Cryptocurrency 101: What Is Decentralized Finance (DeFi)? March, 2024

Decentralized finance (DeFi) is a sector that provides an alternative to traditional financial services. Smart contracts power decentralized applications (DApps) and protocols that makeup DeFi

Last updated Apr 28, 2023
10 minute read
Written by Nikolas Sargeant
1inch.Exchange Decentralized Exchanges
267 N/A N/A ETH 0.0006 No No Yes 2019
Curve Finance Exchange Decentralized Exchanges
8 0.04% 0.04% BTC 0.000079 No No Yes 2020
PancakeSwap Decentralized Exchanges
203 0.20% 0.20% ETH 0.00041 No No Yes 2020
Uniswap Decentralized Exchanges
US flag
390 0.30% 0.30% BTC 0.000079 No No Yes 2018
SushiSwap Exchange Decentralized Exchanges
79 0.30% 0.30% ETH 0.00041 No No Yes 2020

Bitcoin's launch in 2009 led to the growth of a robust industry stemming from the asset, its concept, and underlying technology. The crypto and blockchain space contains different niches where projects and companies develop solutions for various use cases.


  • DeFi is a financial technology that eliminates third parties and centralized institutions from transactions. It uses emerging technology to achieve this goal.

  • The regulation and infrastructure of DeFi are constantly changing. There are ongoing developments in both areas, which are always evolving.

  • DeFi comprises stablecoins, software, and hardware that facilitate the creation of applications.

Decentralized finance (DeFi) is a sector that provides an alternative to traditional financial services. Smart contracts power decentralized applications (DApps) and protocols that makeup DeFi. Ethereum was the platform for many of the first DeFi applications, and most of the sector’s total value is still concentrated there.

Bitcoin is decentralized and embodies essential characteristics. DeFi takes these qualities and builds upon them to provide extra capabilities. DeFi is a subcategory of the wider crypto space that offers services like traditional finance but is controlled by the masses instead of a central entity.

DeFi applications have expanded beyond lending and offer access to saving, investing, trading, and more. Its purpose is to challenge traditional financial services providers and eventually replace them. DeFi uses open-source code, allowing anyone to build on existing applications in a composable and permissionless manner.

Decentralization means no central body is in control. Banks and other financial institutions have power over your funds and can freeze your assets. You are subject to their operating hours and cash reserves. DeFi disperses power and risk. When customer data is centralized, hackers just need access to one site to access a lot of data. Storing data across multiple locations or removing single points of failure can improve security.

  • Decentralized Exchanges (DEX) - Smart contracts are the foundation of online trading platforms known as DEXes. With DEXes, users can exchange tokens and conduct trading without intermediaries.

  • Lending - The crypto loan industry is appealing to a lot of people. Lenders earn interest, and borrowers can access capital. In DeFi, borrowers can use their funds as collateral and borrow without needing a credit score.

  • No loss Games - DeFi includes games and lotteries which are appealing services. There are "No-loss" lotteries that appear to be safe as participants receive their money back. Only one winner gets all the profit from the shared pot. Without intermediaries, smart contracts within DeFi handle all the processes.

  • Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) - NFTs are a new development in the world of cryptocurrency, with various applications such as digital ownership of art, collectibles, gaming, sports, real estate, and media and entertainment forecasted to shape the future of digital ownership.

  • Uncertainty - If the blockchain supporting a DeFi project is unstable, the project will also become unstable. The Ethereum blockchain is undergoing changes that may introduce new risks for DeFi projects.

  • Scalability - DeFi projects face scalability issues with the host blockchain, resulting in slow confirmation times and high transaction costs during congestion. Ethereum can only process 13 transactions per second compared to centralized counterparts that can process thousands.

  • Lack of Insurance - Insurance is important in centralized finance to protect investors from fraud and hacks, while it is less common in DeFi.

  • Low Interoperability - There are various blockchains with their own DeFi ecosystems, but interoperability is necessary to interact with each other. Without it, projects are separated.

We will talk alot about DeFi and how it works in this article, so it only makes sense to give you some examples of the very best DeFi exchanges operating today. In no particular order we’ve put together five of the very best.

  1. Uniswap: Low fees and holds liquidity in DeFi.

  2. 1inch: Finds the best exchange rates for you and no fees on deposits and withdrawals.

  3. PancakeSwap: Fees as low as 0.25% registered on the BinanceSmart Chain.

  4. Curve: Focus on stablecoins and offers versatile swaps.

  5. SushiSwap: Commendable UX design and broad range of ETH-based DeFi tokens.

Decentralized finance is different from traditional, centralized financial institutions and banking. Banks and third parties hold money in centralized finance and handle its movement between parties, with fees charged for their services. For instance, a merchant initiates a credit card charge through an acquiring bank and then to the credit card network.

The bank receives a payment request after the network clears the charge. Credit and debit card usage by merchants results in payment for the services provided by each entity in the chain. Centralized finance oversees all financial transactions, including local bank services and loan applications. DeFi aims to decrease transaction times and increase access to financial services.

Decentralized finance uses emerging technology to enable financial transactions without intermediaries. DeFi operates through peer-to-peer financial networks and utilizes security protocols, connectivity, software, and hardware advancements. This approach empowers people, merchants, and businesses to conduct transactions without traditional financial institutions.

People can borrow, lend, and trade with software that records and verifies financial actions in distributed financial databases wherever they have an internet connection. Distributed databases glean data from various locations and use a consensus mechanism to verify it, ensuring accuracy.

Decentralized finance allows anyone to access financial services without relying on a centralized system. This is made possible through DeFi applications that offer individuals personal wallets and trading services. DeFi gives users more control over their money, and can use financial services from any location.

Decentralized finance does not offer complete anonymity to users. Transactions may not contain personal information but can be tracked and accessed by various entities, including governments. Laws exist to safeguard an individual's financial well-being.

DeFi enables decentralized banking and eliminates intermediaries through a P2P network. Before this, transactions need to be approved by third parties. The 2008-09 financial crisis revealed that middlemen need to be more trustworthy, as customers often need to gain knowledge of financial product and service regulations.

DeFi aims to establish an open, trustless, and permissionless financial market. The technology utilized in the DeFi space aims to enhance the current financial system and potentially enhance the user experience for businesses and clients.

DeFi revolves around peer-to-peer financial transactions. These transactions occur when two parties exchange cryptocurrency for goods or services without any involvement from a third party. DeFi enables individuals to get loans through P2P. An algorithm pairs peers who mutually agree to the lender's terms, and they're issued a loan. These payments flow through a dApp and follow blockchain protocols.

DeFi is being widely used in various scenarios today. Its use cases include:

  • Payments - DeFi can facilitate P2P payments without requiring a central authority.

  • Stablecoins - Stablecoins are becoming more popular in DeFi. They aim to reduce cryptocurrency volatility by tying coin value to another asset, commodity, or currency.

  • Yield farming - Investors utilizing DeFi can earn interest income on their cryptocurrency assets through yield farming.

  • Lending - DeFi often involves borrowing and lending cryptocurrency assets. This practice is a popular use case for DeFi.

  • DApps - DeFi powers DApps, which can support various use cases like gaming and financial services.

  • NFTs - Users can own non-fungible tokens that can be traded.

DeFi brings several advantages to users that can boost their trust, confidence, and security in cryptocurrency transactions and applications. These advantages include the following:

  • Anonymity - Smart contracts on the blockchain can provide transparency, but user identification is not necessary or mandatory. In the case of DeFi, centralized and regulated models do not demand Know Your Client requirements.

  • Control - DeFi enables users to have control over their assets. The user holds the cryptographic private key for their cryptocurrency tokens.

  • Decentralization - DeFi is decentralized, meaning it doesn't carry the risks associated with CeFi. In CeFi, an exchange's failure can result in user funds and accounts being lost. With DeFi, this isn't a concern.

  • Transparency - Smart contracts allow users to easily comprehend the terms and logic behind a transaction. This is achieved through a transparent model devoid of hidden code.

  • Anonymity - Smart contracts on the blockchain can be transparent, but user identification is unnecessary. DeFi does not require Know Your Client requirements, often used in centralized, regulated models.

  • Fees - DeFi promises lower fees to users without a central authority. This is in contrast to the CeFi model, where transactions often come with higher fees.

  • Permissionless - The decentralized model doesn't require a central authority to approve or enable a transaction. This means the model is permissionless and smart contracts are used to determine what is possible.

DeFi offers certain advantages but also presents some possible difficulties to consider. These challenges include:

  • Security - DeFi platforms have become frequent targets of attacks. The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued an alert in late 2022, revealing that attackers had stolen over $1 billion in assets in just three months.

  • Customer service - DeFi customer service can be difficult due to lacking a central authority or service for help.

  • Complexity -  DeFi's biggest challenge may be its perceived complexity. It operates using a P2P model and relies on smart contracts and advanced algorithms that might be difficult for the uninitiated to grasp. This complexity sometimes causes confusion around how a particular service or application functions.

  • Volatility - DeFi approaches may experience higher levels of volatility due to the absence of a centralized authority to regulate transactions or market momentum.

DeFi is taking the financial industry into uncharted territories. Startups in this field are rapidly growing and will significantly impact the future of finance. At this stage, it's difficult to determine the overall effect of decentralized finance, but initial indications have both positive and negative aspects.

Conventional banking and financial services operate on a closed-door model, but DeFi has opened it up. DeFi reduces costs for users by replacing intermediaries with smart contracts. DeFi apps, like stablecoins, central exchanges, and lending instruments, have introduced new markets. The introduction of DeFi is dramatic.

DeFi's rapid rise must be addressed by banks, insurers, investment firms, and mortgage providers. Dismissing this blockchain-based finance ecosystem would be a mistake and risk losing market share. According to crypto experts, banking services may eventually move to DeFi platforms.

To be successful in the fintech space, it's important to strategize when it comes to DeFi. Take time to consider the advantages and disadvantages of decentralized finance and how you can make the most of its booming popularity. Evaluate the risks of regulations, investor interest, and the potential for partnering with traditional finance.


Nikolas Sargeant

Nik is a content and public relations specialist with an ever-growing interest in Crypto. He has been published on several leading Crypto and blockchain based news sites. He is currently based in Spain, but hails from the Pacific Northwest in the US.


What is Decentralized Finance (DeFi)?

Decentralized Finance (DeFi) is a term used to describe financial systems that run on a blockchain network without the involvement of intermediaries such as banks or brokerages. It is a system of open-source protocols that allow for peer-to-peer transactions and financial services to be decentralized and autonomous. Some common examples of DeFi applications include decentralized exchanges, lending platforms, stablecoins, and asset management tools. With DeFi, users can now access financial services that were previously impossible without the need for intermediaries. This has the potential to create a more inclusive financial system that is available to everyone worldwide. Overall, DeFi has the potential to revolutionize the traditional financial industry by providing a more transparent, accessible, and democratized financial system.

Are all cryptocurrencies DeFi?

No, not all cryptocurrencies are DeFi. DeFi stands for Decentralized Finance and refers to financial applications built on top of a blockchain, typically Ethereum. While many cryptocurrencies may have some DeFi features, such as being built on a decentralized network or facilitating decentralized transactions, they may not necessarily be considered DeFi in and of themselves. DeFi specifically refers to financial protocols and applications that aim to decentralize traditional financial services, such as lending, borrowing, and trading, and give users more control over their finances.

Is Bitcoin part of decentralized finance?

Yes, Bitcoin is considered a part of decentralized finance (DeFi). DeFi is a movement aimed at creating a financial system that is open, transparent, and accessible to everyone without the need for intermediaries like banks or financial institutions. Bitcoin is a decentralized cryptocurrency that operates on a public blockchain, making it a core component of the DeFi ecosystem. It allows holders to store and exchange value without centralized institutions, making it a powerful tool for the DeFi movement. Additionally, Bitcoin has inspired the development of other DeFi protocols that utilize its underlying technology to create decentralized financial products and services.

What is the origin of DeFi?

DeFi, or decentralized finance, is a relatively new concept based on blockchain technology. It aims to provide financial services and products using decentralized systems not owned or controlled by any central authority. The concept of DeFi can be traced back to the emergence of blockchain technology in the early 2000s. However, when Ethereum's innovative contract technology developed, DeFi started to take off. The first DeFi application was created in 2018, and since then, the number of DeFi projects has rapidly grown. The origins of DeFi lie in the desire to create financial systems that are more accessible, transparent, and open than traditional finance systems. It remains a rapidly evolving field with emerging innovations and uses cases.

What problems does DeFi solve?

DeFi, or decentralized finance, solves several problems within the traditional finance system. Here are a few examples: 1. Accessibility: DeFi provides access to financial services for individuals who were previously excluded from the traditional banking system due to their location or socio-economic status. 2. Transparency: Traditional finance often lacks transparency, but DeFi provides a public and immutable ledger for all transactions, increasing transparency and reducing the potential for fraud. 3. Cost-effectiveness: DeFi eliminates the need for intermediaries like banks, reducing transaction fees and lowering user costs. 4. Control: DeFi allows individuals to have complete control over their funds and transactions, as they are not subject to the control of centralized financial institutions. DeFi offers a more inclusive, transparent, cost-effective, and user-controlled financial system compared to traditional finance.

1inch.Exchange Decentralized Exchanges
267 N/A N/A ETH 0.0006 No No Yes 2019
Curve Finance Exchange Decentralized Exchanges
8 0.04% 0.04% BTC 0.000079 No No Yes 2020
PancakeSwap Decentralized Exchanges
203 0.20% 0.20% ETH 0.00041 No No Yes 2020
Uniswap Decentralized Exchanges
US flag
390 0.30% 0.30% BTC 0.000079 No No Yes 2018
SushiSwap Exchange Decentralized Exchanges
79 0.30% 0.30% ETH 0.00041 No No Yes 2020