Crypto's evolving trust paradigm

Crypto’s evolving trust paradigm

Over the past 10+ years the crypto and DeFi ideal of disintermediating financial services has come a long way. Yet despite all the options available for DIY finance, most institutional and professional crypto investors still favor centralised intermediaries. These are however not the intermediaries of old. Welcome to crypto’s new trust paradigm.

When Bitcoin was first proposed in 2008, it’s rallying cry was “banking without banks”. The idea was to replace trust in financial institutions with trust in code – eliminating all financial intermediaries in favour of a fully peer-to-peer (P2P) and do-it-yourself (DIY) model where individuals and institutions had full custody of their assets and full control over their financial transactions.

Fifteen years later, the idea has fared rather well. Despite ups and downs, Bitcoin has proven that decentralised money without banks or governments is not only possible but viable. DeFi has demonstrated that sophisticated financial services can work on a P2P/DIY basis without relying on third-party institutions, thanks to features like automated market makers, permissionless lending protocols, decentralised exchanges, and other innovative products.

Despite the new freedoms offered by crypto, however, more than 90% of crypto transactions go through centralised exchanges. As we have noted elsewhere, post-FTX there has been a notable shift among crypto investors in general in favor of regulated, centralised crypto entities.

Several factors contribute to this trend. First, while decentralised finance is compelling, most investors lack the technical know-how or desire to invest time in fully DIY financial services. The truth is, people often want intermediaries, just not rapacious or dishonest ones.

Second, pure algorithmic trust may be appealing, but the hacks and thefts in smart contracts, crypto exchanges, and DeFi bridges we have seen in the past have shown how challenging it is to write flawless algorithms and protocols that solve all trust issues. While DeFi protocols are getting more robust and safer, trust in code alone still seems a far off, if not impossible, ideal.

Third, large institutional investors, which account for an increasing number of crypto transactions, are often required by law to work with regulated intermediaries. This almost always means a centralised service.

Right-sizing intermediation

That isn’t to say that decentralisation is a chimera. In fact, the idea of disintermediation or “bypassing” intermediaries has existed for some time now, and has been evident in the shift from expensive brokerages and asset managers to discount brokers, or insurance companies directly engaging with customers instead of relying on traditional agent intermediaries.

The emergence of crypto and DeFi takes this idea to the next level (via technology-driven disintermediation), by presenting innovations that are real and profound, offering advantages that institutional and professional investors will continue to seek.

But in our view, the main lesson from the first 15 years of the crypto experiment is that there will always be a role for trusted intermediaries in the crypto economy. These “trusted anchors”, however, will be different than their counterparts in the traditional financial system – more like enablers to the world of DeFi innovation than the gatekeepers of traditional finance.

Under this new trust paradigm, we believe investors will favour crypto providers that are above all:

  • Regulated: They operate in highly regulated but crypto-friendly jurisdictions, which both fosters trust in the intermediary and ensures the investor profits from all applicable legal and regulatory safeguards.
  • Proactive in self-regulation: They demonstrate a willingness to exceed legal, regulatory and industry standards where this can contribute to the safety and reliability of the intermediary’s services and the wider industry.
  • Highly transparent: They prioritise openness in operations and decision-making, ensuring the safety of customer funds through robust security measures and timely communication of critical information.

Clients should expect a wide range of services from such regulated crypto intermediaries. They provide easy on/off ramps, offering seamless entry and exit points for investors, simplifying the process of converting between cryptocurrencies and traditional currencies, and ensuring a user-friendly experience for both new and experienced crypto investors. They should be capable of offering trustworthy crypto custodial and escrow services, keeping client assets safe and segregated from all other assets managed by the intermediary. They should also have the necessary technical expertise to effectively manage and maintain their platforms allowing their clients to benefit from their know-how.

As experts in the crypto economy, they can help investors make informed decisions by staying at the forefront of innovation in the rapidly evolving crypto markets, educating clients on crypto, DeFi, and blockchain trends, and providing guidance and investment advice to qualified investors on digital asset opportunities.

Best of both worlds

Under this paradigm, investors can enjoy the enhanced transparency offered by blockchain and DeFi, increased control over financial transactions and services, and a more level playing field with their intermediaries while still benefiting from crypto and DeFi innovation.

At the same time, they will have the safety and support that comes with a reputable, regulated institution, including a partner with the requisite technical and market know-how, the ability to choose their own service level, and a well-connected resource to help investors find new opportunities and manage risk.

Such a paradigm seeks to combine the best of both worlds – decentralised innovation and tried-and-true financial market know-how – into a new world. Banking, we might say, without traditional banks.

Disclaimer: The information in this publication pertaining to Sygnum Bank AG (“Sygnum”) is for general information purposes only, as per date of publication, and should not be considered exhaustive. This publication does not consider the financial situation of any natural or legal person, nor does it provide any tax, legal or investment advice. This publication does not constitute any advice or recommendation, an offer or invitation by or on behalf of Sygnum to purchase or sell any assets. No elements of precontractual or contractual relationship are intended. While the information is believed to be from accurate and reliable sources, Sygnum makes no representation or warranties, expressed or implied, as to the accuracy of the information. Sygnum expressly disclaims any and all liability that may be based on such information, omissions, or errors thereof. Any statements contained in this publication attributed to a third party represent Sygnum‘s interpretation of the data, information and/or opinions provided by that third party either publicly or through a subscription service, and such use and interpretation have not been reviewed by the third party. Sygnum reserves the right to amend or replace the information, in part or entirely, at any time, and without any obligation to notify the recipient of such amendment / replacement or to provide the recipient with access to the information. Simultaneously, there is no obligation of Sygnum to inform recipients of information, if before provided information later becomes outdated, inaccurate or obsolete, unless otherwise provided by applicable law. The information provided is not intended for use by or distributed to any individual or legal entity in any jurisdiction or country where such distribution, publication or use would be contrary to the law or regulatory provisions or in which Sygnum does not hold the necessary registration, approval authorisation or license. Except as otherwise provided by Sygnum, it is not allowed to modify, copy, distribute or reproduce, display, license, or otherwise use any content for commercial purposes.

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