Mobile DeFi and the Shift Toward Self-Sovereignty

Many speculate that mainstream adoption of cryptocurrency is dependent solely on improving ease of access and user experience. In reality, there’s an even bigger obstacle: a mentality shift. 

Self-sovereignty and personal autonomy are the endgame of this technology, and with that goal comes a significant increase in personal responsibility for one’s funds. This is totally at odds with people’s traditional financial experience so far; the legacy system takes away your autonomy and replaces it with convenience, offering useful tools related to fraud protection and password management. By comparison, cryptocurrencies, decentralized finance and other forms of distributed technology fall on the other end of that spectrum, providing the ability to have true ownership of one’s worth. 

For many crypto-beginners, the liberating elements of crypto and financial freedom are promising but intimidating since security is passed from the hands of a third party directly into the hands of the consumer. To bridge the gap between convenience and security, our industry must place greater emphasis on user experiences and familiar tools to ease a consumer’s mentality shift.

The rise of mobile and the crypto floodgate

Smartphones were supposed to open up a world of autonomy that had never been seen before. Their adoption gave people the ability to connect and transact with people all over the world, and with the launch of Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and the coming wave of the so-called “Super Apps,” people are able to more freely engage in commerce than ever before.

This trend, however, is not permanent. Sure, mobile payments are popular, but they’ve been monopolized by a handful of companies and governments. Everyone who uses these applications does so at the convenience of stakeholders in power. And when the financial interests of those in power are misaligned with the users, the sovereignty of the users is trampled — as was the case when last month when the Brazilian Central Bank shut down WhatsApp Payments throughout the country.

It’s no small wonder then that the forward-thinking among us have turned to cryptocurrencies and decentralized tech to claw back the self-sovereignty we were promised by the mobile phone revolution. Crypto, DeFi and decentralized applications promise to fulfill the original vision of our connected future, in which users could retain absolute ownership of their funds as they transacted in a global market. 

The rise of stablecoins, DeFi lending protocols and crypto ATMs across the world are signs of a growing consciousness of the potential this technology could provide to our daily lives.

Building bridges

Adoption of cryptocurrencies thus far has been in spite of — as opposed to because of — user experience. While some crypto mobile applications have clean user interfaces, the collective user experience remains daunting to new people joining the market. 

Most of us have been raised with a reliance on third parties when it comes to securing our funds, and the notion that chargebacks, fraud protection and password resets are not possible in this new world is often a difficult reality to accept. 

Many have tried to connect crypto services with centralized banking services or government-insured deposits, offering what sounds like a bridge between the present and the future. While this may be enough to some, as we further decentralize our services, the most important bridge that must be built is one of mentality: Users must feel capable of overseeing their own funds, of becoming truly self-sovereign.

Building on the familiar

The best way to empower users is to give them tools that are simple to engage with. Hardware wallets like Ledger and Trezor were groundbreaking first steps in user custodianship, but their user experience still remains tricky for crypto newbies, and more importantly, the hardware is intended for use with a desktop or laptop computer. In a world becoming rapidly more and more mobile, what good is a USB-like hardware wallet for storing my private keys offline if users will be regularly transacting on a mobile device?

Hardware wallets should be as simple as a card kept in a pocket, perhaps even resembling a familiar product like a credit card. The key here is offering familiar experiences in line with best practices in crypto security so that the difficult but absolutely necessary shift in mentality is made more palatable. The decision to be personally responsible for one’s own wealth should be a burden of diligence, not of exhausting learning experiences.

In the absence of customer service, projects should also place an increased emphasis on customer support. That being said, open channels should still be available for users to pose questions and educational resources should be abundant. Fostering helpful and welcoming communities can also serve as an incredible resource for those in need of assistance.

The fact that the industry has overcome so many obstacles is a clear sign of our space’s potential. Ownership over funds, messages and data is a desirable goal, though it’s currently difficult for the average person to achieve. As stakeholders in this industry, we must redouble our efforts to provide simple tools to make this transition as simple as possible.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

Corey Petty is the chief security lead at Status. Corey started his blockchain-focused research around 2012 as a personal hobby while doing his Ph.D. candidacy at Texas Tech University in computational chemical physics. He then went on to co-found The Bitcoin Podcast Network and still serves as a host on the flagship The Bitcoin Podcast and a more technical show Hashing It Out. Corey left academia and entered the data science/blockchain security industry for a few years, attempting to fix vulnerabilities in ICS/SCADA networks before finding his fit as the head of security at Status where he remains today.