Price-wise, Ethereum hasn’t had the best of years. The second-largest cryptocurrency, according to an analysis by Bitcoin educator Jimmy Song, has lost 18% against the U.S. dollar year to date, which comes in stark contrast to Bitcoin’s approximately 85% gains in 2019.
Notably, altcoins as an entire class have suffered over the course of the year, with data from CoinMarketCap showing that Bitcoin dominance — the percentage of the cryptocurrency market made up by BTC — has rallied from 51.5% at the start of the year to 68.3% now.
Bitcoin’s primacy has been attributed to a confluence of factors, including but not limited to the fact that institutional investors getting involved in cryptocurrency are focusing nearly solely on Bitcoin and the trend of U.S. governmental agencies cracking down on altcoin projects for breaking certain regulation.
Although it isn’t clear if the Ethereum price will undergo a reversal starting in 2020, the network’s fundamentals have been rather positive, boding well for the long-term adoption trajectory of ETH and related assets.
The following is a list of the top developments the Ethereum ecosystem has seen over the course of 2019.
DeFi Went Mainstream, Crypto Mainstream
Ever since Ethereum’s earliest days in 2015/2016, investors have been asking what the blockchain’s “killer use case” or “killer application” is. While at first, Ethereum’s primary application was to be a platform for initial coin offerings and gambling, the blockchain’s prospects have evolved over 2019.
This year, decentralized finance, better known as DeFi, went mainstream, crypto mainstream anyway.
According to Ethereum statistics website DeFi Pulse, there is $667.3 million worth of digital asset value — including just under three million Ether — locked in DeFi applications on the blockchain, which is up from approximately $240 million in January of this year.
DeFi’s journey from irrelevance as a niche use case to the crypto mainstream has been led by a number of platforms: Compound, a platform that allows individuals to borrow and lend ETH, USD Coin, MakerDAO’s DAI stablecoin, amongst other altcoins; Bancor, a decentralized exchange that is branching into different chains; Augur/Veil, decentralized betting platforms that allow users to make markets on anything; and Synthetix, a platform offering so-called “decentralized synthetic assets,” such as Ethereum-based gold tokens, decentralized shorts on Bitcoin price, and much more.
DeFi’s growth has been so impressive that many have begun to brand this subset of applications Ethereum’s killer application as hinted at earlier. Jon Jordan, communications at DappRadar, told me:
“DeFi certainly is the first category of dapps to attract significant amounts of value (both ETH and ERC20 tokens). In terms of wider issues such as user numbers, however, it’s not clear DeFi will attract millions of users. But, yes, DeFi is the first killer dapp category on Ethereum.”
Institutional Involvement Starting: Fidelity May Add Ethereum, CME Futures Nearing
Although Bitcoin was the cryptocurrency of focus in 2019, both for institutions and retail traders, 2019 was the start of institutions getting involved with Ethereum.
Per previous reports from Blockonomi, Fidelity Investments — the financial services and investment giant with over $2 trillion worth of assets under management — has intentions to add Ethereum to its cryptocurrency trading and custody platform in 2020.
Head of Fidelity’s crypto division, Tom Jessop, told industry outlet The Block that the firm has “done a lot of work on Ethereum” over recent months, and is looking to add support for the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization within the coming year.
The catch: clients of the firm need to show that they demand Ethereum, for Bitcoin, the digital currency with the longest track record, has long been the star of the institutional crypto show due to risk factors. Jessop elaborated:
“How do I know that if I buy this thing, it’s gonna be around tomorrow? Like what indication of durability or longevity do I have based on the fact that the history of this asset is 10 years old?”
This update came shortly after reports revealed that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CFTC) newest chairman, Heath Tarbert (his successor was the so-called “Crypto Dad” Chris Giancarlo), revealed that he believes there will be regulated Ethereum derivatives in the coming 12 months.
Ethereum for Centralized Finance
This past year saw a number of financial institutions get their hands dirty with Ethereum.
It began with JP Morgan, one of the world’s largest financial institutions. The bank and investment firm unveiled “JPM Coin” at the start of the year, revealing that this digital form of money would be based on Quorum, a private version of Ethereum’s stack.
Spanish banking giant Santander continued the trend of institutions using Ethereum. The bank issued a $20 million bond all through the Ethereum blockchain’s contracts and ERC-20 tokens, while financial ratings and research company Morningstar began an initiative to migrate some of its services over to the Ethereum blockchain.
French lender Societe Generale followed suit, issuing a $110 million Ethereum bond to itself via ERC tokens.