Web3 and cryptocurrencies aim to revolutionize the way the world sees financial markets, beginning with the concept of decentralization; and one of the emerging trends in web3 is the concept of crypto liquidity pools and staking. In exchange for staking one’s fiat cash into these pools to provide liquidity, they can offer very high rates of return relative to standard financial instruments and facilitate trade for decentralized exchanges, for instance. Seasoned investment professionals often see these returns as “too good to be true”. While the concept offers obvious benefits, like facilitating the ease of trading crypto tokens, liquidity pools also come with risks that investors in the web3 space should take caution of.
It is not uncommon to see promises of 20% to even 90% returns for staking liquidity pools in the cryptocurrency environment, particularly from startup Decentralized Exchanges. Compare this to some of the best performing hedge funds and PE shops on earth and experienced individuals/entities might start to take a deeper look. It is important that inexperienced and experienced investors understand that the high returns in liquidity pools and staking come with inherent risks.
The value of tokens in liquidity pools or staking are very often subject to price volatility, which can result in severe losses not typically disclosed as risks by these decentralized exchanges, as there is no central authority to bear the responsibility. There is often a reason you won’t find the CEO’s name, or any employee responsible for developing these platforms, on the website at all. Additionally, there may be risks associated with the underlying smart contracts or the DeFi platform itself, such as potential security vulnerabilities or regulatory changes.
Exploits, Hacking, Errors in Smart Contracts
Liquidity pools in the web3 space are typically governed by smart contracts, which are created in code meant to serve as self-executing contracts. While blockchain concepts do aim to protect the integrity of the code written by anonymous participants or original developers of a decentralized exchange, they are not immune to exploitive activity, hacking, coding errors that could result in financial loss for liquidity providers. Decentralized exchanges are particularly prone to hacks due to the lack of regulation and oversight in the space. This is something that web3 enthusiasts and pioneers in the domain hang all of their ethos on. Any and all centralized regulation and security precautions are shunned in this environment, at all costs.
On the other side, introducing more centralized regulation to these decentralized exchanges could undermine the fundamental ideas behind these exchanges, costing liquidity providers money as more regulation is put into place, and upending the foundations of these platforms. This may include changes in tax treatment, licensing requirements, or restrictions on the use of certain cryptocurrencies. Regulatory changes can have a significant impact on liquidity pools, and investors should carefully consider the regulatory environment before participating in them.
Impermanent loss occurs when the value of the crypto tokens in a pool changed in relation to each other. Looking at an example: if someone provides tokens A and B to a liquidity pool, and the price of token A increases significantly compared to token B, they may suffer impermanent loss when you withdraw your tokens. This is because they would receive fewer tokens of token A and more tokens of token B than they first provided, resulting in a loss. This can be very difficult to predict and manage and is an inherent risk in staking crypto projects/exchanges.
It’s important to note that high returns in liquidity pools and staking are not guaranteed and can vary widely depending on the specific DeFi platform, market conditions, and other factors. Before participating in liquidity pools or staking, it is crucial to thoroughly understand the associated risks and conduct thorough research on each opportunity. Of course, this can ring true for any investment opportunity.
–Derek Sweet, Vice President, Sales for North America