In conventional finance, the user's identification is established, while transaction details remain confidential. However, in DeFi, the user's identity is unidentified, and transaction records are accessible to the public. The DeFi KYC concept endeavors to combine Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) regulations with DeFi's concepts of user confidentiality and unrestricted access. As one can envision, achieving this is not a simple task.
What is KYC?
KYC is a procedure used by financial service providers to verify the identity of their customers and assess their risk profiles. Its purpose is to prevent financial crimes, such as money laundering and terror financing, from occurring within the financial system.
Typically, KYC is conducted when a customer opens an account with a financial institution and is required to provide personal information. This information may be added to a centralized global database or sold to third parties, depending on the institution.
The KYC process is able to flag individuals who may be involved in money laundering or terror financing, and the financial institution can then take appropriate action, such as reporting them to authorities or banning them from using their service. In addition, KYC helps financial institutions manage their exposure to counterparty risk and avoid working with bad actors.
At a basic level, KYC involves three main components:
- Customer identification: The company collects and verifies personal information, such as name, address, and government-issued ID, to confirm the customer's identity.
- Due diligence: The company examines the customer's background, including their source of funds and business activities, to ensure they are not on any watchlists or sanctions lists, and to identify potential connections to sanctioned individuals, companies, or countries.
- Ongoing KYC monitoring: The company periodically reviews and updates the customer's information to check for suspicious activity and to maintain accurate risk profiles. This continuous monitoring is crucial in identifying and preventing potential fraudulent or illegal activity.
The Implementation Challenge of KYC in DeFi
The conventional KYC process is known for being centralized and intrusive, with users providing confidential personal data to companies for determining their eligibility to use their services. Third-party firms like Kompli-Global and Amlexa are sometimes outsourced to carry out the KYC process, leading to more centralization of user data. Given that KYC is inherently centralized, incorporating it into DeFi can be considered in opposition to DeFi's principles: a centralized KYC process creates a single point of failure, which is exactly what DeFi attempts to avoid". Could give the example of Equifax' massive data breach: "Massive data breaches such as the one affecting 143 million Equifax users show the vulnerability of large-scale centralized collection of personal data.
DeFi's attractiveness stems from the fact that users can participate pseudonymously, use products seamlessly, and enjoy unrestricted access to the protocol. However, KYC implementation threatens this anonymity, introduces hurdles, and eventually hinders some users from accessing specific DeFi products. This creates a contradiction within DeFi KYC.
Implementing KYC in DeFi poses logistical challenges due to the decentralized nature of DeFi applications, which are available to users globally and operate in a permissionless manner. It can be difficult to ensure that each user undergoes the appropriate level of KYC, especially given the varying regulations across different countries and regions.
How DeFi KYC Can Benefit Both DeFi Founders and Users
Though KYC can seem like a cumbersome process, it has the potential to offer more than just another regulatory hurdle for DeFi. In fact, implementing KYC can bring about positive outcomes for both DeFi founders and users. Here are two potential benefits of DeFi KYC:
1. Mitigating Reputational Risk in DeFi
Money laundering is a significant global issue, with an estimated $800B to $2T, or 2% to 5% of the global GDP, laundered each year, and a very small portion of that amount occurring in crypto. Although 99% of money laundering happens in fiat, it is still crucial to prevent it in crypto since some of the money is used for illegal activities such as terrorism and arms proliferation financing. By implementing KYC in a DeFi app, it is becoming difficult for bad actors to use the platform, thereby reducing reputational risks for the DeFi industry as a whole and creating a safer environment for users.
2. Ensuring Regulatory Compliance
KYC is a regulatory requirement for financial service providers, including custodial crypto firms, in several countries, such as the United States, United Kingdom and France. DeFi platforms (the non-custodial ones) aren't necessarily subject to KYC right now. As more countries formalise their crypto regulations, KYC is likely to become a more standard requirement. By implementing KYC/AML processes, it is possible to comply with regulations, thereby avoiding hefty fines and maintaining the sustainability of your business.
Integrating KYC procedures in DeFi may improve transparency and accountability in the sector, creating obstacles for cybercriminals to launder stolen funds. Nonetheless, it's important to recognize that KYC isn't a universal solution for AML challenges, and diverse mechanisms should be implemented to address various issues. The DeFi community should partner with regulators and other involved parties to establish efficient solutions that harmonise compliance with innovation, ensuring the well-being of all stakeholders and preventing malicious actors from exploiting the system.
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