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Traditional Finance and Decentralized Finance - Key Differences

Pedro Veiga, Kassandra DAO

Understand the main differences between TradFi and DeFi in this article, their restrictions, and possible integrations.

Introduction

Navigating through the crypto market can be confusing, especially for beginners. With an array of acronyms like TradFi, DeFi, CeFi, DEX, CEX, and more, the amount of terms quickly become overwhelming. "Fi" in these terms stands for Finance - it could refer to a decentralized protocol, a centralized organization, or anything connected to financial services.

In this article, we'll untangle the complex web between Traditional Finance (TradFi) and Decentralized Finance (DeFi), showcasing their crucial differences and roles in the crypto market.

TradFi vs DeFi: What's the Difference?

Being relatively new, blockchain and the crypto market have inspired the creation of terms such as TradFi and DeFi to distinguish between financial activities, separating what is new from what is "old school".

In time, these terms might fade away as we see a larger integration of decentralized applications into the traditional market — a transition already taking place in some sectors.

When you encounter the term TradFi, it pertains to time-honored financial services such as commercial banks, insurance companies, asset management firms, investment banks, and more.

DeFi, conversely, alludes to decentralized applications (dApps) utilizing blockchain technology to offer financial services without a central entity's control — everything is handled by smart contracts.

Pinpointing the Key Differences Between TradFi and DeFi

  1. Regulation and User Protection

Traditional Finance, having existed for centuries, has allowed regulatory bodies to establish a framework aimed at customer protection.

Should a customer suffer a system error in the bank, the institution can correct the error and compensate the customer. In cases of fraud or other criminal actions, banks often manage to recover and return the stolen funds—a feat not achievable in DeFi as there is no central authority to seek help from or to take legal action against.

Also, in many countries, if a bank declares bankruptcy, the government reimburses the customers. In the U.S., for instance, the FDIC insures up to $250,000 per depositor and per financial institution. In Decentralized Finance, if a protocol gets compromised, there's no recourse for the user.

To mitigate this, many DeFi investors purchase blockchain insurance to safeguard their assets, fostering safer interactions within the space.

  1. Restrictions

Regulation difficulties make it hard to impose restrictions on DeFi applications. Attempts have been made, such as with the privacy-focused protocol Tornado Cash, but the path forward remains unclear.

TradFi companies, in contrast, require regulation to operate effectively in their respective jurisdictions. This makes it simpler for governments to impose restrictions, potentially halting criminal activities but possibly impeding technological innovations and revolutions.

  1. Transparency

Blockchain's core design advocates for transparency. With no central authority, nothing is concealed—all operations are public, and anyone can access what's happening.

Transparency in DeFi bolsters trust, allowing users to understand what the protocol does, how the smart contracts are constructed, and even how other users interact with the products.

TradFi often leaves users in the dark about what the firm does with their money. Despite being illegal, financial companies sometimes deceive their clients about their products and services — a malpractice that does not happen with blockchain, as users can access all activities in their surroundings.

  1. Know Your Customer (KYC)

Traditional financial activities such as obtaining a bank loan, setting up a financial institution account, or applying for insurance often involve providing numerous documents, followed by a lengthy waiting period for approval. Sometimes, the client might even face rejection.

In contrast, decentralized applications don't necessitate KYC information for interaction. However, remember that centralized companies offering crypto services often require KYC. Once these forms are filled out, it's not challenging to trace wallet transactions on the blockchain and link them to an individual who provided information to a centralized firm.

Conclusion

There is a strong consensus among investors and analysts that the merger of DeFi and TradFi is not only inevitable, but mutually beneficial.

Presently, traditional financial firms are cautiously gauging their involvement with crypto, largely due to the regulatory uncertainties surrounding their operations in this space.

Regulators should focus their efforts on centralized firms providing blockchain services, as these entities can be effectively regulated. Such measures would prevent incidents similar to those involving FTX and BlockFi, paving the way for a greater influx of investors and firms into the space, thus fostering healthy market growth.

Notably, in 2022, JPMorgan, one of the world's leading banks, executed its first DeFi trade using a public blockchain. This significant event highlighted the practicality of integrating blockchain technology and DeFi into the realm of traditional finance.

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