essentially fully collateralized loans that do not require a counterparty and allow the user
to get a liquid asset while maintaining market exposure through the collateral. The loan
can be used for consumption, allowing the person to overcome a temporary liquidity
squeeze or to acquire additional cryptoassets for leveraged exposure.
To illustrate the concept, let us use the example of MakerDAO, a decentralized
protocol that is used to issue the USD-pegged Dai stablecoin. First, the user deposits ETH
in a smart contract classified as a collateralized debt position (CDP) (or vault).
Subsequently, they call a contract function to create and withdraw a certain number of Dai
and thereby lock the collateral. This process currently requires a minimum collateralization
ratio of 150 percent, meaning that for any 100 USD of ETH locked up in the contract, the
user can create at most 66.66 Dai.[6]
Any outstanding Dai is subject to a stability fee, which in theory should correspond
to the Dai debt market's maximum interest rate. This rate is set by the community, namely
the MKR token holders. MKR is the governance token for the MakerDAO project. As
shown in Figure 3, the stability fee has been fluctuating wildly between 0 and 20 percent.
To close a CDP, the owner must send the outstanding Dai plus the accumulated
interest to the contract. The smart contract will allow the owner to withdraw their collateral
once the debt is repaid. If the borrower fails to repay the debt, or if the collateral's value
falls below the 150 percent threshold, where the full collateralization of the loan is at risk,
the smart contract will start to liquidate the collateral at a potentially discounted rate.
Interest payments and liquidation fees are partially used to "burn" MKR, thereby
decreasing the total MKR supply. In exchange, MKR holders assume the residual risk of
extreme negative ETH price shocks, which may lead to a situation in which the collateral
is insufficient to maintain the USD peg. In this case, new MKR will be created and sold at
a discounted rate. As such, MKR holders have skin in the game, and it should be in their
best interest to maintain a healthy system.
It is important to mention that the MakerDAO system is much more complicated than
what is described here. Although the system is mostly decentralized, it is reliant on price
oracles, which introduce some dependencies, as discussed in Section 3.2.
MakerDAO has recently switched to a multi-collateral system, with the goal to make
the protocol more scalable by allowing a variety of cryptoassets to be used as collateral.
Collateralized Debt Markets
Instead of creating new tokens, it is also possible to borrow existing cryptoassets from
someone else. For obvious reasons, this approach requires a counterparty with opposing
preferences. In other words: For someone to be able to borrow ETH, there must be another
person willing to lend ETH. To mitigate counterparty risk and protect the lender, loans
must be fully collateralized, and the collateral is locked in a smart contract—just as in our
previous example.
Matching lenders with borrowers can be done in a variety of ways. The broad
categories are P2P and pooled matching. P2P matching means that the person who is
providing the liquidity lends the cryptoassets to specific borrowers. Consequently, the
lender will only start to earn interest once there is a match. The advantage of this approach
is that the parties agree on a time period and operate with fixed interest rates.
Pooled loans use variable interest rates that are subject to supply and demand. The
funds of all borrowers are aggregated in a single, smart contract-based lending pool, and
lenders start to earn interest right when they deposit their funds in the pool. However, the
interest rates are a function of the pool's utilization rate. When liquidity is readily available,
loans will be cheap. When it is in great demand, loans will become more expensive.
Lending pools have the additional advantage that they can perform maturity and size
transformation while maintaining relatively high liquidity for the individual lender.
There is a large variety of lending protocols. Some of the most popular ones are Aave
(Boado, 2020), Compound (Leshner and Hayes, 2019), and dYdX (Juliano, 2017). Figure
5 shows the asset-weighted borrowing and lending rates for Dai and ETH. For Dai, the
figure also includes the MakerDAO stability fee, which should always be the highest rate
in the system. Surprisingly, this is not always the case, meaning that some people have
paid a price premium in the secondary market. As of September 2020, Dai accounts for
almost 75 percent of all loans in the DeFi ecosystem.
Figure 5
Weighted Dai Collateralized Debt Market Rates and MakerDAO Stability Fee
Data Source: DeFi Pulse
2.4 Decentralized Derivatives
Decentralized derivatives are tokens that derive their value from an underlying asset's
performance, the outcome of an event, or the development of any other observable
variable. They usually require an oracle to track these variables and therefore introduce
some dependencies and centralized components. The dependencies can be reduced when
the derivative contract uses multiple independent data sources.
We differentiate between asset-based and event-based derivative tokens. We call a
derivative token asset-based when its price is a function of an underlying asset's
performance. We call a derivative event-based when its price is a function of any
observable variable that is not the performance of an asset. Both categories will be
discussed in the following sections.
Asset-Based Derivative Tokens
Asset-based derivative tokens are an extension of the CDP model described in Section
2.3. Instead of limiting the issuance to USD-pegged stablecoins, the locked collateral can
be used to issue synthetic tokens that follow the price movements of a variety of assets.
Examples include tokenized versions of stocks, precious metals, and alternative
cryptoassets. The higher the underlying volatility, the larger the risk of falling below a
given collateralization ratio.
A popular derivative token platform is called Synthetix (Brooks et al., 2018). It is
implemented so that the total debt pool of all participants increases or decreases depending
on the aggregate price of all outstanding synthetic assets. This ensures that tokens with the
same underlying assets remain fungible; that is, redemption does not depend on the issuer.
The flip side of this design is that users assume additional risk when they mint assets, as
their debt position will also be affected by everyone else's asset allocation.
A particular case of asset-based derivative tokens are inverse tokens. Here, the price is
determined by an inverse function of the underlying assets' performance within a given
price range. These inverse tokens allow users to get short exposure to cryptoassets.
Event-Based Derivative Tokens
Event-based derivative tokens can be based on any objectively observable variable
with a known set of potential outcomes, a specified observation time, and a resolution
source.[7] Anyone can buy a full set of sub-tokens for a given event by locking 1 ETH in a
smart contract. A complete set of sub-tokens consists of 1 sub-token for each potential
outcome. These sub-tokens can be traded individually. When the market resolves, the
smart contract's cryptoassets will be split among the sub-token owners of the winning
outcome. In the absence of market distortions, each sub-token's ETH price should,
therefore, correspond to the probability of the underlying outcome.
Under certain circumstances, these prediction markets may serve as decentralized
oracles for the likelihood of a future outcome. However, market resolution (and therefore
the price) greatly depends on the trustworthiness of the resolution source. As such, event-
based derivative tokens introduce external dependencies and may be unilaterally
influenced by a malicious reporter. Potential attack vectors include flawed or misleading
question specifications, incomplete outcome sets that may render the event unresolvable,
and the choice of unreliable or fraudulent resolution sources.
The most popular implementation is called Augur (Peterson et al., 2019). It uses a
multi-stage resolution and disputing process that should minimize the dependency on a
single reporting source as much as possible. If the token holders do not agree with the
designated reporter, they may start a dispute, which should eventually lead to the correct
2.5 On-Chain Asset Management
Just like traditional investment funds, on-chain funds are mainly used for portfolio
diversification. They allow users to invest in a basket of cryptoassets and employ a variety
of strategies without having to handle the tokens individually. In contrast to traditional
funds, the on-chain variant does not require a custodian. Instead, the cryptoassets are
locked up in a smart contract. The investors never lose control over their funds, can
withdraw or liquidate them, and can observe the smart contracts' token balances at any
point in time.
The smart contracts are set up in such a way that they follow a variety of simple
strategies, including semi-automatic rebalancing of portfolio weights and trend trading,
using moving averages. Alternatively, one or multiple fund managers can be selected to
manage the fund actively. In this case, the smart contract ensures that asset managers
adhere to the predefined strategy and act in the investors' best interest. In particular, asset
managers are limited to actions in accordance with the fund's ruleset and the risk profile
stipulated in the smart contract. The smart contract can mitigate many forms of the
principal-agent problem and incorporate regulatory requirements by enforcing them on-
chain. As a result, on-chain asset management may lead to lower fund setup and auditing
Whenever someone invests in an on-chain fund, the corresponding smart contract
issues fund tokens and transfers them to the investor's account. These tokens represent
partial ownership of the fund and allow token holders to redeem or liquidate their share of
the assets. For example, if an investor owns 1 percent of the fund tokens, this person would
be entitled to 1 percent of the locked cryptoassets. When the investor decides to close out
the investment, the fund tokens get burned, the underlying assets are sold on a
decentralized exchange, and the investor is compensated with the ETH-equivalent of their
share of the basket.
There are several implementations of on-chain fund protocols, including the Set
Protocol (Feng and Weickmann, 2019), Enzyme Finance (formerly Melon) (Trinkler and
El Isa, 2017), Yearn Vaults (Cronje, 2020), and Betoken (Liu and Palayer, 2018). All of
these implementations are limited to ERC-20 tokens and Ether. Moreover, they heavily
depend on price oracles and third-party protocols, mainly for lending, trading, and the
inclusion of low-volatility reference assets such as the Dai or USDC stablecoins.
Consequently, there are severe dependencies, which will be discussed in Section 3.2.
Both Enzyme Finance and Set Protocol allow anyone to create new investment funds.
Enzyme Finance has a focus on building an infrastructure for decentralized funds, using
smart contract-based rulesets to ensure that fund managers stick to the funds' strategies.
Trading restriction parameters such as maximum concentration, price tolerance, and the
maximum number of positions, as well as user and asset whitelists and blacklists, are
enforced by these smart contracts. The same is true for the fund's fee schedule. Set Protocol
is mainly designed for semi-automated strategies with deterministic portfolio rebalancing
triggered by predefined threshold values and timelocks. However, the protocol is also used
for active management. Betoken operates as a single fund of funds managed by a
community of asset managers through a meritocratic system. The more successful an
individual fund manager is, the greater their future influence on allocating the collective
resources. UniSwap's liquidity pool (see Section 2.2) also has some characteristics of an
on-chain investment fund. The constant product model creates the incentives for a semi-
automatic rebalancing of portfolio weights, while the trading fees generate passive income
for the investors.
Yearn Vaults are collective investment pools designed to maximize yield for a given
asset. Strategies are quite diverse but usually involve several steps and active management.
In many cases, these actions would be too expensive (in terms of transaction fees) for
smaller amounts. Moreover, they require that the investor is vigilant and well-informed.
Yearn Vaults mitigate these issues by employing the knowledge of the masses and using
collective action to split network fees proportionally among all participants. However, the
deep integration of the protocol also introduces severe dependencies.
In this section, we analyze the opportunities and risks of the DeFi ecosystem. It lays
the foundation for the discussion in Section 4.
3.1 Opportunities
DeFi may increase the efficiency, transparency, and accessibility of the financial
infrastructure. Moreover, the system's composability allows anyone to combine multiple
applications and protocols, thereby creating new and exciting services. We discuss these
aspects in the following subsections.
While much of the traditional financial system is trust based and dependent on
centralized institutions, DeFi replaces some of these trust requirements with smart
contracts. The contracts can assume the roles of custodians, escrow agents, and CCPs. For
example, if two parties want to exchange digital assets in the form of tokens, there is no
need for guarantees from a CCP. Instead, the two transactions can be settled atomically,
meaning that either both or neither of the transfers will be executed. This significantly
decreases counterparty credit risk and makes financial transactions much more efficient.
Lower trust requirements may come with the additional benefit of reducing regulatory
pressure and reducing the need for third-party audits. Similar efficiency gains are possible
for almost every area of the financial infrastructure.
Additionally, token transfers are much faster than any of the transfers in the traditional
financial system. Transfer speed and transaction throughput can be further increased with
Layer 2 solutions, such as sidechains or state- and payment-channel networks.
DeFi applications are transparent. All transactions are publicly observable, and the
smart contract code can be analyzed on-chain. The observability and deterministic
execution allowat least in theoryan unprecedented level of transparency.
Financial data are publicly available and may potentially be used by researchers and
users alike. In the case of a crisis, the availability of historical (and current) data is a vast
improvement over traditional financial systems, where much of the information is
scattered across a large number of proprietary databases or not available at all. As such,
transparency of DeFi applications may allow for the mitigation of undesirable events
before they arise and help provide much faster understanding of their origin and potential
consequences when they emerge.
By default, DeFi protocols can be used by anyone. As such, DeFi may potentially
create a genuinely open and accessible financial system. In particular, the infrastructure
requirements are relatively low and the risk of discrimination is almost inexistent due to
the lack of identities.
If regulation demands access restrictions, for example, for security tokens, such
restrictions can be implemented in the token contracts without compromising the
settlement layer's integrity and decentralization properties.
DeFi protocols are often compared with Lego pieces. The shared settlement layer
allows these protocols and applications to interconnect. On-chain fund protocols can make
use of decentralized exchange protocols or achieve leveraged positions through lending
Any two or more pieces can be integrated, forked, or rehashed to create something
entirely new. Anything that has been created before can be used by an individual or by
other smart contracts. This flexibility allows for an ever-expanding range of possibilities
and unprecedented interest in open financial engineering.
3.2 Risks
DeFi also has certain risks, namely, smart contract execution risk, operational
security, and dependencies on other protocols and external data. We discuss these aspects
in the following subsections.
Smart Contract Execution
While the deterministic and decentralized execution of smart contracts does have its
advantages, there is risk that something may go wrong. If there are coding errors, these
errors may potentially create vulnerabilities that allow an attacker to drain the smart
contract's funds, cause chaos, or render the protocol unusable. Users have to be aware that
the protocol is only as secure as the smart contracts underlying it. Unfortunately, the
average user will not be able to read the contract code, let alone evaluate its security. While
audits, insurance services, and formal verification are partial solutions to this problem,
some degree of uncertainty remains.
Similar risks exist in contract execution. Most users do not understand the data payload
they are asked to sign as part of transactions and may be misled by a compromised front-
end. Unfortunately, there seems to be an inherent trade-off between usability and security.
For example, some decentralized blockchain applications will ask for permissions to
transfer an infinite number of tokens on behalf of the user—usually to make future
transactions more convenient and efficient. Such permission, however, puts the user's
funds at risk.
Operational Security
Many DeFi protocols and applications use admin keys. These keys allow a predefined
group of individuals (usually the project's core team) to upgrade the contracts and to
perform emergency shutdowns. While it is understandable that some projects want to
implement these precautionary measures and remain somewhat flexible, the existence of
these keys can be a potential problem. If the keyholders do not create or store their keys
securely, malicious third parties could get their hands on these keys and compromise the
smart contract. Alternatively, the core team members themselves may be malicious or
corrupted by significant monetary incentives.
Most projects try to mitigate this risk with multisig and timelocks. Multisig
requires M-of-N keys to execute any of the smart contract's admin functions, and timelocks
specify the earliest time at which a transaction can be (successfully) confirmed.
As an alternative, some projects rely on voting schemes, where the respective
governance tokens grant their owners the right to vote on the protocol's future. However,
in many cases, the majority of governance tokens are held by a small group of people,
effectively leading to similar results as with admin keys. Some projects have tried to
mitigate this concentration of voting power by rewarding early adopters and users who
fulfill specific criteria, which range from simple protocol usage to active participation in
the voting process and third-party token staking (yield farming). Nevertheless, even when
a launch is perceived as being relatively "fair," the actual distribution often remains highly
Governance tokens may lead to undesirable consequences. In fact, a high
concentration of power may be even more problematic when these rights are tokenized. In
the absence of vesting periods, malicious founders can pull the rug by dumping their entire
token holding on a CFMM, causing a massive supply shock and undermining the project's
credibility. Moreover, yield farming may lead to centralization creep by allowing an
already well-established protocol to assume a significant portion of a relatively new
protocol's governance tokens. This may create large meta protocols whose token holders
essentially control a considerable portion of the DeFi infrastructure.
As described in Section 3.1, some of the most promising features of the DeFi
ecosystem are its openness and composability. These features allow various smart
contracts and decentralized blockchain applications to interact with each other and to offer
new services based on a combination of existing ones. On the flip side, these interactions
introduce severe dependencies. If there is an issue with one smart contract, it may
potentially have wide-reaching consequences for multiple applications across the entire
DeFi ecosystem. Moreover, problems with the Dai stablecoin or severe ETH price shocks
may cause ripple effects throughout the whole DeFi ecosystem.
The problem becomes apparent when illustrated by an example. Let us assume that a
person locks ETH as collateral in the MakerDAO contract to issue Dai stablecoins. Let us
further assume that the Dai stablecoins are locked in a compound lending smart contract
to issue interest-bearing derivative tokens, called cDai. The cDai tokens are subsequently
moved to the UniSwap ETH/cDai liquidity pool, along with some ETH, allowing the
person to withdraw UNI-cDai tokens representing a share of the liquidity pool. With every
additional smart contract, the potential risk of a bug increases. If any of the contracts in
the sequence fail, the UNI-cDai tokens could potentially become worthless. These "token
on top of a token on top of a token" scenarios, which create wrapper tokens, can entangle
projects in such a way that theoretical transparency does not correspond to actual
External Data
Another point worth mentioning is the fact that many smart contracts are reliant on
external data. Whenever a smart contract depends on data that are not natively available
on-chain, the data must be provided by external data sources. These so-called oracles
introduce dependencies and may, in some cases, lead to heavily centralized contract
execution. To mitigate this risk, many projects rely on decentralized oracle networks with
a large variety of data provision schemes.
Illicit Activity
A common concern among regulators is that cryptoassets may be used by individuals
who want to avoid records and monitoring. While the inherent transparency of DeFi is a
deterrent to this use case, the network's pseudonymity may provide some privacy.
However, this may not necessarily be a bad thing, and the situation is more complicated
than it may seem at first glance. On the one hand, pseudonymity can be abused by actors
with dishonest intentions. On the other hand, privacy may be a desirable attribute for some
legitimate financial applications. Correspondingly, regulators should act with great care,
trying to find reasonable solutions that allow them to step in where necessary without
stifling innovation. Moreover, one has to be aware that regulating a decentralized network
may not be feasible.
While it is questionable whether regulators can (or should) regulate a decentralized
infrastructure, there are two areas that deserve special attention, namely, fiat on- and off-
ramps and the decentralization theater.
Fiat on- and off-ramps are the interface to the traditional financial system. Whenever
people want to move assets from their bank account to the blockchain-based system or the
other way, they have to go through a financial service provider. These financial service
providers are regulated and may require background checks on the origin of the funds.
In a similar vein, it is important to differentiate between legitimate decentralized
protocols and projects that only claim to be decentralized but are in fact under the exclusive
control of an organization or a few individuals. The former may provide exciting new
possibilities and remove some dependencies, while the latter may essentially introduce the
worst of two worlds, that is, de facto dependencies on a centralized operator with limited
supervision. Keeping this in mind, regulators should watch closely and analyze carefully
if a given DeFi protocol is indeed decentralized or if the DeFi label is just for show in an
attempt to get around regulation.
Blockchains face the ultimate trade-off between decentralization, security, and
scalability. While the Ethereum blockchain is generally regarded as relatively
decentralized and secure, it struggles to keep up with the great demand for block space.
Escalating gas prices (transaction fees) and long confirmation times adversely affect the
DeFi ecosystem and favor wealthy individuals who can conduct large trades.
Potential solutions to this problem include base-layer sharding, as well as various
Layer 2 solutions, such as state channels, ZK (zero knowledge) rollups, and optimistic
rollups. However, in many cases, scalability efforts weaken composability and general
transaction atomicitytwo of DeFi's most prominent features. On the other hand, moving
DeFi to a more centralized base layer does not seem to be a reasonable approach either, as
it would essentially undermine its main value proposition. Thus, it remains to be seen if a
truly decentralized blockchain can keep up with the demand and provide the foundation
for an open, transparent, and immutable financial infrastructure.
DeFi offers exciting opportunities and has the potential to create a truly open,
transparent, and immutable financial infrastructure. Because DeFi consists of numerous
highly interoperable protocols and applications, every individual can verify all transactions
and data is readily available for users and researchers to analyze.
DeFi has unleashed a wave of innovation. On the one hand, developers are using smart
contracts and the decentralized settlement layer to create trustless versions of traditional
financial instruments. On the other hand, they are creating entirely new financial
instruments that could not be realized without the underlying public blockchain. Atomic
swaps, autonomous liquidity pools, decentralized stablecoins, and flash loans are just a
few of many examples that show the great potential of this ecosystem.
While this technology has great potential, there are certain risks involved. Smart
contracts can have security issues that may allow for unintended usage, and scalability
issues limit the number of users. Moreover, the term "decentralized" is deceptive in some
cases. Many protocols and applications use external data sources and special admin keys
to manage the system, conduct smart contract upgrades, or even perform emergency
shutdowns. While this does not necessarily constitute a problem, users should be aware
that, in many cases, there is much trust involved. However, if these issues can be solved,
DeFi may lead to a paradigm shift in the financial industry and potentially contribute
toward a more robust, open, and transparent financial infrastructure.
[1] An alternative approach can be found here:
[2] For readers who wish to understand the settlement layer better and want to read a
general introduction to Blockchain and cryptocurrencies, we recommend Berentsen
and Schär (2018).
[3] Source:, accessed January 2021.
[4] UTXO-based Blockchain implementations such as Bitcoin allow sophisticated
unlocking conditions through their scripting language. Although most people
would not call these locking scripts a smart contract, they achieve similar goals in
terms of the Blockchain's custodial capabilities.
[5] Source:, accessed September 15th, 2019.
[6] In practice, the collateralization must be much larger, as any credit position with
collateralization below 150% is liquidated.
[7] For example, such a token was created in regard to the outcome of the recent U.S.
presidential election
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The author would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments.
Special thanks go to Florian Bitterli, Raphael Knechtli and Tobias Wagner for their support
with data collection and visualization and to Emma Littlejohn and Amadeo Brands for proof-
... DeFi, at its core, includes infrastructure, markets, technology, methods and applications, enabling the decentralised provision of financial services (Zetzsche et al., 2020). More specifically, it includes open protocols, public smart contract platforms (such as the Ethereum blockchain), decentralised exchanges, stablecoins and decentralised applications (dApps) (Schar, 2020). It is still a niche market (compared to traditional finance) with relatively low volumes, but the value of the market (i.e. ...
... atomic swaps, autonomous liquidity pools, flash loans) built on public blockchains (mostly Ethereum). Schar (2020) believes that DeFi constitutes a paradigm shift in the financial industry and could potentially contribute towards a more robust and transparent financial infrastructure. While neobanks and fintech firms are offering customers more control of their assets, they remain intermediaries to be trusted; by contrast, DeFi infrastructure offers full control of assets due to decentralisation inherent in blockchain technology. ...
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This digital transformation has far-reaching implications for organisations but is particularly important to multinational enterprises (MNEs) as it allows them to reduce the liability of foreignness (Johanson and Vahlne, 2009), enhance knowledge creation and improve knowledge transfer and learning (Gaur et al., 2019), augment trust-building (Monaghan et al., 2020), build agile global value chains (GVCs) (Kano et al., 2020) and improve the speed of internationalisation (Oviatt and McDougall, 1994). All this results in a reduction of uncertainties and thus lowers the risk perception (Clarke and Liesch, 2017), which impels international commitment decisions. An important new technology with potential for significant and wide-ranging impacts is blockchain. With this technology it is now possible to, for example, transfer the ownership of physical assets, such as cars and real estate, stocks, bonds and money over the internet through digital contracts (Andreesen, 2014). The changes that blockchain technology brings about leave academics, businesses and governments grappling with the consequences. Academic research has focussed on the economics of blockchains (Evans, 2014; Davidson et al., 2016) and blockchain use cases, especially in the financial, information and communications technology, and public sectors (Böhme et al., 2015; Friedlmaier et al., 2017; Tapscott and Tapscott, 2016). Because blockchain has multiple barriers to widespread adoption (Iansiti and Lakhani, 2017), researchers have explored regulatory barriers to the adoption of cryptocurrencies and smart contracts (Caytas, 2017; Werbach and Cornell, 2017) as well as technical barriers, such as scalability, interoperability, performance and data privacy (Hileman and Rauchs, 2017; Yli-Huumo et al., 2016). 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Despite the critical importance of digital technologies, such as blockchain and organisations’ digital transformations, the international business (IB) literature has been slow to unpack the implications for organisations’ internationalisation motivations and processes. Furthermore, and more recently, the emergence of fully digital organisations, such as digital platforms (Uber or Airbnb), social media (Facebook or Twitter), e-commerce (Taobao) or financial services (TransferWise), are still very much a black box to IB literature. With this special issue, we aimed to uncover a small part of the necessary embracement that the IB field needs to achieve to be prepared to perform their societal role of informing managers, entrepreneurs, officials and other agents of change. To do so, we look specifically at the implications of blockchain technology in the IB field. While IB literature is lagging behind in the study of blockchain, MNEs are – and have been for some time – actively exploring blockchain’s potential, particularly in the financial (Böhme et al., 2015), compliance (Anjum et al., 2017), healthcare (Mettler, 2016), data protection (Finck, 2018) and logistics (Hackius and Petersen, 2017) contexts. In China alone, by the end of March 2020, a total of 35 MNEs (including Microsoft, Oracle, Mastercard, Sony, Intel and Walmart) applied for 212 blockchain-related patents (Global Times, 2020). As explained elsewhere (Finextra, 2017), banking and finance now account for some 30% of blockchain use cases, and nearly 70% of central banks are experimenting with blockchain technology. 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... For example, a recent report found that only about 300 entities control over 80% of Tether tokens, with many of these being cryptocurrency exchanges, [43]. • Decentralized Finance (DeFi) applications: offer a broad variety of use cases including decentralized exchanges, lending markets, derivatives and on-chain asset management, [44]. For all of these applications, stablecoins play an important role. ...
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Smart contracts are decentrally anchored scripts on blockchains or similar infrastructures that allow the transparent execution of predefined processes. Using smart contracts, assets like money become programmable, which opens up previously inaccessible application potential. To date, smart contracts control billions in value. This paper analyzes 468 peer-reviewed articles on the topic of smart contracts and their 20,188 references, providing a summary and analysis of the current state of research on smart contracts. Using exploratory factor analysis for co-citation analysis, we identify six different strands of research that concern technical, social, economic and legal disciplines: I) technical foundations, development and open questions of blockchain networks, II) blockchain and smart contracts for the Internet of Things, III) smart contract standardization, verification and security, IV) blockchain and smart contracts for the disruption of existing processes and industries, V) potentials and challenges of smart contracts, and VI) smart contracts and the law. The interrelations between these groups are visualized using social network analysis. We thus obtain a structured overview of the main strands of research concerning smart contracts, their development over time, the relevance of smart contract platforms in research, and conceptual connections between publications and discourses. The results offer researchers and practitioners a substantial basis for their work on smart contracts.
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Full Paper on SSRN: Abstract: In this chapter, we present tokenization of equity crowdfunding on a Blockchain as a possible approach to ease access to capital for startups. We propose a categorization of token standards into UTXO-based, layer-based and smart contract-based tokens. In a second step, we analyze the advantages that tokenization can bring, such as cryptographically secured ownership, programmability of assets, access to the Blockchain-ecosystem, enhanced divisibility of shares as well as the formation of a well-functioning secondary market. Tokenization allows to decouple the ledger of assets from the crowdfunding platform, thus lowering the cost of secondary market trading and the intermediary’s power. We conclude by mentioning several drawbacks including information asymmetries between investors and campaign creators, regulatory issues and high energy intensity of Proof-of-Work-secured Blockchains.
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A stablecoin classification framework.
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In this article, we give a short introduction to cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. The focus of the introduction is on Bitcoin, but many elements are shared by other blockchain implementations and alternative cryptoassets. The article covers the original idea and motivation, the mode of operation and possible applications of cryptocurrencies, and blockchain technology. We conclude that Bitcoin has a wide range of interesting applications and that cryptoassets are well suited to become an important asset class. (JEL G23, E50, E59)
Technical Report
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Augur is a trustless, decentralized oracle and platform for prediction markets. The outcomes of Augur's prediction markets are chosen by users that hold Augur's native Reputation token, who stake their tokens on the actual observed outcome and, in return, receive settlement fees from the markets. Augur's incentive structure is designed to ensure that honest, accurate reporting of outcomes is always the most profitable option for Reputation token holders. Token holders can post progressively-larger Reputation bonds to dispute proposed market outcomes. If the size of these bonds reaches a certain threshold, Reputation splits into multiple versions, one for each possible outcome of the disputed market; token holders must then exchange their Reputation tokens for one of these versions. Versions of Reputation which do not correspond to the real-world outcome will become worthless, as no one will participate in prediction markets unless they are confident that the markets will resolve correctly. Therefore, token holders will select the only version of Reputation which they know will continue to have value: the version that corresponds to reality.
For readers who wish to understand the settlement layer better and want to read a general introduction to Blockchain and cryptocurrencies
For readers who wish to understand the settlement layer better and want to read a general introduction to Blockchain and cryptocurrencies, we recommend Berentsen and Schär (2018).
Aave Protocol Whitepaper v1.0
  • Ernesto Boado
Boado, Ernesto. "Aave Protocol Whitepaper v1.0." 2020.
Havven: a decentralised payment network and stablecoin
  • Brooks
  • Samuel
  • Anton Jurisevic
  • Michael Spain
  • Kain Wawrick
Brooks, Samuel, Jurisevic, Anton, Spain, Michael and Wawrick, Kain. "Havven: a decentralised payment network and stablecoin." 2018.
Ethereum: A Next-Generation Smart Contract and Decentralized Application Platform
  • Vitalik Buterin
Buterin, Vitalik. "Ethereum: A Next-Generation Smart Contract and Decentralized Application Platform." 2013.
ERC-721 Non-Fungible Token Standard
  • William Entrinken
  • Shirley
  • Dieter
  • Jacob Evans
  • Nastassia Sachs
Entrinken, William, Shirley, Dieter, Evans, Jacob and Sachs, Nastassia. "ERC-721 Non-Fungible Token Standard." 2018.
Set: A Protocol for Baskets of Tokenized Assets (v1.2)
  • Felix Feng
  • Brian Weickmann
Feng, Felix and Weickmann, Brian. "Set: A Protocol for Baskets of Tokenized Assets (v1.2)." 2019.