Last month, Bitcoin (BTC) reached above $60,000, highlighting the current frenzy around digital currencies. Following BTC, altcoins also saw substantial increases in value. All of this is music to the ears of long-term and short-term bull investors seeking increased gains, even with the current pullback and support of Bitcoin hovering around $40,000.
However, despite all the hype around the current bull run, a lack of digital asset liquidity continues to be a significant challenge for exchanges, traders, token issuers and market makers. The reality of today’s market is that professional crypto traders cannot efficiently access global liquidity or find the best global prices to increase profits.
For token issuers, the current climate has forced them to list their coins on numerous exchanges to reach their target client base. It drives up business development costs and forces issuers into niche markets. In order for the digital currency market to continue moving forward, these categories must be understood.
Fragmentation and market forces
One of the main causes of illiquidity is rooted in market fragmentation. The idea behind crypto is much more than a sexy stock investment. Crypto is meant to be an entirely new way of handling money. But with all of the different coins — even the successful ones — and the lack of businesses accepting crypto payment, users aren’t utilizing crypto in the way it was initially intended.
Related: Professional traders need a global crypto sea, not hundreds of lakes
Of course, this was the inevitable result of the disruption of the fiat world. Fragmentation of this type is the only possible path for consumers to transition into the crypto world. And because exchanges are generally localized, they tend to service only one or a few fiat currencies. Again, consumers are left with a fragmented market and a slow adoption curve.
This situation isn’t bad, as users have free choice, but it does have consequences.
Two of those consequences are a dearth of liquidity and highly volatile prices. Consider how much the price of Bitcoin has changed over the last two years. It’s been a roller coaster ride, to say the least. That volatility makes it tough for a consumer to go on a $500 shopping spree using a mobile digital wallet at a progressive and technologically adept department store. In short, liquidation and price movements become a problem.
What’s more, the fragmentation of the marketplace has left newcomers to the space with a massive learning curve. Understanding the market and determining accurate pricing for various coins requires having many exchange accounts and a deep awareness of the sector. For this reason, many newer digital investors simply buy and hold, anticipating changes in the market but hoping for relatively rapid returns on coins — even those without clear use cases.
Related: Forecasting Bitcoin price using quantitative models, Part 1
Centralize the demons?
The complexities of the fragmented market have forced several different solutions. Some suggest centralized approaches to liquidity. By centralizing coins and standardizing markets, investors no longer face a fractured and complex maze of coins and prices. Without such negative fragmentation issues at play, investors would be more willing to trade with rapidity rather than holding for wider bid-ask margins.
While this seems coherent at first glance, such a solution is untenable. First, centralization goes against the very ethos on which cryptocurrencies were developed. Centralization is not the answer to fixing a market that grew on the back of a conscious rejection of centralized currencies. To do so would alienate much of the market itself.
Second, if the market adopts a centralized policy, the same problems that plague banks (slow processing times, lack of transparency and security, high fees) will eventually come to the digital currency market. The progress once hoped for would only be a replication of the current financial system’s failures.
Finally, even in an apparently decentralized system where all market liquidity is actually centralized into a few decentralized exchanges, investors would still be limited in how they could participate. With fewer but larger pools of liquidity available, the inevitable result is a return to a fiat-style financial system.
Related: Decentralization vs. centralization: Where does the future lie? Experts answer
Because centralized solutions run contrary to the very nature of digital currencies, a more robust decentralized solution is needed to mend the problems caused by market fragmentation. Decentralization, while a longer-term solution to the problem, can provide the market with continued adoption by institutions. This trajectory aligns with the vision of cryptocurrencies while eventually producing stability.
However, simple decentralization is not a strong enough answer. For crypto, the key to liquidity is “distributed, yet connected.” This slogan takes the best of both worlds and marries them together. Decentralization — that is, distribution — is what makes crypto so revolutionary. But the 21st century is more globally connected than ever before, a link that will only grow stronger.
This growth in connectivity, however, must be maintained through organic methodologies. To seek to force some staunch structure onto the cryptocurrency space is, of course, to centralize it. Therefore, investors and traders must weather the storm of fragmentation to protect what makes cryptocurrency so profoundly disruptive. This pathway offers connectivity, and when connectivity increases, the digital currency market becomes more liquid. Plus, the more distributed the market remains, the more the original purpose of digital currencies remains intact. The market must move in this direction in the next three to five years.
Growth toward DeFi
As the cryptocurrency market moves that way, activity will only continue to increase, allowing decentralized finance (DeFi) solutions to take over from there. DeFi solutions offer the best of both worlds: a truly distributed connectedness, which will protect the digital currency space and reduce fragmentation of the market.
Most cryptocurrency trading companies work the same way as a bank or stock exchange, where buyers and sellers must pay fees for usage. Such a practice can quickly turn into a David and Goliath situation, where traders are taken advantage of by Goliaths with more wealth and higher risk thresholds. However, in a DeFi trading pool, the benefits (and the costs) are spread evenly among all parties. For contributing to the pool, liquidity providers get rewarded with a pool token. Buyers always have a seller, and sellers always have a buyer.
Moreover, all the liquidity providers receive a share of the trading fees based upon their stake size. Truly, this is a decentralized system: Not only can someone offer crypto to the DeFi pool, but they can also contribute fiat, providing an avenue for traditional, conservative investors to play a role. If an investment group sees the benefit, count on them being there for the reward.
Among the major catalysts that will move the market in this direction, the most prominent are central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). As governments begin issuing CBDCs, they offer a far simpler entry point into DeFi. Investors and consumers alike would already be prepared for digital transactions, and the barrier for transitioning funds from fiat to crypto would be substantially lessened.
Additionally, CBDCs would allow for a more significant international movement of funds. Providing a helpful catalyst toward a fully decentralized liquidity pool would make isolated exchanges transacting only in local fiat obsolete. Forces like CBDCs and increased DeFi participation will drive change, and investors will be the better for it.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Haohan Xu is CEO of Apifiny, a global liquidity and financial value transfer network. Prior to Apifiny, Haohan was an active investor in equities markets and a trader in digital asset markets. Haohan holds a Bachelor of Science in operations research with a minor in computer science from Columbia University.