Decentralized finance, or DeFi, is an emerging financial system powered by blockchain technology. This research report aims to introduce actuaries to DeFi and help them develop a solid understanding of DeFi. It will begin with addressing “what is DeFi?” by providing an introduction on blockchains and DeFi. It will then discuss in further detail the key characteristics, applications, opportunities, and risks of DeFi. After providing the foundation, this report will discuss the potential adoption of DeFi and its interaction with the current financial system (sometime referred to as traditional finance for contrast with DeFi), and the implications for practicing and aspiring actuaries. In addition, a glossary of terms used in DeFi and a brief history of the development of DeFi have been included in the appendix.
Decentralized Finance — or DeFi — has experienced explosive growth in the past year. But in order for DeFi to fulfill its promise as a disintermediated ecosystem that helps rather than harms, “now is the time to evaluate its benefits and dangers,” write Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Kevin Werbach and David Gogel, a recent Wharton MBA graduate, in the article that follows. Werbach is author of the book The Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trustand leads Wharton’s Blockchain and Digital Asset Project. Werbach and Gogel recently collaborated with the World Economic Forum to create the Decentralized Finance (DeFi) Policy-Maker Toolkit, providing guidance to regulators and blockchain watchers everywhere.
The market experienced explosive growth beginning in 2020. According to tracking service DeFi Pulse, the value of digital assets locked into DeFi services grew from less than $1 billion in 2019 to over $15 billion at the end of 2020, and over $80 billion in May 2021. Novel business models such as yield farming — in which holders of cryptocurrencies earn rewards for providing capital to various services — and aggregation to optimize trading across exchanges in real-time are springing up rapidly. Innovations such as flash loans, which are either repaid or automatically unwound during the course of a transaction, open up both new forms of liquidity and unfamiliar risks.