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EBAday 2024: The future of CBDCs, tokenised deposits and stablecoin adoption

EBAday 2024: The future of CBDCs, tokenised deposits and stablecoin adoption

Tokenised money is on the horizon in numerous countries. This week, the Bank of England’s Sarah Breeden announced that a discussion paper will be released in summer 2024 to draw on input from the private sector to complement the work being conducted on stablecoin regulation and retail central bank digital currency (CBDC).

Referencing the decline in cash transactions, Breeden said that although a retail CBDC must be explored, Breeden firmly believes that “as technological innovation takes place, we must not forget the contribution that retail central bank money has made to monetary and financial stability.”

The wholesale payments infrastructure must also evolve in support of developments on the retail side, and a similar trend is being perceived with central banks around the world experimenting with tokenising central bank money on a separate distributed ledger, otherwise known as wholesale CBDC.

Both retail and wholesale CBDC will impact the uniformity of money in the UK, as with this example, and across Europe. It is important to ensure that the value of money that is issued by different banks is equal, and can be converted one-for-one into cash. Alongside this, it is just as crucial for payments between banks to be settled across central banks, in reserves, through real time gross settlement (RTGS).

However, as the technology that underlies privately issued money evolves – whether that is through tokenised bank deposits or regulated stablecoins, as Breeden explained “this uniformity of money could potentially be bolstered not just by retail CBDC, but also by enhancing the Bank of England’s wholesale payments infrastructure so that it can continue to play its key role in supporting settlement between these new forms of private money.”

No central bank wants to be left behind in this pursuit of CBDC and payments innovation is front and centre when considering enhancing retail and wholesale payments functionality. Recently, Swift confirmed that its CBDC interlinking technology can enable financial institutions to carry out a wide range of transactions using CBDCs and other forms of digital tokens, easily incorporating them into their business practices.

Before CBDC – retail or wholesale – come to the fore, interoperability between digital currencies and tokenised assets must be reviewed so that the potential risk of fragmentation caused by the use of different technologies with different standards can be overcome. One immediate solution could be the implementation of the digital euro, which according to Evelien Witlox from the European Central Bank (ECB), could complement cash.

She said that CBDC would “strengthen strategic autonomy by reducing dependence on non-European payment providers and offer another form of trusted and secure transactions for people in Europe.”

Witlox added that collaboration between market holders, the European Retail Payments Board, civil organisations, and central banks would be required before the digital euro is finalised. The digital euro has been in the preparation phase since November 2023 and is being developed alongside regulation. The next phase will likely begin in 2025.

Earlier this year, EBAday challenge speaker David Birch suggested that there are numerous benefits to implementing an EU CBDC, such as having a pan-European payments scheme and the political aspects of domestic sovereignty. However, there are economic and social concerns around inclusion and sustainability that need to be addressed.

Birch mentioned that central banks need a deeper understanding of digital currency to be able to effectively roll in out in a way that consumers know how it works and how they can use it. “Essentially all of the pilots and trials that have been done to date are largely worthless because we don't really know what we want the digital currency to do. I can confidently predict that your team is never going to implement a digital euro using the same technology as the sand dollar. I think in order to get the engagement needed from society, we are well away from liberal understanding. If you get digital currency in place, people will ask if you are going to inject microchips into us. What do you think the 5G controversy told us? So the level of public debate is nowhere near the quality of input needed to make these decisions.”

The benefits and risks of programmability and the risk of market fragmentation through multiple offerings, both private and public, chasing after the same use cases, will be discussed at EBAday in Lisbon, Portugal on 18-19 June 2024. Join David Birch by registering here.

Comments: (1)

Jeremy Light
Jeremy Light - Fourdotzero - London 22 April, 2024, 15:30Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

"we must not forget the contribution that retail central bank money has made to monetary and financial stability."

The BoE ties itself in knots trying to justify a retail CBDC - in the same speech the deputy governor admits that cash has dropped from around two-thirds of transactions twenty years ago to 14% in 2022. This drop has had no impact on monetary or financial stability and it demonstrates consumers have no preference for central bank money over commercial bank deposits (and I doubt most have any idea of the difference risk profiles of the two).

In the past, cash was a source of instability as it provided a mechanism for a bank run, with depositors able to withdraw their savings en masse. Nowadays, if a bank is in trouble depositors are highly unlikely to withdraw cash at scale but instead transfer deposits electronically to other banks (as happened with Northern Rock in 2008) - the banking system may freeze up for a while as banks refuse to lend reserves to each other when large volumes of deposits are transferred between banks, but the total value of deposits in the banking system remains the same and locked-in without cash withdrawals.

A retail CBDC would reintroduce this stability risk if depositors are able to withdraw deposits instantly out of the banking system electronically into a retail CBDC, causing a run on multiple banks.

The interesting aspect of this speech is that a wholesale CBDC is gaining traction in the BoE's plans. A wholesale CBDC is in the sweetspot of a central bank and has some real benefits - hopefully the BoE will focus more on a wholesale CBDC and quietly kick the retail CBDC idea into the long grass.