The frequent implosion of crypto lending platforms is rooted in their mismanagement and failure to respect bitcoin’s true value.
This is an opinion editorial by Max Keidun, the CEO of peer-to-peer bitcoin exchange Hodl Hodl.
The bitcoin lending space has suffered from several major issues in recent months and years, from the fallout of the Terra/Luna crash, impacting Celsius and BlockFi, and now FTX as well, to liquidity crunches given the sustained price drawdown, varying accusations of market manipulation and more.
All of these have led to significant losses, bankruptcies and a complete reshaping of the lending market. Many users have lost faith in bitcoin-based lending products and the market appears to be at its historical bottom, both in terms of volumes and public confidence.
As usual, the mainstream media blamed these crises on Bitcoin itself. But is any of this Bitcoin’s fault? Does it make Bitcoin any less attractive? Does it even mean that we shouldn’t consider bitcoin as lending collateral? No!
Bitcoin Is Super Collateral, It’s The Lenders Who Have Failed
While Bitcoin’s code is law, custodial lending platforms are trusted third parties, owned and managed by private entities. Trusted third parties are security holes. This was true before Bitcoin, and it is still true today.
Furthermore, most bitcoin lending platforms are poorly conceived, poorly developed and poorly managed. This doesn’t necessarily imply bad code. The code can be well written, properly audited and verifiably secure, but there may still be poor incentives that emerge from the design of the lending platforms. If the focus is to treat bitcoin as if it were a yielding asset, we are likely in for trouble.
The longer the “bitcoin lending” industry goes on, the clearer it becomes that most involved do not really understand how yield is generated. And as the saying goes, if you don’t know where the yield comes from, then you are the yield. What it really means is that your bitcoin is being used as the principal for risky investments, and it is likely only a matter of time before the house of cards starts to collapse.
I believe that the proper focus for integrating bitcoin into intermediated lending is to appreciate how valuable and unique bitcoin is, and to treat it as something to be borrowed against: to understand that bitcoin is super collateral. But what makes it so unique?
We can identify twelve characteristics that make it so:
Bitcoin Is Liquid
Bitcoin is an extremely liquid asset. It is traded 24/7, with no weekend breaks and no banking holidays. Massive liquidity pools across a variety of fiat currencies are available globally. For lenders, this means that if you want to convert your collateral into fiat, you can do it instantly — either because the borrower has been liquidated or because the loan was repaid from the collateral.
This also allows for the hedging of risks. Bitcoin may be the only kind of loan collateral which can be instantly and dynamically hedged: a serious competitive advantage.
Bitcoin Is Programmable
Bitcoin enables the creation of programmable lending products and ownership mechanisms. Among other benefits, this feature allows us to solve the problem of trusted third parties by building non-custodial lending mechanisms and storage systems. For example, we can distribute collateral claims or create conditional logic for redemption that will be automatically executed by the Bitcoin network, not the whims of a centralized financial institution.
Bitcoin Is Scarce
There will only be 21 million bitcoin.Your collateral is getting more valuable over time, which means there is less incentive for you to sell, and likely more lenders who are willing to accept it.
Bitcoin Is Flexibly Transparent
Bitcoin allows us to enable selective transparency of your assets when useful, but also allows complete anonymity when desired. In a lending scenario, for example, you can easily prove to a lender that you own and control the collateral under consideration.
Bitcoin Is Sovereign
Bitcoin is yours. You have keys to your bitcoin just like you have keys to your house and your car. Bitcoin is your personal property. If you use a house or a car as collateral, you won’t own it — your lender would. With bitcoin, you can still conditionally own it during your lending agreement. In fact, with the right tools, you can not only use but continue to use this collateral during the period of the lending agreement.
Bitcoin Is Secure
Bitcoin is protected cryptographically, economically and socially. It is sensible to think of Bitcoin’s lowest-level network security expanding to the set of tools built on top of it. For example, you can distribute ownership of your collateral between multiple independent parties, use offline wallets and utilize many more security methods.
Bitcoin Is Market Driven
Bitcoin is the essence of a market-driven asset. The price of bitcoin reflects the market almost instantly, and it’s not determined by one or several individuals. It is extremely difficult to manipulate the price of bitcoin. Bitcoin costs almost the same in fiat in any part of the world and is determined by a global market.
Bitcoin Is A Real-Time Asset
Not only can we track the price of bitcoin collateral in real time, but Bitcoin’s blockchain allows you to track your collateral address in real time also. Any price fluctuation can be reacted to appropriately. As mentioned, there are no weekends or holidays, and the market is always open to everyone, so nobody will close the market on a Friday and open on a Monday with different prices.
Bitcoin Is Objective
Bitcoin is honest. Bitcoin in Miami costs the same amount of fiat as it does in Lugano or Riga. Bitcoin doesn’t care whether you like it or not. The price of bitcoin cannot be determined by your personal views or your forecasting capabilities. To borrow against bitcoin, you only need to have bitcoin. Your credit history, social score or anything else is irrelevant to the lender as long as you have the collateral to borrow against.
Take real estate, for example. The same amount of money can buy you different properties in different countries with the same levels of economic and social development. What makes the difference then? Why can you buy a mansion on the coast of the Mediterranean in Spain or Italy and, for the same amount of money, you won’t be able to afford a proper house in the Bay Area in the U.S.?
It’s due to humans’ irrational valuation capabilities. Because real estate valuation is primarily based on human factors, banks evaluate your property as either too expensive or too cheap, depending on market conditions and their plans.
Or take stocks, for example. Your stocks in a certain company can have good underlying conditions and great potential growth opportunities, but suddenly the CEO of this company can tweet some stupid thing, and you are losing money or getting liquidated. Meanwhile, Bitcoin is fair.
Bitcoin Is Global
Bitcoin is globally accessible and globally distributed. For lending, this means that you can borrow remotely from anyone in the world, and you can lend money using bitcoin as collateral to anyone in the world. Bitcoin is neither limited to, nor exclusively exposed to, specific local markets.
Bitcoin Is Digital
In a digital age, with digital commerce, we need digital collateral. Bitcoin is already online. It’s here, on your machine, your phone, your cold wallet. Bitcoin allows you to borrow remotely and instantly. There is no need to digitize bitcoin as you need to do with real estate, land, cars or any other assets. It’s already digital.
Bitcoin Is Decentralized
There is no single point of failure in Bitcoin. Bitcoin has been attacked multiple times, and yet it is growing and expanding globally. No committee or person is responsible for Bitcoin. Having decentralized collateral significantly decreases your dependence on single events and failures of companies or people. You are protected by a distributed network.
Will Lending Ever Match Bitcoin’s Potential?
Powerful collateral requires powerful tools. Is it possible to build lending tools that will match bitcoins’ value? In order to do so, we all need to take a step back and check Bitcoin’s white paper.
After reading Bitcoin’s white paper, you will understand that in order to build a successful lending product (in fact, any type of Bitcoin product!), you need to meet three main criteria. If your product has all three, congrats you have passed the test. Let’s call it “The Satoshi Test.”
Your service should be non-custodial. Remember: not your keys, not your coins. When using custodial lending platforms, you are exposed to the risk of losing your collateral completely. Because, as soon as bitcoin hit platform wallets, they are no longer yours. This is exactly what happened to customers of the many lending and trading platforms that have failed in 2022.Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer, electronic cash system. Once again: peer to peer. Instead of acting like a middleman, you need to provide technical tools for individuals or businesses to operate with each other. Or you can be a business that will allow customers to directly interact with your platform. A good example is a platform that allows customers to buy bitcoin directly into their own cold storage. Your platform should be Bitcoin only, meaning that the only collateral you should work with should be bitcoin. Shitcoins are risky, and shitcoins’ code is a ticking time bomb. By integrating many blockchains into your product, you are exposing the most valuable to the most vulnerable.
There is an extra criteria that could be met: anonymity. If you are building non-custodial, Bitcoin-only, peer-to-peer products, this can and will allow you to offer anonymity and better privacy for your customers because security is not full without anonymity and the data of your customers should be protected, as well as their funds.
A good way to pass The Satoshi Test is to utilize multisig. Multisig is a simple and secure yet powerful tool. It allows you to offer peer-to-peer interactions to users, leverage non-custodial escrows and use only Bitcoin. It also allows you to offer better privacy for your users.
Take, for example, a multisig setup with three keys where the consensus mechanism is reached by entering at least two keys. This is called “two-out-of-three Bitcoin multisig.” In that type of setup, you — as a technical tool provider — can become one of the key holders, but you won’t have full control over customer funds (because you only have one key!), thus ensuring that these funds won’t be moved and rehypothecated. For example, the lender will have one key, the borrower will have another one, and the provider will have the third key. This kind of setup will allow users to verify that funds are only used by them, and that all parties must act according to rules in order to reach consensus, and that no single party can act in a dubious and shady way.
In fact, there are already powerful platforms that use Bitcoin multisig and offer peer-to-peer interactions. These platforms can provide lenders and borrowers from all over the world with easy two-out-of-three multisig setups, where each side (including the platform itself) has one key. The multisig is created on Bitcoin’s public blockchain, meaning that you can check your collateral at any time through any block explorer. And the best part is that no funds can be rehypothecated because the platform itself only has one key that ensures that every involved counterparty is acting in a good and professional way.
Proper Lending Platforms Might Be Useful For HODLers
Although the lending market at the moment is experiencing turbulence and contagion effects, it is a good time to educate yourself about proper lending platforms that might be useful for any true HODLer in the future. As soon as we enter the next bull cycle, there will be less incentive to sell bitcoin and more interest in holding it for the long term and borrowing against it. Be prepared, because bear markets don’t last forever. HODL and learn!
This is a guest post by Max Keidun. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.