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Ankr's Chief of DeFi on Liquid Staking, Ethereum Shanghai Upgrade and Their Exciting Roadmap

Mon, 1/05/2023 - 12:15
Ankr's Chief of DeFi on Liquid Staking, Ethereum Shanghai Upgrade and Their Exciting Roadmap
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Recently, I spoke with Filipe Gonçalves, chief of DeFi at Web3 infrastructure provider Ankr. Filipe told me about features that make Ankr's liquid staking technology different from other projects in the field and shared his future plans and recent achievements. Don't miss this piece! 


U.Today: Hi Filipe, thank you for joining the interview. Can you tell us about your background and when you joined Ankr?

Filipe Gonçalves: Sure. I joined Ankr about two years ago. Before that I worked for eight years as a wealth manager mostly in Switzerland, in Swiss banks. My background is mostly banking.

U.Today: What's your role at Ankr?

Filipe Gonçalves: I'm currently the chief of DeFi at Ankr. I am the product owner of liquid staking and also lead the DeFi strategy of Ankr.

U.Today: Can you tell us about Ankr and what Ankr's infrastructure includes?

Filipe Gonçalves: Ankr is a Web3 infrastructure provider. It started early on by offering node services as it became commoditized. It basically evolved two main product lines, with one product line more for developers to run RPC nodes. These nodes are obviously important to consume information from the blockchain and send transactions. The other product line was the evolution of a validator node, which is liquid staking. We actually created that in December 2020. That was more than two years ago, when Ethereum 2.0 started. Those are the two product lines. Since then, we have evolved a bit, and now we're offering app chains-as-a-service. We supported two projects to create on their own sidechain, on BNB Chain. We're now also supporting Polygon Supernets, and we also have SDK gaming. We are focused on infrastructure in general. The only exception is maybe liquid staking, where it's less developer focused and more focused on Defi users. But we still perceive Ankr as a kind of money infrastructure. We believe it's really a very important piece of the ecosystem.

U.Today: What makes Ankr's liquid staking technology different from other projects?

Filipe Gonçalves: We were actually pioneers in liquid staking. We were the first ones to launch on Ethereum. We were also, to my knowledge, the first ones to enable liquid staking on other proof-of-stake chains outside Ethereum, where the dynamic is very different because you can unstake. That was very new at the time, almost two years ago. We started on Avalanche. Since then, if you go on DefiLlama, you will see there are more than 60 liquid staking protocols. In terms of tech, there is a bit less differentiation.

Since we're pioneers, we've been thinking about how to improve liquid staking for a very long time. We definitely have a very exciting roadmap. Maybe the most notable difference right now is that we have our own bridge. We enable ankrETH currently on five chains. A lot of providers work with third-party bridges, and they don't necessarily have full control of their own bridge. This is one of the differences. We also have so-called flash unstaking to provide immediate liquidity on BNB Chain that will soon be expanded to other chains. 

U.Today: Can you give us more details on Ankr's Ethereum liquid staking solutions?

Filipe Gonçalves: Sure. Ankr Ethereum liquid staking solution is the first liquid staking product we had in December 2020. I think it had a very decent TVL at that time, knowing that the big disadvantage that we might have at Ankr when compared to pure liquid staking protocols is that we don't have a token that we can dilute indefinitely. Ankr was created almost five years ago, and it's still here, which I think is quite a big success. But we've been historically less aggressive on, for example, farming rewards. Despite that, we managed to keep an organic, sizable amount of staked Ethereum. We also enabled the unstaking of ankrETH after the Shanghai upgrade, which reduces massively the liquidity risk of ETH liquid staking. We did it a few hours after the Shanghai upgrade was activated. We have a few upgrades that we're also planning to make in the short term.

U.Today: In your opinion, what new developments can we expect to see in the area of liquid staking technology in the future?

Filipe Gonçalves: In terms of liquid staking itself, I think there are very interesting liquid staking solutions. It started with Frax, where they basically introduced the concept that maybe you don't really need to stake 100% of your assets — maybe you can stake 90% of it, and the other 10% can be used to deposit in liquidity pools. We're currently studying this in a bit more conservative way, through flash unstaking. In the near future, you can expect that we might decrease liquid staking fees. We're just going to keep unstaked some amount that will always be available in a flash unstaking pool, and people will be able to unstake immediately and pay a fee that goes to the liquid stakers.

That's a way to improve the liquidity without being stuck in that game of diluting the token of a liquid staking project indefinitely. We are also going multichain. Last week, we introduced ankrETH Avalanche and Polygon, and we're going to continue with the Polygon zkEVM, and then that will evolve into flash unstaking and multichain into what we call omni-chain liquid staking. It's basically the ability to stake your ETH on, let's say, Fantom, and you get ankrETH on Fantom directly.  Obviously, we can do that because we control our Ankr bridge and we will upgrade it to enable that kind of cross-chain experience. I think it's going to be very relevant for ETH since there is a significant amount of ETH tokens and liquidity in most chains. It is probably one of the most used assets, so why not ETH liquid staking on other chains instead of ETH since you cannot use it to pay gas fees most of the time, except on some Layer 2s. That was the tech side.

Ankr's Team
Ankr's team. Image via

In terms of use cases, there is a major emergence of new use cases right now. It's mostly about liquidity pools and yield farming, and if you have enough liquidity, you can leverage it if it is accepted as collateral on lending platforms. Today we enabled a protocol called Midas Capital; it does isolated lending. It's interesting because it's kind of a playground where you can fully control the interest rate model and the assets that you put there if you create an isolated lending pool. There, we're going to basically create borrowing demand for ankrBNB and make sure that whoever is lending ankrBNB in that lending pool is earning lending interest. Then, you earn lending interest plus staking rewards to boost your yield. I think that's very relevant. There are more and more volatile pools against liquid staking, and we started that with ankrBNB, for example, where we're the largest liquid staking provider on that chain. There is a restaking happening on Layer 2s. That's the concept of EigenLayer. I personally believe the concept of restaking is going to be replicated on many other Layer 2s and app chains because it's so much cheaper to attract crypto economic security for a Layer 2. I think that's very difficult unless you have incredible VCs and backers. Just using the liquid staking token of the Layer 1 is probably the most capital-efficient solution and the least risky one. I think that's it for liquid staking in general. I can deep dive a little bit more into the ETH part if you're interested.

U.Today:  Yeah, let's do it.

Filipe Gonçalves: For ETH liquid staking, as I said before, we're going multichain now, which is unstakable. The liquidity risk is lower. We're increasing the diversity of node operators for ETH liquid staking, with SSV and Obol. They use DVT, and it decreases the risk of slashing through different technologies. In parallel, we have been working on what we call an ETH validator hub. It will be a kind of a marketplace where you can delegate validation keys to node operators, basically making it as open as possible with as few rules as possible. AnkrETH can be one of the users of that marketplace.

The liquid staking provider can be Ankr, but it can also be white-labeled liquid staking solutions from Ankr clients or anyone else who might want to delegate to a node operator. A node operator will be able to charge a fee on the staking rewards automatically. It will have its own insurance pool that is tied to that node operator and, basically, they're free to use whatever token they want. Let's say if you're Coin98 and you're running a validator node, you could say, I'm just putting my C98 tokens as insurance, to make it more trustworthy. We're then adding flash unstaking on Ethereum, but also for ETH liquid staking deployed on other chains to then enable omni-chain liquid staking. You can also work with some partners to enable the restaking concept. You can then get the benefit from having gas fees from the Layer 2s on top of the staking rewards of the Layer 1.

U.Today: What has been the most exciting aspect of Ankr in 2023 so far?

Filipe Gonçalves: The most exciting thing right now is obviously the Shanghai upgrade because it's finally decreasing the risk of ETH liquid staking. Just to give you a context for staking, we intentionally were not aggressive on farming rewards and due to this, we had discounted ETH liquid staking from quite some time. We did it intentionally and focused on other chains like BNB, where we became the leader. Now, it's less risky. We're actually pretty excited to bring ankrETH to other chains and then combine it with our liquid staking solutions that we have on those chains. We are combining Avalanche liquid staking from Ankr with ankrETH on liquidity pools on Avalanche to create volatile pools where people will realize that they don't necessarily need to hold ETH on Avalanche. It has no utility. Instead, they can just hold ankrETH, and the gas fees are lower. We're pretty excited about that. It's the same multichain evolution for 2023. The ability to enhance significantly the liquidity of liquid staking with flash unstaking is also something we're pretty excited about. We are already doing it to a very small extent to test the functioning on BNB Chain, and we're soon ready to roll this out to all our liquid staking solutions on all the chains.

U.Today: I have some cross-cutting questions. I ask everyone I interview these questions, so I hope you don't mind answering them. What are your favorite projects in the crypto field?

Filipe Gonçalves: Lately it's been Thena on BNB Chain. I specifically like the execution of the team. I think they did a great job gaining traction on BNB Chain without necessarily being a BNB Chain OG. They came from another chain and tried to impose themselves on that market. I think they have done quite a notable job in terms of go-to-market and how they've been collaborating with partners — not necessary the DEX, because it's already been forked on other chains, but the execution. In terms of product, has an interesting concept of accepting BNB as collateral, running a strategy in the background and then redistributing that yield to the stablecoin's stakers. I think that's a very interesting way to capture the staking rewards of Layer 1s and enable them for stablecoins. I think it's an interesting model that can evolve in a very interesting way.

U.Today: Do you have a crypto portfolio?

Filipe Gonçalves: Yeah, I have two. I mostly have Bitcoin and tokens of Layer 1s and obviously a yield farm.

U.Today: Can you name 3-5 of them?

Filipe Gonçalves: Sure. I'm obviously overweight on Bitcoin, which I use as collateral to then borrow tokens that I don't already have, like Ethereum, MATIC, BNB, FTM and Avalanche. I might borrow them against BNB as well. Then I just basically do liquid staking with it. I also pair them up together. If I see that there is interesting APY on ankrBNB, ankrETH on Thena, I might deposit liquidity, and I try to be more diligent in terms of yield. I extract the yield I converted into stablecoins and then I put it in my second portfolio, which is only composed of stablecoins. I try to really be diligent about extracting yield from stablecoins and also from volatile tokens.

U.Today: One last question: What will the Bitcoin price be one year from now, in your opinion? Just a guess.

Filipe Gonçalves: Honestly, nobody really has a clue about projections, but I think a level where I would feel satisfied about the evolution would be if we can reach 40K by the end of the year. It seems like a possibility that is not completely unfeasible. I think that would be a very nice evolution after the last year where we basically dropped from 40K 12 months ago. If we can get back up to that level, I think that would be pretty good.

U.Today: I agree. Thank you so much for your time.


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