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What are real world assets (RWA)? The bridge between DeFi and TradFi

Can cryptocurrencies and their disruptive technological foundations bring change to traditional financial systems? With news of BlackRock's digital fund, BUIDL, attracting $280 million in assets over two weeks, we may see big-name players like BlackRock and S&P Global embrace the concept of real world assets (RWAs) and digital asset tokenization.

From collecting a piece of vintage art to becoming the proud owner of American real estate, ownership of such assets has now been unlocked for a wider audience thanks to the advent of RWAs. Curious to know how? From understanding the true potential of RWAs to exploring popular examples of RWAs, here's everything you need to know about real world assets and the challenges they may face in the ever-changing crypto markets.

What is the tokenization of RWAs?

RWAs refer to tangible and intangible assets that range from apartments and gold to patents and stocks. The tokenization of RWAs is the process of converting ownership of these assets into digital tokens on a blockchain, allowing for fractional or whole ownership stakes in the underlying RWAs. By tokenizing RWAs, pain points like complex paperwork and limited liquidity are resolved when buying and selling these assets on the blockchain.

TradFi vs DeFi

Before we dive into RWAs and digital asset tokenization, let's first explore the differences between decentralized finance (DeFi) and traditional finance (TradFi) so you're aware of how RWAs in the crypto space can bridge this gap. TradFi is probably familiar to you, being the likes of banks, stock exchanges, and hedge funds managing your money. While TradFi offers established systems, it can be slow, have high fees, and restrict access for those who are unbanked.

Then there's DeFi — the innovative financial system built on blockchain technology. It aims to create a more open, transparent, and accessible financial ecosystem but tends to struggle with mainstream adoption because of the learning curve involved.

This is where RWAs and tokenization come into play. By tokenizing RWAs, we can leverage the strengths of both TradFi and DeFi by bringing the familiarity and security of traditional assets into the innovative and accessible world of DeFi. In the following sections, we'll explore how RWA tokenization in the crypto space bridges the gap between these two financial systems, creating a more inclusive and efficient future for finance.

How does RWA tokenization work?

The process of tokenizing RWAs typically involves several steps:

  • Origination: RWA tokenization begins with first identifying the asset to be tokenized. The asset can be anything from real estate to intellectual property.

  • Valuation: Then, a qualified professional carefully determines the RWA's value to make sure of fair pricing for the tokens.

  • Legal structuring: Following a proper valuation, a legal framework for the tokenization process must then be established to outline how tokens are issued, managed, and traded.

  • Tokenization platform: Once the paperwork has been completed, it's important to choose a secure tokenization platform that converts the uploaded RWA into digital tokens.

  • Compliance: To meet compliance standards, the RWA token must follow know your customer and anti-money laundering regulations, guaranteeing high transparency and security.

  • Secondary markets: To broaden the reach of the RWAs, the tokens are finally listed on a DeFi marketplace where investors can buy and sell them.

The potential of digital asset tokenization and bringing RWAs on-chain

With the magic of digital asset tokenization, we can effortlessly convert ownership rights of an RWA into digital tokens on a blockchain. These tokens act like digital certificates, securely representing a piece of the underlying asset. Here are the exciting possibilities tokenizing RWAs brings:

  • Fractional ownership: Previously, purchasing and owning a million-dollar property required you to hand over an equivalent amount of funds. Tokenization allows you to hold a fraction of ownership for a much lower cost.

  • Increased liquidity: Traditionally, selling a property or artwork could take months because of the inherent illiquidity of the asset itself. With RWAs on the blockchain, tokens can be easily traded on DeFi marketplaces, increasing liquidity for both buyers and sellers.

  • Streamlined transactions: Gone are the days of mountains of paperwork. Blockchain technology allows for secure and transparent transactions, reducing costs and delays.

Applications of RWAs in DeFi

DeFi thrives on new financial instruments and opportunities. With their tokenized form, RWAs have become a powerful tool in the DeFi ecosystem, especially in the form of examples like tokenized real estate index funds and treasury bills. Let's explore some exciting possibilities:

  • Borrowing and lending with RWAs: Imagine using your tokenized real estate as collateral for a loan in DeFi. While interest rates can vary depending on the DeFi protocol and market conditions, using RWAs as collateral may potentially bring lower interest rates than traditional banks.

  • Increased diversification: DeFi allows for the creation of new trading products based on RWAs. Alongside trading crypto pairs, crypto traders can broaden their holdings with fractional ownership of various RWAs, applying greater risk management through diversification.

  • Democratizing access to traditionally illiquid assets: Thanks to asset tokenization, RWAs remove barriers to entry for traditionally illiquid assets like fine art or commercial property.

Recent institutional interest in RWAs and digital asset tokenization

While BlackRock CEO Larry Fink's bullish comments on Bitcoin have signaled the company's growing interest in the crypto space, the company's recent launch of the BUIDL tokenized fund marks a significant milestone not just for BlackRock but for the entire crypto landscape. BUIDL represents BlackRock's foray into RWA tokenization and caters to those seeking passive returns through a fund backed by assets like U.S. Treasury bills. Its unique structure achieves this by holding 100% of its funds in highly secure assets and distributing daily accrued returns to token holders. In a sense, this broadens the appeal of crypto to a wider audience since the tokenized structure allows for fractional ownership, making participation in BUIDL more accessible compared to its TradFi counterpart.

BlackRock's move is just one example of a larger phenomenon. Beyond this milestone, several other established institutions like HSBC's tokenized gold and Siemens' $64 million bond show that they're actively exploring the potential of tokenizing RWAs. This growing interest ultimately stems from the aforementioned potential benefits RWA tokenization offers.

RWA crypto projects driving the asset tokenization narrative

1. Maker (MKR)

Alongside its DAI stablecoin and being known as one of the largest protocols in the DeFi space, Maker is also making headway for RWA. This is largely thanks to the entity's huge billion-dollar RWA portfolio that diversifies the collateral backing DAI and generates yield for the MakerDAO protocol. Consisting of U.S. Treasury bonds and USDC stablecoins that are generating yields thanks to Coinbase Prime, the $2.34 billion RWA portfolio now makes up nearly 80% of MakerDAO's annual fee revenue. This success is a testament to how RWAs can effectively generate sustainable income streams within DeFi protocols.

Overall, MakerDAO's extensive RWA portfolio serves as a powerful example of how DeFi and TradFi can converge for mutual benefit. By strategically incorporating RWAs, MakerDAO strengthens its stablecoin's stability and generates recurring revenue, contributing to a more robust and sustainable DeFi ecosystem.

To find out more about how MKR contributes to the MakerDAO ecosystem with its governance and stability mechanisms, check out our guide that answers the question what is Maker?

2. Aave (AAVE)

Aave is another prominent DeFi lending protocol that's actively exploring the potential of RWAs. The project has collaborated with companies like Centrifuge to integrate tokenized RWAs into its lending pools. This is accomplished through the minting of crypto-backed loans with tokenized RWAs as the loan's collateral, which can range from real estate to invoices. Once tokenized, companies can then borrow crypto loans against the RWAs and unlock new opportunities within the DeFi space with this newfound liquidity. Overall, this significantly diversifies borrowing and lending opportunities within the Aave ecosystem and creates a win-win situation for borrowers and lenders. As the RWA space matures, many expect Aave and other DeFi lending protocols to play an important role in providing access to a wider range of RWA-based financial products. This integration could also benefit Aave by attracting new users to the platform and increasing liquidity within the Aave ecosystem.

You can learn more about AAVE through our ultimate guide to Aave, which explores the ins and outs of the decentralized borrowing and lending protocol.

3. Goldfinch (GFI)

Unlike most DeFi protocols requiring crypto collateral, Goldfinch flips the script on DeFi lending and specializes in uncollateralized loans. This is accomplished by partnering with real-world originators that evaluate borrowers and their RWA holdings. These RWAs act as off-chain security, which allows individuals to then fuel these loans using USDC via risk-adjusted liquidity pools on Goldfinch. Essentially, borrowers gain access to financing without locking up crypto, while lenders earn returns on loans backed by RWAs. This unique approach blurs the line between DeFi and traditional uncollateralized financial loans seen in the TradFi space.

Goldfinch benefits borrowers, lenders, and the DeFi ecosystem by democratizing access to financial loans, offering diversification, and potentially fostering wider adoption. This can be especially helpful for Goldfinch's target audience, which consists of businesses in emerging markets that require access to liquidity. With millions in active loans and possessing a consistent revenue stream that's relatively unaffected by market conditions, Goldfinch is carving a niche for itself within the DeFi landscape by meeting the credit needs of businesses in these underserved regions.

Keen to learn more about the DeFi protocol? Read up on our Goldfinch guide to understand the entity's inclusive model of offering uncollateralized crypto loans to those in need.

Challenges and considerations RWAs may face

While the potential for RWAs and DeFi is undeniable, there are some challenges to address on the way to mainstream adoption for asset tokenization and RWAs.

Regulatory landscape

Despite big names like BlackRock leading the RWA conversation, the current regulatory landscape remains a gray area for RWAs and asset tokenization. As regulations for these new financial instruments are still under development globally, companies may find their growth slowed as they aim to innovate and make progress while remaining fully compliant.

Finding the right balance between fostering innovation and protecting those interested in RWAs will be crucial to unlock the full potential of digital asset tokenization.

Centralization concerns

While many praise the advancements made in asset tokenization and RWAs, some also highlight the lack of decentralization within the underwriting and credit determination process for crypto loans backed by RWAs. Currently, this process often relies on centralized entities like traditional financial institutions or specialized firms to determine the likelihood of borrowers repaying their loans, which can limit the potential for a truly decentralized lending experience within the DeFi ecosystem.

Lack of RWA liquidity

RWAs might boast real-world value, but many would argue their liquidity in the DeFi space is lacking. Many RWAs like real estate or invoices are inherently illiquid in traditional markets. Unfortunately, digital asset tokenization doesn't magically change that. Trading these tokenized assets can be difficult due to a lack of active buyers and sellers. Meanwhile, the market for RWAs is still in its infancy and could become fragmented with various tokenized assets on different platforms. This lack of a central marketplace for all RWAs further reduces overall liquidity.

Final words and next steps

The world of finance is on the cusp of a significant transformation, driven by the innovation behind RWAs and digital asset tokenization. As traditional institutions like BlackRock embrace the potential of RWA tokenization, we might witness the gap between the established systems of TradFi and the innovative spirit of DeFi becoming bridged over time.

With DeFi protocols like MakerDAO and Aave already leveraging RWAs to diversify their offerings and create exciting new financial products, further innovations could lead to mass adoption for RWA tokenization. For example, we may see fractional RWA ownership, and increased liquidity for traditionally illiquid assets.

Despite the challenges of centralization and illiquidity, the future of RWA tokenization is certainly bright, as many expect RWAs to play a transformative role in building a more inclusive, efficient, and accessible financial future for all.

FAQs

What is digital asset tokenization?

Digital asset tokenization refers to the process of converting ownership rights to a real-world asset into a digital token on a blockchain. These tokens can then be easily traded, stored, and tracked on a secure and transparent network.

What are real world assets?

RWAs are any physical or tangible assets that exist in the real world. This can include things like real estate, artwork, commodities, invoices, and intellectual property.

Why tokenize real world assets?

From the possibility of fractional ownership to increased asset liquidity, tokenizing RWAs unlocks a range of benefits, making ownership of these assets more accessible to the masses and streamlining transactions within the financial system.

How can RWAs be tokenized?

There are different ways to tokenize RWAs. The two common approaches include on-chain tokenization, where the underlying asset is directly represented on the blockchain, and off-chain tokenization, where ownership rights are recorded on a digital ledger outside the blockchain, while tokens themselves remain on the blockchain.

Is RWA tokenization the future of finance?

RWA tokenization has the potential to revolutionize the way we own, trade, and manage assets. Although there are challenges to overcome, the tool offers significant benefits in terms of efficiency, transparency, and accessibility.

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