In brief

  • Balancer has implemented a token whitelist after FTX exchange used an exploit to capture the majority of BAL distributions.
  • BAL token holders did not vote on the change.
  • Debate rages over the place for such measures within ostensibly "DeFi" protocols.

Does a Discord chat count as DeFi?

That’s the question many industry observers are pondering after Balancer Labs held just such a vote in response to an unexpected exploit in the distribution of Balancer’s BAL governance tokens. 

Yesterday, just after DeFi protocol Balancer had begun distributing BAL, the FTX crypto exchange uncovered a way to unfairly capture well over 50% of BAL distributions. The ordeal raised questions about what’s fairand who decidesas millions of dollars locked in DeFi protocols transition to the stewardship of decentralized governance token holders.

Balancer, a protocol for creating pools of crypto assets and facilitating token swaps began calculating distributions for BAL governance tokens earlier in June, with actual distributions starting on Tuesday. BAL distributions are based on the proportional amount of liquidity (the value of tokens locked in a given Balancer pool) being provided by a wallet address, with values being calculated using data from CoinGecko.

Sensing opportunity, FTX exchange added the obscure USDTBEAR and USDTHEDGE tokens to CoinGecko, then added nearly $100 million in liquidity to a Balancer pool split between the two. Since the value of the liquidity locked by other Balancer liquidity providers amounts to only a few tens of millions, the massive (but essentially useless in a practical sense) FTX pool was slated to receive a huge share of BAL payouts, well more than 50% of all distributions.

It didn’t take long for the exploit to be uncovered, prompting a discussion on the Balancer Labs Discord that resulted in the addition of a whitelist for tokens that can be used to mine BAL on the platform. Such an action, however, seems to go against the very spirit of the BAL token, intended to allow holders to collectively make these types of decisions.

The community seems at least somewhat divided. Unsurprisingly, FTX founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried tweeted displeasure over the action, echoed by DeFi purists who see the move as an affront to the principles of decentralized protocols.

Other users in the Balancer Discord and on Twitter lauded the developers for their quick action to halt an exploit that stopped legitimate and useful Balancer pools from securing rewards within the system as originally intended.

The drama has not been good for the price of BAL tokens, which are down about 10% compared to yesterday’s highs above $21. While there are still details to be worked out surrounding how the whitelist will operate and be administered, BAL token distributions will continue. 

Balancer is a young protocol, and lacks the support of a crypto titan like Coinbase to help facilitate a problem-free rollout, as Compound has so far enjoyed with the COMP governance token. The ongoing saga makes plain just how difficult transitions to decentralized governance can be, at a time when that trend is picking up speed and adherents every day.