August 24, 2023
10 min read
Aave is a decentralized finance (DeFi) money market protocol. It allows users to lend, borrow, and earn interest on cryptocurrencies. It’s open-source and non-custodial. That means anyone can participate, no central entity holds keys or decision power, and all assets stay in your wallets at all times.
Money markets are nothing new, and they’re fairly popular with FIAT money Most people borrow and lend money at some stage. People borrow money for mortgages, student loans, and credit cards. They also lend money to the bank when they deposit money to a savings account. The bank then pays them an interest for their loan.
At that, we can see that borrowing and lending traditional money is fundamental to modern society. What about crypto, though,–often called the future of money?
Aave is a decentralized finance (DeFi) protocol. It’s essentially a crypto money market, allowing users to lend and borrow cryptocurrencies without an intermediary.
Aave is as decentralized as it gets. First, it doesn’t require an intermediary. What’s more, the platform supports complete anonymity: users don’t interact together at all. All the borrowing and lending happens through pools. These are essentially central accounts. Lenders pay into these pools, and borrowers lend from these pools, too.
Aave is built on Ethereum, but the team released Polygon (MATIC) and Avalanche (AVAX) versions in 2021. They’re hoping to provide faster and cheaper alternatives to the somewhat aging Ethereum blockchain.
Before we dive into Aave’s technical details, let’s look at its history and how it became what it is today.
Before it was Aave, the platform started as ETHLend in Switzerland, in 2017. ETHLend was a lending platform for Ethereum-based cryptocurrencies. The main idea was to allow users to directly lend and borrow cryptocurrencies between each other, at terms mutually agreed upon.
The project had three founding members: Stani Kulechov (CEO), Jordan Lazaro (COO), and Nolvia Serrano (CMO). The team launched the idea in an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) in November 2017, with its native token LEND. In that ICO, they managed to raise $16.2 million for the project.
ETHLend was arguably the first crypto money market, so it could’ve had so much potential. Still, the timing was unfortunate: The 2018 bear market didn’t allow the project to gain traction. As usual with any first release, the product also suffered some issues. The network had difficulty in manually matching loan requests to offers, and generally lacked liquidity.
True to the saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste”, the team focused on solving the issues at hand. Later, CEO Kulechov said, “The recent bear market of 2018 was actually good for our lending platform”. The progress spoke for itself: In September 2018, the team announced the name change to Aave, which is Finnish for ghost. The major upgrade was anonymity, as the new name implies.Users don’t interact directly with each other anymore, rather, they lend into and draw from a pool.
Moving to a pool-based model streamlined the user experience. Overall, it gave everybody on the platform a smoother experience.
A public Aave V1 test net launched in October 2019. That introduced the liquidity pools concept. It retained the original LEND token and officially launched in January 2020. The reception was largely positive, and the protocol grew to over $1 billion in less than six months. V1 also introduced products like aTokens and flash loans. We’ll discuss those in more detail later.
Aave HQ also moved to London in 2020.
Less than a year later, in December 2020, we saw a second version launch, Aave V2. It introduced new features, like Collateral Swaps and Batch Flash Loans. V2 optimized the smart contracts. That means the fees on V2 are lower than V1’s. Aave V1 continues to operate parallel to the new V2. That said, V1 is seeing a much lower transaction volume.
In March 2021, Aave announced the release of an Automated Market Maker (AMM) Liquidity Pool. In essence, an AMM is a decentralized exchange (DEX) protocol that relies on a mathematical formula to price assets.
After a Proof of Concept with Uniswap the year before, the newly released AMM on Aave works as a separate market. That allows Uniswap and Balancer’s liquidity providers (LPs) to use their LP tokens as collateral on the Aave protocol, instead of putting up more collateral in other assets.
Aave’s main focus was and still is on Ethereum, making it a Level 1 solution. That said, other chains have become significant enough to warrant Aave’s attention.
In March 2021, Aave expanded its product onto Polygon. Polygon is a popular Ethereum sidechain that aims to solve many of the issues Ethereum struggles with, like slow speeds and high fees.
A few months later, in October 2021, the Aave protocol was successfully deployed on the Avalanche C-Chain, due to popular demand among users with Aave votes (LEND or AAVE token holders, respectively.)
Like its predecessor, ETHLend, Aave is fundamentally a money market. ETHLend manually matched the loans and enacted them directly between users. That said, Aave is what’s called an algorithmic money market.
Tokens on Aave are held in pools. As a lender, you deposit into the currency pool you choose. If you’re borrowing, you’re borrowing from a currency pool, not from a lender directly.
Aave’s interest rate is demand-driven. They call it the utilization rate. It’s almost like the hospitality industry. Hotel rooms become much more expensive on holiday nights because they’re highly in-demand. Their price significantly drops when demand drops on regular nights. That’s also what happens on Aave.
If the assets in a pool are almost used up (as in, lent out), the utilization rate is high. In that case, the interest goes up to entice more lenders to replenish the pool. If the pool’s funds are largely unused, the utilization rate is low. That means the interest is also low to encourage borrowing activity.
ETHLend was without a doubt, a truly decentralized platform. Lenders and borrowers matched together directly, without an intermediary.
That said, many people believe Aave’s central liquidity pools are a move away from true decentralization. That assumption is wrong, though. Even with central pools, Aave is still truly decentralized. Smart contracts match all transactions, fully autonomous, and without the interference of any middleman. In fact, Aave doesn’t have a middleman at all. It has no central entity to control or influence the funds.
Let’s discuss that in the next section.
Aave is a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO). It’s somewhat a poster child structure for Web3 projects.
A DAO consists of users with certain qualifications. In Aave’s case, the qualification is holding AAVE tokens. Anyone holding AAVE tokens can vote on changes to the protocol. The vote is in relation to the number of tokens the voter holds. According to Etherscan, the largest individual address to hold AAVE contains just over 250,000 tokens. That’s 1.6% of the available supply. This extremely low percentage ensures a truly democratic vote, meaning no single holder (or even group of holders) can easily reach a majority to enforce their will.
Aave consistently ranks in the Top 5 DeFi lending platforms. It has a $24 billion total value locked (TVL) at the time of writing.
Roughly half of that is locked up in Aave V2 on Ethereum. V1 only holds about $150 million, while the Aave markets on Polygon and Avalanche hold about $5.5 billion each.
That makes Aave the biggest DeFi lender by TVL, and one of the biggest players in the DeFi space in general.
Aave may sound like a traditional money trading platform at first. Still, since its inception in 2017 as ETHLend, the platform has consistently introduced innovative products and features to improve the user experience. Let’s take a look at some of these.
As a rule of thumb, all loans on Aave have to be overcollateralized. That means you have to deposit more value than you want to borrow. That accounts for crypto volatility. Aave expresses overcollateralization in a percentage that varies from token to token. The riskiest coins have a 15% rate only. That means for every $100 you invest, you can borrow $15. The most stable coins, like Ethereum, offer a 75% rate, meaning you can borrow $75 for $100 you deposit.
If the collateral’s value drops below the defined rate, the user will be liquidated. Let’s understand this with an example. A user uses 1ETH as collateral and borrows 0.75ETH of crypto assets. If Ethereum (the collateral) drops by 25% or more, the entire position gets liquidated. (It’s actually a bit less than 25%, since Aave builds in a margin for fees. In this scenario, 24% would likely lead to liquidation already.)
An innovation that came with Aave V1 is Aave interest-bearing tokens, or aTokens for short. aTokens are minted (created) upon deposit and burned (destroyed) when redeemed. They’re pegged 1:1 to the underlying asset used as collateral and serve to accumulate interest.
Let’s look at an example: A user deposits USDT (USD Tether, a stablecoin) as a loan, and they get aUSD in return. The aUSD held will accrue interest in real-time for the loan’s duration, in accordance with the current interest rate. Once the user decides to terminate the loan, they swap their aUSD (the initial amount plus interest earned, both in aUSD) back to USDT using the original deposit note. The aUSD gets burned, and the user is left with the original USDT plus interest. The only deduction is the Reserve Factor, a fee charged on the interest to feed back into the network reserve which was introduced with Aave V2.
Aave V2 introduced collateral swaps. That means a user can swap a loan’s underlying collateral. It may be useful when the user holds another cryptocurrency that has gained value lately. The cryptocurrency would be freely available to deposit as collateral.
When it comes to interest, users on Aave can choose between variable or stable rates. The utilization rate defines the variable rate as explained above. It’s volatile, but potentially more lucrative. The stable rate is based on averaging. It’s less volatile but unlikely to provide the variable rate’s potential upside. A feature called interest rate switching allows users to seamlessly switch between the rates at any time.
Flash loans are unsecured loans with only a 0.09% fixed interest rate (plus network fees.) They come with a caveat, though. They have to be paid back in the same transaction, i.e. before the next block is created. Unsecured sounds risky, but in reality, it’s the opposite. Almost no risk is involved. If the Flash Loan is paid back within the same block, any potential profit is for the user to keep, minus any network or interest fees, of course. If the Flash Loan isn’t repaid, the network automatically invalidates the transaction, and it’s like it never happened. No foul, no harm.The only catch? The average time for block creation on Ethereum is 12 to 14 seconds…
Flash Loans have 3 main use cases: Arbitrage, Collateral Swapping, and Self-Liquidation.
Say a user knows of a way to quickly make a small profit on ETH, for example through Arbitrage trading. Since the profit percentage is low, a large sum is required to make the trade worth it. If the user doesn’t own enough ETH, they can get a 10 ETH. If they pay it back within the same block, any profit made (minus the network and fixed interest fee) is theirs to keep.
2. Collateral Swapping
Collateral Swapping uses the Flash Loan to swap an existing loan’s underlying collateral. Say a user deposited a specific token as collateral for a loan, but fears a price drop of said token with liquidation as a possible result. They could use a Flash Loan to unlock the loan, swap the collateral to another (presumably more stable) token, and repay the Flash Loan immediately after doing so.
Avoiding Self-Liquidation is also quite straightforward with Flash Loans. Assume a user deposited ETH as collateral for borrowing BAT. ETH’s value keeps dropping, and the user is approaching liquidation level. They also don’t have enough BAT to repay the loan. The user can take a Flash Loan of enough BAT to repay the loan, get their ETH back, repay the Flash Loan and the associated fee, and keep the remaining ETH. (Keep in mind all loans are overcollateralized, meaning the user will have deposited more ETH than they received BAT.)
Aave V2 introduced bulk flash loans. These allow the borrowing of multiple assets in the same transaction.
Flash loans are an exciting way to handle excess liquidity. Usually, Aave’s pools have much more liquidity than lenders require. Flash loans put that excess liquidity to use without blocking it long-term, having little effect on the traditional loan process.
Aave is primarily for DeFi purposes, so it’s open source and can expand functionality to other third-party apps on Ethereum.
In November 2020, Aave announced a partnership with Axie Infinity, a Pokémon-inspired video game where users collect fantasy creatures called “Axies.” Users can win AAVE tokens in the game, and AAVE token holders are eligible for a unique AAVE NFT.
Later the same month, Aave announced an investment in Pixelcraft Studios, a Singapore-based company. It’s developing a game called Aavegotchi, where users collect Tamagotchi-inspired Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).
The crypto lending world has exploded in recent months. Still, three main players dominate in terms of TVL: Aave, Compound, and Maker. Let’s take a look at the 2 main competitors and see how Aave is superior.
Like Aave, Compound started in 2017. It also experienced a surge in popularity in 2020, including some notable investments and a steep rise in its governance token’s price. It used to be the number one in terms of TVL, but has fallen behind Aave in recent months. That’s likely because it’s slower in innovation. Aave has been putting in the work. It pioneered Flash Loans, and has recently moved into the commercial lending space with its product Aave Arc. Compound also offers fewer assets to lend than Aave, and doesn’t offer stable interest rates at all.
Maker is one of the oldest crypto projects out there. It was launched in 2014, and its MKR token was one of the first tokens to trade on Ethereum. Maker is governed by MakerDAO, and works slightly differently. Instead of issuing aTokens like Aave, Maker mints DAI, their stablecoin. DAI is pegged to the US Dollar 1:1. Users get freshly minted DAI in return for their collateral, and can use this widely accepted stablecoin to exchange for FIAT money or trade into any other cryptocurrency. Maker hasn’t seen as much innovation as Aave lately, so it also fell behind in terms of TVL. Still, they did partner with Aave in 2021 to release the Maker Direct Deposit Dai Module (D3M). That helps streamline the supply and the DAI token’s variable borrow rates on Aave.
While all three platforms offer stable money market protocols, Aave stands out from the crowd and has become number one for good reason. First, it’s highly innovative, pioneering products that others often pick up. It’s also versatile, offering the broadest token selection for lenders. What’s more, it’s quickly cementing its position. It’s moving into commercial finance markets with its Aave Arc product. That could be a catalyst for even quicker growth and market share gain.
Named after the original ETHLend project, the first token the platform issued was LEND. The token had a total supply of 1.3 billion, and it stuck around for a while even after the rebranding to Aave. Yet, since Aave was de facto a brand-new platform and not just an upgrade to ETHLend, the old LEND token couldn’t be used for governance on Aave.
As a result, Aave introduced the Ethereum-based ERC-20 token AAVE in 2020. To migrate the LEND tokens to AAVE, the project will use what it calls an Aave Improvement Proposal (AIP), and more specifically a process called the Genesis Governance.
According to the plan, LEND will convert to AAVE at a rate of 100:1, bringing the total LEND supply of 1.3 billion to a user-held AAVE supply of 13 million.
In addition to the 13 million AAVE tokens held by users, the proposal also plans to issue an additional 3 million AAVE tokens to an Aave Ecosystem reserve for protocol incentives. Aave’s total supply will be 16 million tokens.
The token distribution is where Aave shows its true decentralized face. Most crypto projects set aside a significant percentage of the total supply for the founding team, advisors, investors, and the like. Conversely, Aave’s supply is fully distributed, with no central entity or group holding any significant amount of tokens.
The largest holder with 2.8 million AAVE tokens (or almost 18% of the total supply) is actually staked AAVE. That’s the total amount of AAVE staked to secure the network. The second-largest holder is the ecosystem reserve mentioned above. It still holds about two-thirds of the initially allocated 3 million tokens. That’s almost 2 million AAVE, or just above 12% of the total supply.
The AAVE token has 2 main use cases: Staking and Voting/Governance.
The staking aspect is pretty straightforward. It isn’t unlike many other Proof-of-Stake (POS) tokens. The Aave network requires validators to confirm (or deny) transactions, so AAVE holders stake their tokens to become validators. They also receive a reward for doing so. The staking mechanism Aave uses is called Safety Module (SM). The AAVE tokens earned by staking are called Safety Incentives (SI). That’s because staking essentially ensures the network’s safety and stability. Staking rewards currently hover around 5% annual percentage return (APR) for a 10-day lock-up period, according to Staking Rewards.
This second use case is a bit more unique to Aave and its DAO form. Aave doesn’t have a central controlling entity, management team, or investors with disproportionately large voting power. AAVE holders vote on any proposal strictly by percentage of AAVE held. The more AAVE you hold, the more voting power you have.
Any community member with enough proposition power (i.e., AAVE holdings) can create and submit an Aave Improvement Proposal (AIP).Holders voted on an AIP to approve the transition from LEND to AAVE mentioned above.
Once completed, the AIP can be submitted to the community (consisting of every AAVE holder) to vote on.
Users can vote on many proposals, including anything from expanding onto new blockchains, adding new features, or changing fees for current products like flash loans.
Now that we know what you can use AAVE for, let’s take a more detailed look at the token.
The AAVE token started trading in May 2020 around the $50-mark. It saw some sideways movement for the first few months, then it slightly increased to $80, where it sat for the rest of 2020.
2021 started, and AAVE exploded. January ended with a $300 price tag for 1 AAVE, and February peaked at $530. After some choppy movements, May 2021 saw an all-time high (ATH) of $632.
Despite more than 10x growth in one year, AAVE wasn’t immune to May 2021’s crypto drop. Just a few days after the ATH, the price dropped to $295 and kept dropping until a $180 low in June 2021.
Since then, AAVE seems to have moved with the overall market. It’s been oscillating between $150 and $400 per AAVE token. At the time of writing, one AAVE traded for $163, almost precisely 4x less than the ATH in May 2021, with a market cap of $2.2 billion. While pretty much every single crypto token is trading for less than it was in May 2021, a 4x drop is rare for an established project like Aave.
Aave has no official roadmap. That’s simply because it has no central entity deciding on Aave’s direction going forward. Aave is going wherever the community wants it to go, with the help of AIPs and AAVE holders’ votes.
Still, rumors spread, and ongoing AIPs give us many hints. That’s why we can look forward to a few things in 2022.
Aave went from working on Ethereum only to also including Polygon and Avalanche, and it’s not stopping there. According to CEO Stani Kulechov, Aave looked into launching several new networks in 2021. Avalanche was the latest one to launch. The hugely popular blockchain Solana (SOL) also seems to have been an option. It just might be the next network Aave will launch on.
Aave’s vision is clearly one of a multichain environment, but it doesn’t stop there. Aave is trying to provide services to financial institutions with strict regulations. That’s why Aave announced a “Pro” version of its platform in 2021. In early 2022, they launched it, rebranded as “Aave Arc”. Arc is a permissioned liquidity pool for institutions. It aims to facilitate the bridge between traditionally less regulated crypto markets and established financial platforms.
Through Arc, Aave provides the liquidity pool for trades, just like with their other products. That said, companies work as whitelisting agents, performing their own KYC/AML (Know-Your-Customer / Anti-Money-Laundering) verification services to access the pools. The first whitelisting partner to join the new product was the digital asset platform Fireblocks in early January of 2022, with 30+ others listed to follow, including the Swiss bank SEBA.
November 2021 saw the Aave V3 proposal release. The V3 plans on including many features. For example, the team wants to implement a Portal to seamlessly move assets between different Aave networks. They’re also creating a High-Efficiency Mode for borrowers to maximize their borrowing power, and an Isolation Mode for newly listed assets to limit the exposure until proven. These are just some features we expect to see in Aave V3..
Aave pioneered Flash loans. They’ve also been around for a while now. That said, given the amount of excess liquidity on Aave and other similar platforms, they’re far from optimal use.
While certainly not without risks, Flash Loans have huge potential given the sheer amount that users can borrow without collateral. Before, you needed coding knowledge to write a smart contract and execute a Flash Loan. Now, though, tools like Furucombo have removed this hurdle, allowing anyone the basic technical knowledge to start playing around with them.
Atomic Wallet makes buying AAVE super simple! Just follow these 5 steps:
1.Create an account on an exchange that offers the AAVE token, like Binance or Coinbase. Atomic Wallet integrates the exchange with the Wallet, meaning you only need one account!
2.Buy AAVE using fiat currency, like dollars or euros.
3.Download the crypto wallet you’d like to send your AAVE to, like Atomic Wallet.
4.If you haven’t already, most exchanges and wallets will ask you to verify your account with a photo ID.
5.Send the AAVE you purchased to your Atomic Wallet address.
Aave has been pioneering features like Flash Loans and Collateral Swaps. That proves its potential for community-driven innovation. While the AAVE token trades a fair bit lower than its ATH in May 2021 at the time, we can’t deny Aave’s potential as an ever-growing money platform. It’ll eventually span across all major networks and allow for seamless swaps between them.
Given the crypto industry’s high-risk nature, Aave occupies an interesting spot for investors. It allows them to make decent returns on assets held, without the risks that often come with more adventurous investment forms, like yield farming. The introduction of liquidity pools automated the process, and utilization rate proves to be a simple indicator of demand and supply. That facilitates investors’ decisions on where to lend their money.
Given its size and reputation, Aave is also one of the safer bets for borrowers. It offers a quick and straightforward way to borrow crypto assets. Smart contracts regulate the entire process. That means no surprises are involved, besides the fluctuation of token prices, which can lead to liquidation, that is.
If FIAT money is any indicator, loans will continue to surge in popularity with crypto, especially as crypto is more universally accepted as a transaction method. If and when this happens, Aave is in an excellent spot to occupy a dominant position and stay a forerunner in a market growing by billions of dollars every year.
Aave is a crypto money market. It allows users to lend and borrow different crypto tokens. Lenders pay into a liquidity pool, from which borrowers get loans at a rate defined by the pool’s popularity (or currency).
Aave is a decentralized anonymous organization (DAO), and it's 100% user-controlled. AAVE token holders can propose changes to the protocol, on which all AAVE holders then get to vote.
Aave currently works on Ethereum, Polygon, and Avalanche. They’re also planning to include more networks. Its total value locked (TVL) sits north of $24 billion, making it one of the biggest lending platforms in crypto.
Aave is safe to use for both lenders and borrowers. So far, no significant exploits have happened to the protocol. At this stage, the only actual risk would be liquidity issues caused by massive transactions. Lenders face the risk of decreasing interest rates from oversupply, while borrowers fear liquidation from their collateral’s loss of value.
That said, as with any crypto platform, and especially one this young and popular, exploits can happen and should be expected sooner or later.
Aave is a safe and straightforward way to earn interest on many different crypto assets. Lenders can lend assets in their preferred cryptocurrency to a liquidity pool on Aave. Then, they’ll earn interest on assets lent, depending on the demand of the chosen currency.
Aave has quickly risen to and stayed in the Top 3 DeFi lending platforms. Its two main contenders are Compound and MakerDAO. Compound used to lead the pack, but the 2021 crypto crash reshuffled the leaderboard, and Aave took the lead.
LEND was the original project’s token with the name ETHLend. After ETHLend failed to gain traction, the name changed and relaunched as AAVE in 2018. As part of the transition, the project will convert all 1.3 billion LEND tokens to AAVE tokens at a ratio of 100:1, making for a total of 13 million user-held AAVE tokens.
You can trade the AAVE token on many large crypto exchanges, like Binance and Kraken. You can purchase tokens with FIAT money, usually using a credit card. You could also exchange another currency held on the same exchange. The best way to store AAVE tokens is Atomic Wallet, which integrates seamlessly with many exchanges.
Check the latest wallets and cryptocurrencies on Atomic Wallet on their website.
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