Watchdogs are warning that some DeFi activities are probably illegal under federal law and pose serious danger to consumers, who are putting their money into systems that have inherently less human oversight and accountability and are vulnerable to cyberattacks.
“I’m very concerned there’s none of the reporting, none of the normal pricing and regulatory limits,” CFTC Commissioner Dan Berkovitz said in an interview. “The bottom line is there’s no free lunch anywhere in the economic system.”
The small but rapidly growing sector — activity is measured in the tens of billions of dollars — is posing a major challenge for regulators who face an unprecedented task of clamping down on an open-source financial network that has grown up completely outside their purview. The basis of modern financial regulation rests on having centralized entities — like lenders and clearinghouses — register with the government and subject themselves to oversight.
“For the first time, you’re starting to see DeFi protocols that are starting to set up procedures for borrowing and lending on a large scale,” Alabama Securities Commission Director Joseph Borg said. “It’s between unknown participants without any intermediaries … So now the question is, who do we put this on?”
DeFi flouts the old model, and its advocates say that’s the point — a decentralized and automated market will lower costs, increase efficiency and offer more transparency.
Celsius Network CEO Alex Mashinsky, whose crypto finance firm uses DeFi technology, said the services provide a way to “innovate and go around all of these centralized toll collectors.”
“The chronic systemic problem we have in our financial world is the fact that our traditional system, traditional finance, is concentrated, leveraged and too big to fail,” he said.
Among the most popular DeFi options is MakerDAO, one of the longest-running services, which lets users borrow so-called stablecoins in exchange for depositing cryptocurrency-based collateral. Another service, Uniswap, is a decentralized cryptocurrency trading exchange that relies on an “automated liquidity protocol” rather than a central orderbook to facilitate transactions. Like other major DeFi projects, they operate on technology that underlies Ether, one of the biggest cryptocurrencies.
The creators of some of the services are beginning to make contact with regulators. Marc Boiron, general counsel of the decentralized exchange builder dYdX, said in an email that “we have proactively (and voluntarily) communicated with the CFTC prior to the deployment of all of the protocols” and “have always carefully considered the laws applicable to dYdX.” He said the first protocol dYdX developed required U.S. users to follow CFTC rules for retail…