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Crypto Die-Hards Built a $90 Billion Wall Street on the Internet

Automated protocols running on the internet are paying traders to provide liquidity for unregulated, decentralized markets.

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Illustration: Inkee Wang for Bloomberg Businessweek

Money manager Vladimir Vishnevskiy can earn a negative interest rate for holding a European government bond. Or he can pocket the annual equivalent of a 20% yield for locking money up in one of the wilder corners of the crypto market, known as decentralized finance, or DeFi.

He decided to go for the 20%. “You can’t get those yields in the traditional space,” says the co-founder of Swiss-based St. Gotthard Fund Management, which runs a portfolio designed to squeeze income out of crypto assets. The strategy is so new that even Wall Street pros may have trouble wrapping their heads around it. Take what you might know about Bitcoin—that it’s a digital currency that exists only on an online ledger governed by computer code. Now make it even more mind-bending, and imagine the code isn’t just recording transactions. It’s running lending platforms, insurers and financial markets with little human intermediation. That’s DeFi.