Decentralized finance or DeFi refers to financial applications built on blockchain networks enabling more equitable access and transparency around core transaction types historically controlled by banks and institutions. By automating financial flows through code, DeFi aims to lower costs, risks and exclusivity barriers for activities like payments, investing, borrowing/lending, trading, insurance and more.

The philosophy emerged from crypto pioneers envisioning blockchain technology making aspects of finance more self-governed, user-custodied and seamlessly interoperable globally while reducing rent-seeking intermediaries. Those ideals now translate into DeFi apps expanding options for users historically denied financial services or gouged through fees due to identity, geography or regulatory hurdles imposed by legacy players.

From a functional perspective, solutions essentially tokenize real world assets into trustless public blockchain formats usable as collateral to unlock lending services, algorithmically determine rates through smart contracts without human intervention, decentralize trading on open source exchanges, automate cross-chain transactions between chains and more – effectively mirroring traditional offerings in a peer-to-peer context.

For instance, lending platforms allow cryptocurrency holders to easily supply capital or borrow funds using their holdings as collateral without credit checks while earning saver interest and paying lender interest dynamically calibrated by smart contracts. Such fast, flexible tools offer new alternatives.

Already billions in value now flows through DeFi apps as innovators build bridges between decentralized networks and mainstream payment rails to boost accessibility. However flaws around tech complexity, security risks, market volatility and regulatory ambiguity remain barriers limiting mainstream adoption currently. Solutions targeting usability, compliance and stability should resolve concerns over time.

Looking ahead, DeFi’s transparent formulaic protocols on public chains promise to reconfigure finance for the internet era where users directly control the processes safeguarding their money sans exploitative oversight. While still early, decentralized financial rails may progressively upgrade whole economies.