DeFi vs CeFi

Photo - DeFi vs CeFi
Currently, all investors and traders working with cryptocurrencies are faced with the choice between conducting digital asset transactions through centralized platforms with user-friendly interfaces and services or without intermediaries but with a limited number of non-custodial wallet options.
Aside from the technical aspects, there is also a philosophical clash between two concepts - the inconvenient yet belonging to oneself, and the very convenient yet not belonging to oneself. All of this brings to mind the protagonist's dilemma from 'The Matrix' when faced with the decision between the blue and red pills...
DeFi or CeFi? Your choice? (A shot from «The Matrix»)

DeFi or CeFi? Your choice? (A shot from «The Matrix»)

Cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, were initially developed to eliminate the need for financial intermediaries. Commercial banks became redundant in the field of digital peer-to-peer transfers and financial services, while central banks lost their exclusive right to issue money. In the digital asset realm, issuance had a democratic concept and belonged to the crypto community. Non-custodial wallets were proposed for asset transfers, where private keys were kept by their owners. This gave rise to an expression commonly used among crypto enthusiasts: whoever holds the keys holds the assets.

Following the arrival of the first centralized cryptocurrency exchanges (CEX) in the early 2000s, a new concept known as CeFi emerged. These platforms allowed traders to deposit their crypto assets into custodial exchange wallets (where the exchange owned the private keys), in return for a user-friendly trading terminal, access to technical analysis tools and indicators (TA), analytics, and other trading perks, including the ability to work with fiat currencies. In essence, CEX platforms offered a more convenient service, albeit at the expense of relinquishing certain decentralization principles.             

Subsequently, the DeFi space expanded greatly with the introduction of decentralized exchanges (DEX), smart contracts, hardware and cold non-custodial wallets, along with various lending protocols that enabled decentralized lending and passive income through staking, farming, or cryptocurrency savings. In essence, all the services offered by banks became accessible through decentralized financial services and dApps.

In contrast, CeFi appealed to users with its vast array of services and options. As DEX gained popularity, CEX exchanges began offering the same DeFi services through their platforms to retain users. Some CEX exchanges even established separate DEX platforms under their branding, as these centralized platforms were committed to providing all possible cryptocurrency market services in an "All-in-One" package. However, their high liquidity and exchange order books filled with orders in various price ranges were the most significant advantages they offered. 

What is the common path between the two patterns?

There are a number of benefits associated with both DeFi and CeFi. Each is willing to defend its clients against the unfair financial and banking system's restrictions and fees. As a result, each has its own right to exist (and supporters as well).
DeFi | CeFi model

DeFi | CeFi model

With DeFi, digital asset holders enjoy incredible transparency, openness, and accessibility to financial services, coupled with adequate functionality. Nevertheless, it is still a long way from the overall functionality proposed by CeFi, but this could change in the future.

While CeFi still holds a larger and more liquid market, DeFi is rapidly advancing and growing at a phenomenal pace (especially after the crash of CEX exchange FTX). However, DeFi still lacks support for fiat currencies, which is a crucial competitive edge of CeFi.

DeFi is a collection of decentralized protocols, platforms, and financial services that provide an alternative to traditional finance, including banks, credit unions, cash transfer systems, and government financial institutions. CeFi, on the other hand, is an intermediate link between traditional finance and DeFi. It offers centralized platforms that combine existing banking services with the new digital asset economy, primarily targeting users who are not yet willing to give up fiat currencies.

Although they work together towards a common goal of decentralized finance and digital currency, these two concepts differ in many aspects of their mission and approach.

Benefits and drawbacks of each

The emergence of decentralized finance was driven by the urgent need to provide a full range of financial services to users of digital assets. This was based on the principles of complete decentralization and the absence of any intermediaries, as envisioned by Satoshi Nakamoto.

DeFi platforms and protocols are entirely free from any restrictions, unlike many CeFi and traditional finance solutions. This means that no centralized organization or regulator would decide who can or cannot use these platforms or their services. Such an approach ensures the openness of DeFi services to everyone, even without the need to pass through KYC procedures.

DeFi platforms provide more accessibility to financial services than traditional banking institutions, as anyone with a digital asset wallet could use one. DeFi provides access to financial services for those who cannot utilize traditional banking services due to age restrictions, poor credit ratings, or lack thereof.

DeFi services are developed on popular blockchain platforms as decentralized applications (dApps). The majority of these dApps are built using open-source code, giving anyone the ability to audit the code underlying the smart contracts and transactions. Furthermore, well-known auditing and consulting firms regularly provide security reports on such solutions.

Assets tokenized on DeFi platforms are available on the open market. In general, it is possible to do whatever one likes with the asset, unless it is locked up or frozen for a time.

DeFi provides users with the ability to manage their own money without the need for financial intermediaries. As a result, DeFi solutions are even more susceptible to hacker attacks than CeFi solutions. Due to advanced security measures and established organizational structures, levels of protection, and business processes, which are similar to those found in large software companies and banks, CeFi's level of protection is much higher.   

DeFi requires users to take full responsibility for their assets. Losing private keys or sending coins to the wrong wallet address are two of the most common reasons why cryptocurrency investors may lose their assets. By contrast, CeFi providers usually implement protective measures to prevent their users from experiencing financial losses. These measures may include arbitration or refund systems for peer-to-peer transfers, which guarantee rectifying errors or preventing fraudulent activities. 

DeFi platforms offer a range of useful functions and opportunities for earning. However, there are also numerous projects that are of questionable value or outright scams. This leaves users with little legal recourse in contrast to the accountability of public figures and registered companies that typically oversee CeFi platforms. 

Moreover, some decentralized platforms are in an uncertain legal status, since they may provide users with access to services that are banned or heavily regulated in certain jurisdictions. This constitutes a barrier to those users seeking legal compliance.


CeFi currently dominates DeFi in terms of user numbers, market volume, and liquidity. This is largely due to the intuitive user interfaces and functionality offered by large centralized cryptocurrency exchanges that have been developed and refined over many years. For instance, CeFi allows for the use of fiat currencies such as USD and EUR. It also provides verified users with the ability to obtain digital citizenship on CEX exchanges in specific countries, as we previously explained.

CEX exchanges provide custody services, which are more user-friendly and help newcomers avoid potential risks associated with loss of passwords, seed phrases or private keys that may occur when using non-custodial wallets or services to access the DeFi market. In addition, CeFi investors can easily resolve any issues with the support team of CEX exchanges.

Yet, the DeFi industry has been developing at a tremendous pace in recent years. More innovative and advanced DEX platforms and services are emerging constantly. Thus, step by step, the gap between the capabilities of CeFi and DeFi is narrowing. Who knows how the balance will shift within the next five years...