Jun 042017

Bancor Token Exchange

This is part-2 of our series exploring the new Bancor protocol. You can find part-1 here, where we discussed how the Bancor protocol allows for the proliferation of user-generated tokens while providing the tokens liquidity at the same time through a decentralized exchange on Ethereum via the use of smart contracts (so no counterparty risk like in an exchange).

Here, we discuss how the Bancor protocol can be used for the decentralized token exchange economy not just for newer community-type tokens, but for well-established crypto-tokens on Ethereum as well. We’ll also talk about how this ties into the token asset management space that other projects like Melon and working on.

First, let’s talk about creating a decentralized exchange via the Bancor Protocol.

Decentralized Exchange via Profit Arbitrage

There have been several attempts at creating decentralized exchanges. Many of them rely on external gateways that transfer the assets on the blockchain into ‘real world’ currencies. However, these still have a counterparty risk involved. These include examples like Waves or Bitshares that have a “DEX” (Decentralized Exchange) built into their products, but with the use of external gateways.

However, what Bancor is building is something different. It has the elements of price discovery outside of the decentralized exchange, which then drive the price discovery on the blockchain. The actual exchange mechanism itself is completely decentralized, and doesn’t rely on any external third-party ‘guaranteeing’ assets on the blockchain to be a certain value.

The way this works is through simple price arbitrage. There’s a smart contract that triggers the exchange of one crypto-asset into another. If the relative prices go out of whack by a lot, then arbitrageurs enter the market, and buy the relatively undervalued asset while selling the relatively overvalued asset, while offsetting their positions with the external exchange. This is the key to how the Bancor protocol enables decentralized asset exchange. The smart contract itself has no concept of a price. Instead, the assumption is that the price is determined not by price feeds but by arbitrageurs who have an economic incentive to get the prices in balance, otherwise they can make a riskless profit.

In terms of the actual implementation, like with Token Issuance, there is a certain amount of crypto-assets in reserve. However, these are full reserve as opposed to fractional reserve, and there are two crypto-assets instead of one. Now you’ve created a trading pair. No need of any external exchange.

I believe another important characteristic of the Bancor Protocol is that it enables the creation of new asset pairs that is market determined as opposed to exchange determined. Today, say if you want to use Augur as your base trading pair, you’ll be hard pressed to find an exchange offering you Augur trading pairs. However, with Bancor, you can easily create one by keeping Augur and another crypto-asset fully backed in the smart contract. This way you’ve created an Augur trading pair.

Asset Management and Crypto-ETFs

Another less appreciated aspect of the Bancor protocol is that it enables the creation of crypto-ETF like assets, without any centralized trust component, i.e. only via smart contracts. This will become increasingly important as crypto-assets become a genuine asset class on to themselves. The way Bancor envisions ETFs is the creation of multiple reserve assets in the smart contract, with a 100% backing instead of fractional reserve.

These smart tokens will become an essential part of the portfolio from an investment point of view. Already, companies like Iconomi are working on creating crypto-index funds. However, the ICNX that is created by Iconomi is completely centralized. With the Bancor protocol you can do the same (although for now only with Ethereum-based tokens) in a decentralized manner and just hold units of account in the smart contract that contains the tokens in reserve.

I predict that ‘theme-based’ investing in crypto will become common too. For example, think prediction markets will be the next big thing? There will be a crypto-ETF with Augur’s REP and Gnosis’ GNO tokens. As the scope of projects keeps expanding, this will become more important for investors that don’t want to take chances on individual companies but instead on the market potential.

Photo Credit: normanack

Jun 012017

Bancor Protocol

Bancor is building a really interesting economic framework that would make it easier to obtain price discovery for thinly-traded tokens. The goal of the Bancor Protocol is to allow for the creation of whole new types of token economies that may never otherwise have a price, because exchanges aren’t interested in adding thinly traded tokens. With the implementation of the Bancor Protocol, tokens can already have a source of price discovery and liquidity without there being any need to add them on external exchanges.

Economics of Token Issuance

At the heart of the Bancor Protocol lies a smart contract that is able to exchange specific crypto-tokens (called ‘Smart Tokens’ in the whitepaper) for an underlying asset. An important point to remember is that the underlying isn’t tied one-to-one to the Smart Token. Instead, only a certain reserve ratio is in place.

If there is a token issuance that uses the Bancor protocol, the following are the key parameters –

  • Money in Reserve – this is ETH or an ERC20 token in reserve with the smart contract. It can also be a combination of one, two, or many of these tokens.
  • Reserve Ratio – this is the ratio of reserves (in the form above) held in the smart contract. For example, if a Smart Token has a supply of 100, with a total of 100 ETH priced in, and an ETH reserve ratio of 25%, it means 25 ETH will initially sit in the smart contract.
  • Smart Token Supply – this is the total supply of the smart tokens being issued. In the example above, since we issued 100 Smart Tokens, that’s the total token supply.
  • Theoretical Total Reserve – this is the theoretical limit of ETH or another ERC20 token backing the Smart Token Supply. Note that this is simply given as the actual Money in Reserve divided by the Reserve Ratio. In our example, 25 ETH is the money in reserve, and the Reserve Ratio is 25%, so the Theoretical Total Reserve is 25/0.25 = 100 ETH.

It is important to note that the Theoretical Total Reserve described above is not the amount sitting in the smart contract. The smart contract only has this amount multiplied by the Reserve Ratio. The idea is that of a fractional reserve – in efficient markets, the reserve would never go dry because the price adjusts depending on the interaction with the smart contract (we’ll discuss price discovery and price movement mechanisms below).

If the Reserve Ratio is 100%, then the token and underlying would move together, i.e. if you issue 100 tokens backed by 100 ETH in the smart contract that can be withdrawn at any point of time, then the downside is limited to 1 token per ETH. However, things start to get interesting when the Reserve Ratio is less than 1.

Pricing and Economics Between Reserve Tokens and Smart Tokens

Before we discuss pricing-specific details, let’s outline why you would like to have a Reserve Ratio of less than one in the first place. Say there’s a token sale that raised 1000 ETH. The team can announce that 25% of this will be held in reserve, and the rest 75% will be used for their operating and capital expenses. This causes the price of the Smart Token to instantly float against ETH. Say 10,000 Smart Tokens were issued, which would mean a price of 0.1 ETH. Now due to there being a reserve, although the initial price is 10 Smart Tokens per Ether, the actual price can float even without it being added to external exchanges like Poloniex or Bittrex or even decentralized exchanges like EthDelta or Waves/Bitshares DEX.

So how does it work? Simply put, each time you buy the Smart Token by paying ETH into the smart contract, the price increases. Each time you sell the Smart Token and take ETH out of the smart contract, the price decreases. The magnitude of the increase or decrease is independent of whether you do one transaction or break it up into multiple transactions. This way, if there’s demand for the Smart Token, you can simply get it by exchange ETH from the smart contract. The price the smart contract quotes you is a cumulative value calculated based on all the previous buys and sells in the past.

Things get more interesting when external exchanges also list the Smart Token. Now there is a clear arbitrage opportunity between the floating exchange rate quoted by the smart contract and the exchange rate on exchanges. People can buy the Smart Tokens from two sources, and in efficient markets, the prices would come to parity. If not, someone can exploit the arbitrage opportunity and make a profit.

Bancor has some really interesting economics and game theory behind it. We look forward to the product being released and see how it affects the token issuance market.

Photo Credit: Flickr