Welcome, Wednesday! Today we're dealing with the blurring edges between crypto and traditional finance. Each is finding ways to approach the other.

Today's newsletter is 1,313 words, a 5-minute read.

πŸ› 1 big thing: DeFi pioneer opens mutual fund

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

Robert Leshner, the creator of decentralized finance's standard-bearing lending application, Compound, has moved on from the startup to launch a very boring mutual fund.

  • Very boring, that is, with a hint of blockchain, Brady writes.

Why it matters: If his new product is approved, it would give the crypto rich and blockchain native funds a way to access the strong returns on government debt right now without changing their approach to portfolio management.

Details: Leshner, and other former colleagues from Compound Labs, have filed to launch Superstate Trust, which would steward a new mutual fund β€” pending regulatory approval β€” called the Superstate Short-Term Government Bond Fund.

  • Superstate has raised $4 million in seed money from leading investors in DeFi, ParaFi Capital, 1kx, Cumberland Ventures and Distributed Global, and it has filed a prospectus for the bond fund with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

In the weeds: The fund would buy short-term government debt and allow users to track that debt as a token on different blockchains, starting with Ethereum.

  • Leshner tells Axios that this initial version of the product won't have any of the typical bells and whistles of DeFi. All it will be good for is holding a share in the fund.
  • Every person who does hold it will have to be whitelisted β€” approved to own the asset β€” and Superstate isn't going to whitelist smart contracts, like Uniswap or Compound, so it won't be useable by such applications.
  • Shares can be held on chain but they also can just be held in a brokerage fund, like any other mutual fund.

What they're saying: "The benefit is that if you're a crypto native firm that only deals with crypto native infrastructure, you'll be able to hold this alongside your other investments," Leshner tells Axios.

  • Customers will get access to yields on U.S. debt (which are solidly beating yields in DeFi right now).

What we're watching: Boring is kind of the point of the first fund, but if it's approved β€” and government regulators become comfortable with this approach, one could imagine that the future could open new use cases for real-world assets tracked on a blockchain in a regulated instrument.

  • It could be particularly potent if one day there are regulated exchanges trading multiple blockchain assets.

Catch up fast: The team behind Superstate is basically looking to give DeFi investors an easy way to get access to real-world yield. Previously, it had been running Compound Treasury, a bid to give normal investors access to DeFi yields.

  • Compound Labs has continued under new leadership, but it wound down the Treasury product with this team's departure.
  • "The market for Treasury basically changed following the implosion of Celsius and Genesis and FTX," Leshner said.

Where it stands: Superstate is waiting for a green light, which might not come. If it does, it's likely to take several months.

πŸ“² 2. What's this? WisdomTree Prime

Photo: WisdomTree Prime

Here's another app for investing in things from stocks to bitcoin, Crystal writes.

Driving the news: Asset manager WisdomTree is poised to roll out its Prime app in a few weeks, featuring investments from every asset class, with choices from gold to bitcoin.

How it works: It's powered by the Stellar blockchain's codebase, a long-running system built for snappy transaction confirmation.

Zoom in: It's like many of the other investing or personal finance apps out there, per the demo Axios received.

  • It's sleek overall, there are charts and descriptions of the different products and a portfolio tracker.
  • There are also fees; specifics aren't available yet.

Quick take: It's cool that there's another place to buy bitcoin, but the app doesn't yet let you take it out into one's own wallet.

  • So the bitcoin bought within WisdomTree Prime stays within that system.

What we're watching: The developers say "connectivity" features are on the roadmap.

🫑 3. Maple picks up lending

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Don't hurt yourself β€” is probably the obvious remark for anyone pitching lending after so many big firms keeled over for doing that very thing.

  • But one DeFi denizen is stepping in, Crystal writes.

Driving the news: Maple Finance today launched its direct lending unit Maple Direct, which will underwrite loans for web3 customers.

  • Think miners, trading firms, web3 media and events companies.

What they're saying: Sidney Powell, co-founder and chief of Maple, describes the move as a "natural evolution" of its credit protocol launched in 2021, but that the lending unit would underwrite the loans itself, "rather than just being the tech and the protocol."

State of play: Maple Finance, the credit protocol, has $71 million in total value locked, according to DefiLlama, a fraction of its peak of some $940 million.

  • The company says it has issued more than $2 billion in loans overall.

Why it matters: It's like DeFi lending protocols Aave and Compound, only Maple Direct is stepping in where BlockFi and Genesis used to play, not using code, and targeting institutions, less individual investors.

  • If that sounds like yet another crypto play for Big Money, it's because it is β€” but it's also a way to stay on the right side of regulators.

The intrigue: How will we know the SEC would be cool with such a thing? "We’re looking only at institutions. Not Joe Schmoe punting leveraged perps with his life savings," Powell says.

Details: Initial size will be small, probably something like $50 million tops.

  • Denominated in USDC and USDT.

Flashback: Powell understands the risks.

  • Late last year, Maple Finance cut off one of its borrowers, Orthogonal Trading, alleging it misrepresented its financial position β€” one of Maple's "pool delegates" had to issue a default for outstanding liabilities.
  • Maple Finance was just the go-between, providing the tech, but it was "lumped in" anyway, Powell said.

The big picture: With Maple as the underwriter, it will have a "tighter degree of control," he said. "We become that decision maker, so it’s nice to have that reputational responsibility, to have that control."

πŸ‘Ÿ 4. Catch up quick

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

😬 Creditors argue that BlockFi should be liquidated now, accusing it of slow walking the bankruptcy. (The Block)

πŸ—‘οΈ A U.S. federal judge denied Sam Bankman-Fried's bid to have criminal charges against him tossed. (Reuters)

🎯 Three Arrows Capital (3AC) liquidators are looking to recover $1.3 billion from founders. (Bloomberg)

🐼 Peter Thiel is backing a $33 million spin-out of Bitpanda. (CoinDesk)

Top coins

Performance of select cryptocurrencies
Data: CoinGecko; Table: Axios Visuals

🎧 5. Culture hash: Debating regulation

Screenshot: @Unchained_pod (Twitter)

The new episode of Unchained is tense, Brady writes.

  • In it, Aaron Kaplan, the co-CEO of an unlaunched exchange (technically: an alternative trading system) that has a license to trade cryptocurrency assets designated as securities, debates Rodrigo Seira, a lawyer at the crypto fund Paradigm, while host Laura Shin steers the conversation.

The intrigue: It gets a bit mean.

In short: Kaplan argues that when something new comes into the world of finance and money, the right way to develop the market is to let regulators spend a few years coming up with what's allowed before doing anything.

  • Seira wants everyone in the industry to focus on pushing the market structure bill in Congress that's still only in draft form.

What they're saying: "What Prometheum currently has is a license, but they don't really have a business," Seira says.

  • Kaplan says there will be plenty of tokens to trade once it launches trading, but its attorneys still have to decide which ones.
  • Bitcoin will not be listed.

Of note: Kaplan declines to identify any tokens his exchange will one day be able to list, though he suggests that tokens pre-sold to investors to raise money could be good candidates.

  • He also declines to engage with Shin or Seira about ways disclosures might need to change for crypto assets, which can eventually function in the market without a single company in charge.

Catch up fast: There are only a few registered tokens out there, and no one is going to build a strong business just trading those.

This newsletter was edited by Pete Gannon and copy edited by Carolyn DiPaolo.

It's too hot. β€”C & B.