In the past year, traditional financial instruments have made their way into DeFi. This has happened in the form of derivatives, especially options, and the tokenization of real-world assets. Many of these developments come thanks to advances in scalability. As a result, institutions are also making their way into the crypto space.
Advancements in Blockchain Scalability
First, we saw significant advancements in layer-1 (L1) blockchain technology, focusing on enhancing efficiency, scalability, interoperability, and user experience.
Juan: Zero-knowledge (zk) rollups, including zkSync Era and Polygon’s zkEVM, aimed to make blockchains more efficient by executing more transactions off-chain and reducing the block space required for transactions. Likewise, developments like Chainlink’s CCIP and LayerZero’s partnership with Google Cloud and JPMorgan enabled communication between smart contracts across different blockchain networks and facilitated liquidity transfer.
These milestones were key to other important solutions further up the technological stack. They paved the way for financial innovations and capital efficiencies that were needed for the broader adoption of blockchain by traditional institutions.
Growth of Crypto Derivatives and DEXes
The crypto derivatives market, particularly options, continued to assert its dominance in 2023, constituting a significant portion of the overall crypto trading volume. As of March 2023, derivatives accounted for 74.8% of crypto’s total trading volume, which was $2.95 trillion.
Centralized crypto derivative exchanges like Binance, Upbit, and OKX were at the forefront, with derivatives volume experiencing a quarter-on-quarter growth of 34.1% between 2022 Q4 and 2023 Q1. Binance led as the largest crypto derivatives exchange, holding a market share of 59.8% and a trading volume of $1,763.3 billion in March 2023.
However, derivatives also grew in decentralized exchanges despite being less than 5% of the total derivatives market. Platforms like Perpetual Protocol and dYdX led the way in decentralized perpetual futures, with a daily volume averaging $3 billion. Innovations in this space, like everlasting options offered by platforms like Deri, enabled users to trade derivatives in a DeFi-native way, facilitating hedging, speculation, and arbitrage all on-chain.
Jeremy: This growth was due to the expansion of relevant infrastructure. There was a notable rise in both centralized and decentralized options infrastructure, along with the development of new crypto primitives like structured vaults and everlasting options. This was coupled with a decrease in security issues like hacking incidents, indicating the industry’s rapid adaptation to challenges.
As a result, we saw the entry of more professional and transparent intermediaries from traditional industries into the space. Together with technological developments, this allowed for the complexity of financial instruments to mature. This progression marks a continued evolution in protocol efficiency and capital utilization, allowing for innovative combinations and transformations of financial products.
Tokenization of RWA and Financial Innovations
The crypto industry also saw a rising trend in the tokenization of real-world assets (RWA), including the representation of physical and traditional financial assets as digital tokens on blockchain platforms. RWA tokens can be bought, sold, and traded, offering a more secure and efficient investment environment, especially for those unable to hold physical assets. Their use cases include reducing transaction settlement times and enhancing scalability.
RWA tokenization maintained a growth trajectory throughout 2023 with a focus on tokenized debt instruments and T-bills. Prominent financial institutions like JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank, and SBI experimented with tokenizing currencies and sovereign bonds using Ethereum’s layer 2 scaling network, Polygon. Other players like Société Générale have even ventured into creating stablecoins which can be considered the most primitive form of RWA.
In the DeFi sector, MakerDAO, a pioneering protocol, deepened its involvement with RWAs. Their ‘Endgame Plan’ proposed making DAI, a stablecoin, a free-floating asset initially backed by real-world assets. They also allocated significant funds into short-term treasuries and investment-grade corporate bonds, indicating a growing demand for RWA tokens as financing tools for RWAs.
Jeremy: Now we’ve reached a pivotal point in technological development where trading extends beyond speculative assets to those with tangible ‘real world’ effects. This is evident in the increased tokenization of various bonds, including corporate bonds. One reason for this is the need to decrease DeFi’s reliance on over-collateralization in order to offer financial services like lending and borrowing. RWAs provide a new avenue for financial innovation in this regard.
Overall, 2023 marked a pivotal year for RWA tokenization in the crypto space, suggesting a broadening scope for digital assets beyond just cryptocurrencies. This led to increased involvement from major financial institutions and innovative applications in DeFi that contribute to the growing integration of traditional financial assets into the digital asset ecosystem.