What are Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) – will they mark the start of a revolution to change the financial system forever? CBDCs are digital currencies issued by central banks that function as National Currencies (fiat). They are a direct replacement of paper money, with the exact same value and issuance policies. CBDCs are state-sanctioned and governed by the monetary authority and regulatory law.
Banks around the world are racing to issue out Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC). China has already deployed the test trial for Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP), a digital version of the RenMinBi based on cryptographic technology. Japan immediately countered this announcement by plans to release a Digital Yen in “2 to 3” years. One of the key motivations behind CBDC is to drastically improve the way money is transferred around the world. Instead of relying on decade-old technologies like SWIFT, Digital Currencies can be transferred directly without friction. This will drastic impacts on all levels of banking, from the m0 reserve system to the unbanked.
Major newspaper outlets like The Guardian and the Economist began writing opinion pieces, calling the advancement from China a big step and one that could pose a threat to US economic hegemony. On the other side, commentators in China heralded their country’s fast work and implementation. Although the US and its state banks have been slow to announce any research plans and have seemingly stopped Facebook’s Libra (a privatized answer to a CBDC) in its tracks, other western nations have quickly begun research.
Global effort to deploy Central Bank Digital Currencies
Earlier this year, banks from the UK, EU, Japan Canada, Switzerland, and Sweden all began joint research on a CBDC. France has announced intentions to test a pilot CBDC in 2020.
In Asia, the Japanese immediately announced their intentions to create a CBDC to match China’s as soon as the news began to break. The Bank of Korea is also looking at its own digital currency. Smaller national banks like Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore are also looking into creating their own. Projects such as Singapore’s Ubin work with the Monetary Authority of Singapore are already in Phase 5 of development.
The world is moving towards CBDC and is in agreement that this will be the currency of the future. But, what makes them so special and alluring to banks and governments?
Digital Currencies as a weapon to combat economic change
The main reason is its cost-effectiveness and control. CBDCs are not subject to long processing times and costly fees. As you can see from the stable coin market, sending and receiving cryptocurrencies can be done quickly and easily, with just a phone and internet connection required. Not only that, but digital currencies are far easier to track making money laundering tracking much easier.
Another factor is CBDC’s resilience to political or economic changes. Often citizens from emerging economies are subject to a large disparity in their currency’s health in the market when compared to exchange rates, however, stable coins rarely have major shifts. Not only that, but big banking shutdowns, like seen in Greece and Iceland might well have had a solution if they held a financial alternative to store their money. This benefit of digital currencies could well be important as the world stares recession in the face following the economic stresses of the Coronavirus effort.
However, there is one major detail that is propelling some nations’ research. The threat which CBDC’s pose to the US dollar domination. ChinaDaily called the People’s Bank of China’s DCEP a “functional alternative to the dollar settlement system.” This is something politicians in Beijing want as US sanctions are made effective namely due to the dollar being the reserve currency. This means often international transfers to sanctioned states are prohibited and banks shut down, as they are using the US dollar in the exchange.
Challenging US sanctions
The theoretical ability of CBDC’s to circumvent US dominance is something numerous embattled nations have looked to pounce on. Other countries who hold national digital currencies include Iran- a country ravaged by US sanctions and Venezuala- a similarly hit nation. Other US adversaries that have begun research into their own CBDC include Cuba, North Korea, and Palestine.
Clearly, the race is on between the various competing nations to launch their own digital currencies and make a new economic framework. Who will lead the charge remains to be seen, but the answer could have major consequences for the future.