What Lies around the Corner for Digital Assets?

In just over a decade, digital assets have gone from nothing to what is now a vibrant, diverse and fast-growing ecosystem. By some measures, such as market capitalization, the ecosystem hit an all-time high during 2021 of more than US$3 trillion equivalent before being shaken up by news like Federal Reserve rate hikes potentially coming sooner than expected. Now hovering around US$2 trillion, this does not include the value of the businesses that have been built on or are using digital asset networks—Coinbase was recently valued at more than US$40 billion1 and FTX at US$32 billion2, just to name two. Moreover, the transactions facilitated by some of these decentralized payment networks clear more than US$100 billion in USD terms per day3—a figure that does not include the transactions conducted within closed-loop services such as Cash App or Blockchain.com.

With this growth and these milestones no longer hypothetical, two questions arise: where might this space grow in the future, and what opportunities might this create? When thinking over answers to these questions, it is helpful to frame one’s thinking in terms of emerging use cases as well as technical changes. With the recent launch of the RWM WisdomTree Crypto Index, consisting of Bitcoin and Ethereum as well as 11 altcoins spanning a multitude of use cases from decentralized finance (DeFi) to the metaverse, there is no shortage of new ecosystem developments to monitor throughout the new year.

Payments is the original use case—the “killer app”—for digital asset networks, and it is not going away. The most important development for this use case is the integration of digital asset networks—and their payment functionality—into existing internet platforms and day-to-day mobile payments applications. For instance, Jack Dorsey’s Twitter has begun to assign Bitcoin Lightning wallets to users’ profiles, allowing people to cheaply, quickly and seamlessly “tip” one another in exchange for content.4 More and more open-source Bitcoin Lightning wallets are appearing on mobile app stores with better-designed user interfaces (e.g., Muun, Pine, BlueWallet). This is coupled with novel ways of acquiring Bitcoin, such as Azte.co’s5 “mobile recharge” model voucher product. Western Union is going to need to change its business model—again.

At the same time, developers are finding new ways to make full use of the decentralized application functionality of networks like Ethereum, Solana and Avalanche. The decentralized finance field will keep traditional finance (TradFi) people awake later at night as exchanges (e.g., Uniswap), lending (e.g., Aave) and yield farming (e.g., Yearn Finance) services pick up new users.