May 30, 2024

What are Synthetic Assets in DeFi?

Imagine a world where you can invest in anything, from gold to stocks, with just a few clicks, regardless of what time zone or country you’re in. With the help of synthetic assets in the DeFi (Decentralized Finance) ecosystem, this vision becomes a reality.

The concept of synthetic assets is not entirely new, but it has gained significant attention with the rise of DeFi. DeFi encompasses a set of financial applications and protocols built on blockchain networks, offering open and permissionless alternatives to traditional financial services.

Synthetic assets, digital financial instruments designed to replicate the value of real-world assets, are at the forefront of this financial paradigm shift. Due to its decentralized foundation on the blockchain, synthetic assets offer a new spectrum of investment opportunities that are transparent, cost-effective, and accessible to everyone.

Understanding Synthetic Assets

In the domain of cryptocurrencies, synthetic assets, or "synths," are designed to replicate the price movements of traditional assets such as stocks, commodities, fiat currencies, and other cryptocurrencies. Instead of owning the asset, investors use synthetic assets to speculate on price changes and benefit from market fluctuations.

How Do Synthetic Tokens Work?

At the core of synthetic asset creation is tokenization. This process involves representing traditional assets on a blockchain by issuing digital tokens that mimic their economic characteristics. Smart contracts—self-executing contracts with terms written into code—govern the behavior of these synthetic assets, ensuring their price movements closely resemble those of their real-world counterparts.

The creation of synthetic tokens involves two main steps: collateralization and minting.

1. Collateralization: To create a synthetic token, a user deposits a certain amount of cryptocurrency or token as collateral. This collateral acts as a guarantee for the value of the synthetic token.

2. Minting: Once the collateral is provided, a smart contract generates the synthetic token and assigns it a value based on the underlying asset or assets it represents. The value of the synthetic token is typically tied to the price of the referenced asset.

The market demand for the underlying asset determines the value of the synthetic token. If demand increases, the value of the synthetic token also increases, and vice versa. By collateralizing and minting synthetic tokens, users can engage with decentralized finance platforms and gain exposure to a wide range of assets without directly owning them. The collateral provides a security measure to ensure the synthetic token's value and instill confidence in market participants.

Synthetic Assets vs. Traditional Derivatives

Both synthetic assets and traditional derivatives derive their value from underlying assets, but there are notable differences between the two.

Platforms like Synthetix allow users to mint synthetic versions of various assets, including cryptocurrencies, fiat currencies, and indices, by locking up collateral in the form of the platform's native token. These synthetic assets can be traded and used for various purposes within the DeFi ecosystem.

Conversely, traditional derivatives such as futures contracts, options, and swaps, are financial contracts that derive their value from an underlying asset but are typically traded on centralized exchanges. These contracts enable investors to speculate on future price movements, hedge against risks, or gain exposure to specific markets. The choice between synthetic assets and traditional derivatives can depend on factors such as jurisdiction, investor preferences, and market conditions. It's crucial to conduct thorough research and seek professional advice before engaging in any financial instrument or investment strategy.

Types of Crypto Synthetic Assets

Synthetic Stablecoins

Synthetic stablecoins are digital tokens engineered to mirror the value and stability of traditional fiat currencies like the US dollar or the euro. These tokens provide a stable store of value and medium of exchange within the cryptocurrency ecosystem, free from the typical volatility associated with crypto assets. An example is sUSD on the Synthetix platform, which aims to maintain a stable value equivalent to the US dollar.

Tokenized Commodities and Equities

Tokenized commodities and equities represent physical assets like gold, oil, and stocks in a digital format on blockchain networks. These synthetic assets allow for fractional ownership and decentralized trading, enabling investors to gain exposure to asset price movements without holding the actual physical asset. For instance, sOIL tracks crude oil prices, allowing investors to speculate on oil without physically owning it.

Leveraged and Inverse Tokens

Leveraged and inverse tokens are designed to amplify or reverse the price movements of an underlying asset. Leveraged tokens, like BTC3L from Binance, aim to multiply the gains or losses of an asset, such as offering three times the daily return of Bitcoin. Inverse tokens, on the other hand, profit when the price of the underlying asset declines, providing a way to hedge against market downturns.

Yield-Bearing Synthetic Assets

Yield-bearing synthetic assets allow holders to earn passive income through mechanisms like staking or lending. An example is cDAI from the Compound protocol, where users can lend Dai stablecoins and earn interest over time. These assets not only represent the value of the underlying stablecoin but also accrue additional value through interest, making them a dual-purpose investment tool within the DeFi ecosystem.

Why are Synthetic Assets Popular in the Cryptocurrency Space?

Synthetic assets have gained traction in the cryptocurrency space for several reasons:

Access to Global Markets: They allow investors to gain exposure to real-world assets without physical ownership or jurisdictional permissions. For instance, an investor in Asia can speculate on American stocks using synthetic assets without owning any US-based securities.

Portfolio Diversification: Synthetic assets offer access to a wide range of markets, enabling investors to diversify their portfolios and manage risks more effectively.

Liquidity: Operating on blockchain networks, synthetic assets can be traded 24/7, providing flexibility beyond traditional market hours.

Transparency and Security: Blockchain technology ensures that all transactions involving synthetic assets are transparent and secure, reducing fraud or manipulation risks.

Yield Generation: DeFi protocols allow holders of synthetic assets to earn returns through liquidity provision or yield farming strategies.

Popular Synthetic Asset Protocols

Several protocols have been instrumental in the development and management of synthetic assets:

  1. Synthetix (SNX): Uses its native token, SNX, as collateral to create synthetic assets which offer a wide range of asset classes.
  2. UMA (Universal Market Access): Allows users to design and issue custom synthetic tokens linked to any underlying asset.
  3. Abra: Provides an innovative investment platform for trading synthetic versions of cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies.
  4. MakerDAO: Creates decentralized stablecoins through its DAI system, demonstrating collateralized debt positions (CDPs) for stable value.

The Importance of Oracles in Synthetic Asset Tracking

Oracles are essential in the DeFi ecosystem, linking blockchain protocols to external data sources. They provide real-world asset values crucial for the accurate pricing of synthetic assets. Reliable oracles ensure that synthetic assets reflect their true market value, promoting fairness and trust in trading activities.

Revolutionizing Finance with Synthetic Assets

Synthetic assets in DeFi represent a significant advancement in the financial landscape. They offer a unique combination of accessibility, transparency, and security, democratizing finance and opening up new opportunities for investors worldwide. As blockchain technology continues to evolve, the role of synthetic assets in decentralized finance will likely expand, driving further innovation and inclusivity in the financial ecosystem.

Disclaimer: Not Investment or Financial Advice

This content is provided for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended as financial, investment, legal, or other professional advice. The information presented does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement to buy or sell any specific securities or engage in any particular investment strategy. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company. Readers should conduct their own research and consult with a qualified professional before making any financial decisions. The author(s) and publisher are not responsible for any financial losses or damages resulting from the use of this information.


1. Calibraint Technologies. "Synthetic Assets: Exploring the Benefits and Key Applications." Calibraint, 17 Apr. 2023, [Link].

2. LCX Team. "Crypto Synthetic Assets Explained." LCX, 7 May 2024, [Link].

3. Techopedia. "Crypto Synthetic Asset." Techopedia, [Link].

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