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Decentralized Finance Heats Up: New Approaches Needed For Industry Transformation

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Decentralized finance (DeFi) aims to transform traditional forms of finance by reconstructing and reimagining services. The World Economic Forum Tuesday released the Decentralized Finance (DeFi) Policy-Maker Toolkit, providing policy-makers and regulators with guidance for technologies that are global and transforming rapidly.

The toolkit is a collaboration with the Blockchain and Digital Asset Project at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. It draws on contributions from an international expert group of academics, legal practitioners, DeFi entrepreneurs, technologists, global policy-makers and regulators, and is the second report in the series, after DeFi Beyond the Hype.

DeFi has been evolving since the launch of the Ethereum blockchain in 2015 and is a category of financial services based on blockchain’s distributed ledger technology. It does not rely on central institutions, and interest has risen sharply from both private and public sectors.

The report notes that, in the past year, the value of digital assets locked in DeFi smart contracts grew by a factor of 18, from $670 million to $13 billion. The number of associated user wallets grew by a factor of 11, from 100,000 to 1.2 million, and the number of DeFi-related applications grew from eight to more than 200.

The first-of-its-kind toolkit provides a foundation for understanding the major factors that should drive policy-making decisions. It provides an overview of DeFi, explores and illustrates benefits and risks with case studies, and maps out legal and regulatory responses.

Representatives from governments around the world contributed to the creation of the toolkit, including those developing Europe’s Markets in Crypto-assets (MiCA) framework and major U.S. financial regulators. The government of Colombia is among those planning to use the toolkit in their policy-making and regulations.

“We are in a critical time for DeFi. Following its rapid growth, and the price activity in crypto more generally, governments are closely watching cryptocurrencies and decentralized applications,” said Sheila Warren, Deputy Head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network; Executive Committee, World Economic Forum. “This toolkit is a critical first step in helping policy-makers and regulators navigate this quickly evolving space. By outlining the potential risks, while highlighting the opportunities for innovation, we hope it will be a valuable resource in informing balanced approaches to policies and regulations.”

“DeFi has transformative potential for financial services worldwide but also creates an array of serious concerns,” said Kevin Werbach, Director of the Blockchain and Digital Asset Project at Wharton. “Policy-makers and regulators need frameworks to address these issues responsibly. The toolkit provides that roadmap.”

“DeFi presents a generational expansion of financial opportunity (and always accompanying risk). The most important first step before any regulatory or policy undertaking is to level-set on the evolving landscape,” said Michael Mosier, Acting Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) in the United States. “This report helpfully provides us with a thoughtful, clear and comprehensive cartography of DeFi so that we can make the most of truly innovative opportunities for financial expansion and novel risk mitigation.”

“We have been following the evolution of Crypto and DeFi and decided to take an active role in developing our policies in this field due to the opportunities it could unleash for our people,”said Jehudi Castro Sierra, Digital Transformation Advisor, Presidency of Colombia. “We were pleased to contribute to the toolkit and we are looking forward to using it to inform approaches to this space that are balanced, risk-aware, and forward looking. As the first country in the region to use the Policy-Maker Toolkit, we aim to be the leader in Latin America for DeFi policies and regulation.”

Authors call for technologically neutral approaches that can balance objectives of regulatory regimes and innovation and market development with policies that are fair, efficient and enforceable. Effective regulations should involve a combination of existing, retrofitted, new and bespoke regulations.

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