Why DeFi is getting real

Over the past year, the DeFi world has been increasingly embracing real-world assets. This is bringing DeFi and TradFi even closer together.

The tokenization of real-world assets (RWA) has been one of the hottest topics in DeFi this year, and the headlines just keep on coming.

On October 30 alone Coindesk reported that the tokenized treasuries market had grown almost sevenfold year-to-date, to close to USD 700 million (now USD 750 million). That same day the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) announced that it was expanding its groundbreaking Project Guardian asset tokenization program to include pilots with regulators in Japan, Switzerland and the UK. A few days prior, Euroclear unveiled its RWA tokenization service (D-SI) with the EUR 100 million bond issuance from the World Bank.

Source: RWA.xyz

Tokenization of RWA (often referred to simply as tokenization) is the process of representing ownership of either financial or tangible assets by blockchain-based digital tokens. As we’ve written previously, there is good reason to believe that tokenization is going to become mainstream and revolutionise traditional finance.

But it’s not just TradFi that stands to gain by tokenization. As more and more stablecoins and DeFi protocols integrate RWA, potentially bringing trillions of dollars of physical and financial assets into the system, the DeFi world is set to be transformed as well.

This is something that both investors and other users of DeFi, as well as investors and businesses outside the crypto world, will want to pay attention to. Below are some takeaways.

Converging in the middle

We think it noteworthy that this transformation is being driven both by DeFi players looking to bridge the gap into TradFi, and by TradFi players looking to go the other way. It shows just how quickly the worlds of DeFi and TradFi are converging.

A prominent example on the DeFi side is the decentralised stablecoin DAI. Originally backed solely by other stablecoins and cryptocurrencies (predominantly ether), MakerDAO, the protocol governing DAI, has been slowly adding real-world collateral for years. Now it is ramping up dramatically. This past June it added USD 700 million in US treasuries, more than doubling the bond holdings in its reserves. This is part of MakerDAO’s new endgame plan “to boost platform revenues by investing a part of Maker’s more than $7 billion reserves into real-world assets and money-market funds”.

Looking at traditional players, MAS’s Project Guardian, referenced above, is only one of a number of examples of regulators and financial industry bluechips embracing DeFi practices and tokenization. Others include JPMorgan, Citi and Franklin Templeton – Franklin Templeton tokenized over USD 300 million of its US Government Money Fund on the Stellar and Polygon blockchains.

Making things safer, better and more mainstream

We think this conversion of the two worlds will be good for DeFi.

For one, RWA will make the DeFi world safer by reducing dependence on purely crypto collateral, which can often be highly volatile.

For another, it will bring new yield opportunities. While many DeFi products offered outsized returns during the 2021 DeFi summer, these proved unsustainable. After last year’s crypto market crashes and the concurrent rise in interest rates, DeFi has mostly underperformed, sometimes dramatically. The infusion of RWA into DeFi has allowed many protocols to become competitive again. In August MakerDAO was able to raise its deposit rate temporarily to 8%, and is currently at 5%. Staked USDT (stUSDT) allows users to earn up to 4.69% APY on their stablecoin holdings and functions like a money market fund. Other protocols, like Ondo Finance, recently introduced its Ondo USD Yield, a tokenized note backed by short-term US Treasuries and bank demand deposits, offering 5.27% APY.

Last but not least, the tokenization and integration of RWAs, as well as uptake by large traditional players, should make DeFi more understandable and appealing to traditional investors. This could bring more capital into DeFi. Having RWAs as collateral could also provide more creditworthiness to borrowers within the DeFi space, further facilitating lending and borrowing activities. All of this will increase liquidity and spur growth.

The potential is enormous.

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