Will ‘Decentralized Finance’ Be the Next Disruptive Technology?
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Will ‘Decentralized Finance’ Be the Next Disruptive Technology?

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) latest Global Financial Stability Report highlights myriad risks for the global financial system.

By TOM TAULLI
Wed, Jun 29, 2022 1:42pmGrey Clock 3 min

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) latest Global Financial Stability Report highlights myriad risks for the global financial system. They include the war in Ukraine, high debt, and soaring inflation.

But the report also warned about the impact of decentralized finance, or DeFi, an emerging set of financial services applications that are based on blockchain and other crypto technologies and don’t involve banks other traditional financial intermediaries

Citing possible systemic risk, the IMF wants governments to impose regulations because, the report says, DeFi results in the “buildup of leverage, and is particularly vulnerable to market, liquidity, and cyber risks.”

DeFi may not be a mainstream vehicle yet, but that doesn’t mean financial advisors don’t need to know about it.

What is DeFi?

It’s a kind of financial application that uses “smart contracts,” to operate on a blockchain platform, usually Ethereum. These software programs allow for fully automated, peer-to-peer financial transactions without intermediaries like banks or brokers, which generally means faster settlements of trades.

“With DeFi, users are able to perform most functions that a bank can,” says Jeremy Almond, founder and CEO of Paystand, a B2B payments platform. “This includes earning interest, borrowing, lending, buying insurance, trading derivatives, and trading assets.”

Supporters of DeFi say it offers the potential to democratize financial services for the unbanked. This is a key reason the Federal Reserve is looking at creating a digital currency.

The world currently has around 1.7 billion people who are unbanked, according to Yubo Ruan, founder and CEO of DeFi provider Parallel Finance. “Some of the reasons include a lack of government-issued IDs, problems with credit history, restrictive bank requirements, or a lack of banking infrastructure within a country.”

How easy is it to use?

It can actually be cumbersome. You need several applications to accomplish what may seem like routine transactions if done at a bank, and the jargon and concepts can get complicated.

“A combination of highly technical requirements, high fees, and confusing user interfaces are putting off potential users,” says Jackie Bona, CEO of Valora, a mobile crypto wallet. “This is making it difficult for people to get started in DeFi, scaring away those who need these apps the most.”

What are the risks?

According to Archie Ravishankar, CEO and founder of mobile banking app Cogni: “Regular consumers in this space lack the regulatory protections they’re accustomed to in traditional finance.” So if you lose money, you have no consumer protection, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. True, you could bring a lawsuit, but the target DeFi organization may be an offshore entity.

Another issue is volatility. Just look at so-called stablecoins such as Luna. Within a week, its value plunged from $80 to virtually zero, tantamount to a run on the bank.

So should financial advisors suggest clients avoid these applications?

Generally, the answer is yes. DeFi is an emerging category of finance and it can be difficult to perform due diligence on new and decentralized technologies. Even those applications that are backed by venture capitalists have seen breaches.

When it comes to clients, DeFi is for those that have a high tolerance for risk. And if they are interested in investing, they should allocate a small part of their portfolio to it.

Can DeFi disrupt traditional financial services?

Even if it takes only a relatively small portion of the global market, the impact would be substantial.

“DeFi certainly has the potential to disrupt traditional finance across the board, and in some ways it already has—on a small scale so far,” says Liam Kelly, Europe news editor for Decrypt, a cryptocurrency news site. But he adds, “a lot of this hinges on breakthroughs in scalability and cutting reasonable lines between things like centralization and decentralization or opaqueness and transparency. Another possibility is that these technologies simply get absorbed by financial institutions to a point where to the consumer, nothing has changed at your brokerage account, except now on the back end it’s running on Ethereum or another blockchain network.”



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After Pandemic Slowdown, Global Wealth Is Growing Once Again, Led by the U.S.
By GEOFF NUDELMAN
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The latest edition of an annual UBS wealth report notes that while “the global economy is in the midst of a dramatic structural upheaval,” wealth is growing once again after a downturn through the pandemic.

UBS analyzed income and wealth data from 56 markets, representing “92% of the world’s wealth,” in its Global Wealth Report 2024, released Wednesday. The report’s overarching theme found that global wealth grew by 4.2% in 2023, offsetting a loss of 3% in 2022. Even in the face of continued inflation, adjusted global wealth grew by 8.4%.

However, overall global wealth growth is down, from an annual average of 7% between 2000 and 2010 to just over 4.5% between 2010 and 2023, the report said. This equates to a reduction in global wealth of almost one-third.

The remaining growth seems to be continuing on pace in the world’s most developed and already prosperous nations. In the U.S., average wealth per adult grew by nearly 2.5% and the country accounts for 38%, roughly 22 million, of all millionaires worldwide.

Mainland China came in second with just over 6 million millionaires, followed by 3 million  in the U.K.

The report also took a look at the growing issue of wealth transfer. Over the next 25 years, US$83.5 trillion of global wealth will be transferred to spouses and the next generation. UBS estimates 10% of that will be transferred by women and US$9 trillion will shift between spouses.

Wealth in the Asia-Pacific region grew the most—nearly 177%—since the report began tracking data 15 years ago. The Americas come in second, at nearly 146% growth. Surprisingly, Turkey has enjoyed the most wealth growth per adult of any individual nation in the last 15 years—more than 1,700% in local currency.

The world’s wealthiest class continues to be a small, tightly concentrated group. According to the report, only 12 people hold between US$50 billion and US$100 billion and just 14 people hold US$2 trillion of the world’s wealth. The U.S. and Canada are home to individuals holding 44% of this wealth, while another 25% is held by people in Western Europe.

UBS data suggests that global wealth will continue to grow most in emerging markets, with some countries experiencing millionaire growth of up to 50% over the next five years.

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