Tag Archives: CBDC

Governor Lael Brainard: Private Money and Central Bank Money as Payments Go Digital: an Update on CBDCs

Technology is driving dramatic change in the U.S. payments system, which is a vital infrastructure that touches everyone.1 The pandemic accelerated the migration to contactless transactions and highlighted the importance of access to safe, timely, and low-cost payments for all. With technology platforms introducing digital private money into the U.S. payments system, and foreign authorities exploring the potential for central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) in cross-border payments, the Federal Reserve is stepping up its research and public engagement on CBDCs. As Chair Powell discussed last week, an important early step on public engagement is a plan to publish a discussion paper this summer to lay out the Federal Reserve Board’s current thinking on digital payments, with a particular focus on the benefits and risks associated with CBDC in the U.S. context.2

Sharpening the Focus on CBDCs

Four developments—the growing role of digital private money, the migration to digital payments, plans for the use of foreign CBDCs in cross-border payments, and concerns about financial exclusion—are sharpening the focus on CBDCs.

First, some technology platforms are developing stablecoins for use in payments networks.3 A stablecoin is a type of digital asset whose value is tied in some way to traditional stores of value, such as government-issued, or fiat, currencies or gold. Stablecoins vary widely in the assets they are linked to, the ability of users to redeem the stablecoin claims for the reference assets, whether they allow unhosted wallets, and the extent to which a central issuer is liable for making good on redemption rights. Unlike central bank fiat currencies, stablecoins do not have legal tender status. Depending on underlying arrangements, some may expose consumers and businesses to risk. If widely adopted, stablecoins could serve as the basis of an alternative payments system oriented around new private forms of money. Given the network externalities associated with achieving scale in payments, there is a risk that the widespread use of private monies for consumer payments could fragment parts of the U.S. payment system in ways that impose burdens and raise costs for households and businesses. A predominance of private monies may introduce consumer protection and financial stability risks because of their potential volatility and the risk of run-like behavior. Indeed, the period in the nineteenth century when there was active competition among issuers of private paper banknotes in the United States is now notorious for inefficiency, fraud, and instability in the payments system.4 It led to the need for a uniform form of money backed by the national government.

Second, the pandemic accelerated the migration to digital payments. Even before the pandemic, some countries, like Sweden, were seeing a pronounced migration from cash to digital payments.5 To the extent that digital payments crowd out the use of cash, this raises questions about how to ensure that consumers retain access to a form of safe central bank money. In the United States, the pandemic led to an acceleration of the migration to digital payments as well as increased demand for cash. While the use of cash spiked at certain times, there was a pronounced shift by consumers and businesses to contactless transactions facilitated by electronic payments.6 The Federal Reserve remains committed to ensuring that the public has access to safe, reliable, and secure means of payment, including cash. As part of this commitment, we must explore—and try to anticipate—the extent to which households’ and businesses’ needs and preferences may migrate further to digital payments over time.

Third, some foreign countries have chosen to develop and, in some cases, deploy their own CBDC. Although each country will decide whether to issue a CBDC based on its unique domestic conditions, the issuance of a CBDC in one jurisdiction, along with its prominent use in cross-border payments, could have significant effects across the globe. Given the potential for CBDCs to gain prominence in cross-border payments and the reserve currency role of the dollar, it is vital for the United States to be at the table in the development of cross-border standards.

Finally, the pandemic underscored the importance of access to timely, safe, efficient, and affordable payments for all Americans and the high cost associated with being unbanked and underbanked. While the large majority of pandemic relief payments moved quickly via direct deposits to bank accounts, it took weeks to distribute relief payments in the form of prepaid debit cards and checks to households who did not have up-to-date bank account information with the Internal Revenue Service. The challenges of getting relief payments to these households highlighted the benefits of delivering payments more quickly, cheaply, and seamlessly through digital means.

Policy Considerations
In any assessment of a CBDC, it is important to be clear about what benefits a CBDC would offer over and above current and emerging payments options, what costs and risks a CBDC might entail, and how it might affect broader policy objectives. I will briefly discuss several of the most prominent considerations.

Preserve general access to safe central bank money
Central bank money is important for payment systems because it represents a safe settlement asset, allowing users to exchange central bank liabilities without concern about liquidity and credit risk. Consumers and businesses don’t generally consider whether the money they are using is a liability of the central bank, as with cash, or of a commercial bank, as with bank deposits. This is largely because the two are seamlessly interchangeable for most purposes owing to the provision of federal deposit insurance and banking supervision, which provide protection for consumers and businesses alike. It is not obvious that new forms of private money that reference fiat currency, like stablecoins, can carry the same level of protection as bank deposits or fiat currency. Although various federal and state laws establish protections for users, nonbank issuers of private money are not regulated to the same extent as banks, the value stored in these systems is not insured directly by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and consumers may be at risk that the issuer will not be able to honor its liabilities. New forms of private money may introduce counterparty risk into the payments system in new ways that could lead to consumer protection threats or, at large scale, broader financial stability risks.

In contrast, a digital dollar would be a new type of central bank money issued in digital form for use by the general public. By introducing safe central bank money that is accessible to households and businesses in digital payments systems, a CBDC would reduce counterparty risk and the associated consumer protection and financial stability risks.

Improve efficiency
One expected benefit is that a CBDC would reduce or even eliminate operational and financial inefficiencies, or other frictions, in payments, clearing, and settlement. Today, the speed by which consumers and businesses can access the funds following a payment can vary significantly, up to a few days when relying on certain instruments, such as a check, to a few seconds in a real-time payments system. Advances in technology, including the use of distributed ledgers and smart contracts, may have the potential to fundamentally change the way in which payment activities are conducted and the roles of financial intermediaries and infrastructures. The introduction of a CBDC may provide an important foundation for beneficial innovation and competition in retail payments in the United States.

Most immediately, we are taking a critical step to build a strong foundation with the introduction of the FedNowSM Service, a new instant payments infrastructure that is scheduled to go into production in two years. The FedNow Service will enable banks of every size and in every community across America to provide safe and efficient instant payment services around the clock, every day of the year. Through the banks using the service, consumers and businesses will be able to send and receive payments conveniently, such as on a mobile device, and recipients will have full access to funds immediately.

Promote competition and diversity and lower transactions costs
Today, the costs of certain retail payments transactions are high and not always transparent to end users.7 Competition among a diversity of payment providers and payment types has the potential to increase the choices available to businesses and consumers, reduce transactions costs, and foster innovation in end-user services, although it could also contribute to fragmentation of the current payments system. By providing access to a digital form of safe central bank money, a CBDC could provide an important foundation on which private-sector competition could flourish.

Reduce cross-border frictions
Cross-border payments, such as remittances, represent one of the most compelling use cases for digital currencies. The intermediation chains for cross-border payments are notoriously long, complex, costly, and opaque. Digitalization, along with a reduction in the number of intermediaries, holds considerable promise to reduce the cost, opacity, and time required for cross-border payments. While the introduction of CBDCs may be part of the solution, international collaboration on standard setting and protections against illicit activity will be required in order to achieve material improvements in cost, timeliness, and transparency.8

We are collaborating with international colleagues through the Bank for International Settlements, Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures, and the G7 to ensure the U.S. stays abreast of developments related to CBDC abroad. We are engaging in several international efforts to improve the transparency, timeliness, and cost-effectiveness of cross-border payments. It will be important to be engaged at the outset on the development of any international standards that may apply to CBDCs, given the dollar’s important role as a reserve currency.

Complement currency and bank deposits
A guiding principle for any payments innovation is that it should improve upon the existing payments system. Consumers have access to reliable money in the forms of private bank accounts and central bank issued currency, which form the underpinnings of the current retail payments system. The design of any CBDC should complement and not replace currency and bank accounts.

Preserve financial stability and monetary policy transmission
The introduction of a CBDC has the potential to have wide-reaching effects, and there are open questions about how CBDC could affect financial stability and monetary policy transmission. Some research indicates that the introduction of a CBDC might raise the risk of a flight out of deposits at weak banks in favor of CBDC holdings at moments of financial stress.9 Other research indicates that the increase in competition could result in more attractive terms on transactions accounts and an overall increase in banking system deposits.10 Banks play a critical role in credit intermediation and monetary policy transmission, as well as in payments. Thus, the design of any CBDC would need to include safeguards to protect against disintermediation of banks and to preserve monetary policy transmission more broadly. While it is critical to consider the ways in which a CBDC could introduce risks relative to the current payments system, it may increase resilience relative to a payments system where private money is prominent.

Protect privacy and safeguard financial integrity
The design of any CBDC would need to both safeguard the privacy of households’ payments transactions and prevent and trace illicit activity to maintain the integrity of the financial system, which will require the digital verification of identities. There are a variety of approaches to safeguarding the privacy of payments transactions while also identifying and preventing illicit activity and verifying digital identities. Addressing these critical objectives will require working across government agencies to assign roles and responsibilities for preventing illicit transactions and clearly establishing how consumer financial data would be protected.

Increase financial inclusion
Today 5.4 percent of American households lack access to bank accounts and the associated payment options they offer, and a further 18.7 percent were underbanked as of 2017.11 The lack of access to bank accounts imposes high burdens on these households, whose financial resilience is often fragile. At the height of the pandemic, the challenges associated with getting relief payments to hard-to-reach households highlighted that it is important for all households to have transactions accounts. The Federal Reserve’s proposals for strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act emphasize the value of banks providing cost-free, low-balance accounts and other banking services targeted to underbanked and unbanked communities.12 And a core goal of FedNow is to provide ubiquitous access to an instant payments system via depository institutions.

CBDC may be one part of a broader solution to the challenge of achieving ubiquitous account access.13 Depending on the design, CBDC may have the ability to lower transaction costs and increase access to digital payments. In emergencies, CBDC may offer a mechanism for the swift and direct transfer of funds, providing rapid relief to those most in need. A broader solution to financial inclusion would also need to address any perceived barriers to maintaining a transaction account, along with the need to maintain up-to-date records on active accounts to reach a large segment of the population.14

To explore these broader issues, the Federal Reserve is undertaking research on financial inclusion. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta is launching a public–private sector collaboration as a Special Committee on Payments Inclusion to ensure that cash-based and vulnerable populations can safely access and benefit from digital payments.15 This work is complemented by a new Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland initiative to explore the prospects for CBDC to increase financial inclusion. The initiative will identify CBDC design features and delivery approaches focused on expanding access to individuals who do not currently use traditional financial services.

Technology Considerations
Multidisciplinary teams at the Federal Reserve are investigating the technological and policy issues associated with digital innovations in payments, clearing, and settlement, including the benefits and risks associated with a potential U.S. CBDC. For example, the TechLab group at the Federal Reserve Board is performing hands-on research and experimentation on potential future states of money, payments, and digital currencies. A second group, the Digital Innovations Policy program, is considering a broad range of policy issues associated with the rise of digital payments, including the potential benefits and risks associated with CBDC.

To deepen our research on the technological design of a CBDC, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston is partnering with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Digital Currency Initiative on Project Hamilton to build and test a hypothetical digital currency platform using leading edge technology design options.16 This work aims to research the feasibility of the core processing of a CBDC, while remaining agnostic about a range of policy decisions. MIT and the Boston Fed plan to release a white paper next quarter that will document the ability to meet goals on throughput of geographically dispersed transactions with core processing and create an open source license for the code. Subsequent work will explore how addressing additional requirements, including resiliency, privacy, and anti-money-laundering features, will impact core processing performance and design.

Banking Activities
Research and experimentation are also occurring at supervised banking institutions to explore new technology to enhance their own operations and in response to demands from their clients for services such as custody of digital assets. While distributed ledger technology may have the potential to improve efficiencies, increase competition, and lower costs, digital assets pose heightened risks such as those related to Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering, cybersecurity, price volatility, privacy, and consumer compliance. The Federal Reserve is actively monitoring developments in this area, engaging with the industry and other regulators, and working to identify any regulatory, supervisory, and oversight framework gaps. Given that decisions at one banking agency can have implications for the other agencies, it is important that regulators work together to develop common approaches to ensure that banks are appropriately identifying, monitoring, and managing risks associated with digital assets.

Public Engagement
In light of the growing role of digital private money in the broader migration to digital payments, the potential use of foreign CBDCs in cross-border payments, and the importance of financial inclusion, the Federal Reserve is stepping up its research and public engagement on a digital version of the U.S. dollar. Members of Congress and executive agencies are similarly exploring this important issue. As noted above, to help inform these efforts, the Federal Reserve plans to issue a discussion paper to solicit public comment on a range of questions related to payments, financial inclusion, data privacy, and information security, with regard to a CBDC in the U.S. context.17 The Federal Reserve remains committed to ensuring a safe, inclusive, efficient, and innovative payments system that works for all Americans.


1. I am grateful to Alexandra Fernandez, Sonja Danburg, David Mills, and David Pope of the Federal Reserve Board for their assistance in preparing this text. These are my own views and do not necessarily reflect those of the Federal Reserve Board or the Federal Open Market Committee. Return to text

2. See Jerome Powell, “Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell Outlines the Federal Reserve’s Response to Technological Advances Driving Rapid Change in the Global Payments Landscape,” Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System news release, May 20, 2021. Return to text

3. See Lael Brainard, “The Digitalization of Payments and Currency: Some Issues for Consideration,” remarks at the Symposium on the Future of Payments, Stanford University, California, February 5, 2021. Return to text

4. See, for instance, Joshua R. Greenberg, Bank Notes and Shinplasters: The Rage for Paper Money in the Early Republic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020). Return to text

5. Codruta Boar and Róbert Szemere, “Payments go (even more) digital” (Basel: Bank for International Settlements, January 2021). Return to text

6. Kelsey Coyle, Laura Kim, and Shaun O’Brien, Consumer Payments and the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Second Supplement to the 2020 Findings from the Diary of Consumer Payment Choice (San Francisco: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, February 2021). Return to text

7. Marie-Hélène Felt, Fumiko Hayashi, Joanna Stavins, and Angelika Welte, Distributional Effects of Payment Card Pricing and Merchant Cost Pass-through in the United States and Canada (PDF), Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Research Department Working Papers No. 20-13 (Boston: FRB Boston, 2020). Return to text

8. See Bank for International Settlements, Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures, Enhancing cross-border payments: building blocks of a global roadmap Stage 2 report to the G20 (PDF) (Basel: BIS, July 2020); and Financial Stability Board, Enhancing Cross-border Payments: Stage 3 Roadmap (PDF) (Washington: FSB, October 13, 2020). Return to text

9. Christian Pfister, Monetary Policy and Digital Currencies: Much Ado about Nothing? (PDF) Banque de France Working Paper 642 (Paris: Banque de France, 2017). Return to text

10. John Barrdear and Michael Kumhof, The Macroeconomics of Central Bank Issued Digital Currencies, Bank of England Working Paper No. 605 (London: BOE, July 18, 2016), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2811208. Return to text

11. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, How America Banks: Household Use of Banking and Financial Services (Washington: FDIC, October 19, 2020); and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households (Washington: FDIC, 2017). Return to text

12. See, for instance the Bank On National Account Standards, https://2wvkof1mfraz2etgea1p8kiy-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Bank-On-National-Account-Standards-2021-2022.pdf. Return to text

13. See Jesse Leigh Maniff, Inclusion by Design: Crafting a Central Bank Digital Currency to Reach All Americans, (PDF) Payments System Research Briefing, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (Kansas City: FRB Kansas, December 2, 2020); and John Crawford, Lev Menand, and Morgan Ricks, “FedAccounts: Digital Dollars,” (PDF) George Washington Law Review, Vol. 89, p. 113, January 28, 2021. Return to text

14. For more information, see the Federal Reserve Community Reinvestment Act Proposed Rulemaking at https://www.federalreserve.gov/consumerscommunities/community-reinvestment-act-proposed-rulemaking.htmReturn to text

15. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, “New Committee to Advance Safe, Efficient, Inclusive Payments,” news release, May 12, 2021. Return to text

16. See Eric Rosengren, “Central Bank Perspectives on Central Bank Digital Currencies,” remarks at the panel discussion of the Program on International Financial Systems, Harvard Law School, May 12, 2021, ; Jim S. Cunha, “Boston Fed’s Digital Dollar Research Project Honors 2 Hamiltons, Alexander and Margaret,” Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, February 25, 2021; and Lael Brainard, “An Update on Digital Currencies,” remarks at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Innovation Office Hours, August 13, 2020. Return to text

17. See Jerome Powell, “Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell Outlines the Federal Reserve’s Response to Technological Advances Driving Rapid Change in the Global Payments Landscape,” Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System news release, May 20, 2021.

Bank of England statement on Central Bank Digital Currency

The Bank of England and HM Treasury have today announced the joint creation of a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Taskforce to coordinate the exploration of a potential UK CBDC.

The Bank of England and HM Treasury have today announced the joint creation of a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Taskforce to coordinate the exploration of a potential UK CBDC. A CBDC would be a new form of digital money issued by the Bank of England and for use by households and businesses. It would exist alongside cash and bank deposits, rather than replacing them.

The Government and the Bank of England have not yet made a decision on whether to introduce a CBDC in the UK, and will engage widely with stakeholders on the benefits, risks and practicalities of doing so.

The Taskforce aims to ensure a strategic approach is adopted between the UK authorities as they explore CBDC, in line with their statutory objectives, and to promote close coordination between them. The Taskforce will:

  • Coordinate exploration of the objectives, use cases, opportunities and risks of a potential UK CBDC.
  • Guide evaluation of the design features a CBDC must display to achieve our goals.
  • Support a rigorous, coherent and comprehensive assessment of the overall case for a UK CBDC.
  • Monitor international CBDC developments to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of global innovation.

The Taskforce will be co-chaired by Deputy Governor for Financial Stability at the Bank of England, Jon Cunliffe, and HM Treasury’s Director General of Financial Services, Katharine Braddick. As appropriate other UK authorities will be involved in the Taskforce.

The Bank of England has also today announced the creation of the following:

  • CBDC Engagement Forum to engage senior stakeholders and gather strategic input on all non-technology aspects of CBDC. The Forum will have an important role in helping the Bank and HM Treasury understand the practical challenges of designing, implementing and operating a CBDC. It will consider issues such as – but not limited to – ‘use cases’ for CBDC, functional needs of CBDC users, roles of public and private sectors in a CBDC system, financial & digital inclusion considerations, and data & privacy implications. Members will be drawn from financial institutions, civil society groups, merchants, business users and consumers.
  • CBDC Technology Forum to engage stakeholders and gather input on all technology aspects of CBDC from a diverse cross-section of expertise and perspectives. The Forum will have an important role in helping the Bank to understand the technological challenges of designing, implementing and operating a CBDC. Members will be invited by the Bank and drawn from a range of financial institutions, academia, fintechs, infrastructure providers and technology firms.

The Bank of England has also announced it will establish a CBDC Unit. This new division of the Bank of England will lead its internal exploration around CBDC. It will also lead the Bank’s external engagement on CBDC, including with other UK and international authorities. The Deputy Governor for Financial Stability, Jon Cunliffe, will oversee the work of the CBDC Unit.

Can digital central bank currencies function as cash?

Many central banks are currently researching the possibility of issuing digital money (central bank digital currency – CBDC) as a complement to the central bank money we use today, namely cash. However, digital central bank currencies would not function offline and anonymously in the same way as cash. This is the conclusion drawn by the authors of the Staff Memo “On the possibility of a cash-like CBDC”.

Digital central bank currencies are money that can either be held in an account with the central bank (account-based) or as digital units of value (token-based). Both types of digital central bank currency require, however, that there are one or more registers behind them, keeping track of who owns the money. The link to these registers means that neither the token-based nor the account-based money can offer the same anonymity as cash, as the transactions will be traceable. Nor will offline payments, where there is no communication with the register, be possible to any great extent. A token-based CBDC does not appear to have a greater capacity to fully replicate cash than an account-based one in this respect.

This Staff Memo was written by Hanna Armelius, Carl-Andreas Claussen and Isaiah Hull at the Riksbank’s Payments Department and Research Division.

A Staff Memo is a publication in which Riksbank staff can publish advanced analyses of relevant issues. It is a staff publication free of policy conclusions and personal standpoints in current policy issues.

Burkhard Balz: Central bank digital currencies – the future of money?

Speech by Mr Burkhard Balz, Member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank, at the American Council on Germany, virtual event, 10 February 2021.

1 Introduction – Central Bank Money

Dear Steve,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk to you about one of the most exciting topics facing central banks today:

The future of money. Do we need other forms of money beside the ones we already have? And do we need other forms of central bank money? Should banks’ deposits with the central bank be tokenised? Should banknotes become digital?

There are many questions surrounding “central bank digital currencies” (CBDC). And we still have to find the right answers. But one thing is certain:  central banks around the world have undertaken tremendous efforts to assess the potential and investigate the opportunities of CBDC.

Just recently, the Bank for International Settlement (BIS) published its third survey amongst central banks worldwide. The survey shows a shift from mainly analytical work towards technical experimentation. More than 60% of central banks are engaged in practical experimental work.1

It is clear, then, that even more headway has been made in exploring central bank digital currencies over the past year. On the one hand, the BIS predicts that central banks representing a fifth of the world’s population will issue a general purpose CBDC in the next three years. On the other, a widespread roll out of CBDCs seems some way off. And there are good reasons for this. Because CBDC is a game changer – with potential benefits, but also with a number of challenges.

Central bank digital currencies promise to combine the improved efficiency of their digital form with the safety provided by a central bank in a single means of payment.

However, central bank digital currency would be a third form of central bank money, alongside cash and bank reserves. Introducing a new form of central bank money such as this could have profound impact on the financial system, especially if it is not only available to banks, but instead, like cash today, to the general public. If not properly thought through, such an intervention may lead to unintended consequences.

Today, I would like to outline to you the areas that I believe we need to tackle in order to create a safe, efficient and future-proof currency. But let me start with three trends we are currently observing: digitalisation, declining cash usage and the emergence of new forms of money.

2 Trends in payments

Trend 1: Digitalisation

Our economy is growing more digital by the day. Business processes are becoming increasingly automated and interdependent. Complex value chains arise. The “Internet of Things” enables machine-to-machine communication. E-commerce and online services of all kinds are about to experience an enormous uptake due to the pandemic. The pace of digitalisation has probably never been faster than today. These developments are increasingly calling for a safe and efficient settlement asset which can be seamlessly integrated into almost any kind of business process. 

Trend 2: Declining use of cash

Parallel to this, we can see that the use of cash is waning, even in Germany. The current pandemic has boosted not only the use of credit and debit cards, but contactless payments, in particular. 

In a recently conducted survey on payment behaviour in Germany during the coronavirus pandemic, we found out that the share of cash transactions has fallen from 74% to 60% over the last three years.2 Admittedly, it remains to be seen whether the current behaviour also persists in the post-coronavirus period. But what we are currently seeing is quite a considerable change for a country which is strongly accustomed to paying in cash.

Trend 3: Emerging means of payments other than €

Another trend is the emergence of new forms of digital means of payments. These can be central bank digital currencies issued by foreign central banks as well as privately issued means of payment such as stablecoins. At the moment, these alternative means of payment are still in the development or testing phase. However, given the speed at which technology is developing, their widespread adoption might be far less off than we think. Should these forms of money become widely used as a medium of exchange or store of value in the euro area, significant implications could arise: for the role of the euro or the payment industry, and consequently also for financial stability. 

3 Central banks need to be prepared

The three trends I have just outlined highlight that, if the payments ecosystem is going to expand, central banks need to be prepared.

As highlighted in the report by the BIS and seven central banks, central banks need to be in a position to make an informed judgment when it comes to the decision on a central bank digital currency.3

Any dedicated central bank digital currency should be designed carefully. Possible advantages such as safety and efficiency improvements in everyday payments, productivity gains by promoting money which could be used in programmable environments, or the availability of new services must clearly outweigh the potential risks with regard to monetary policy or financial stability. In any case, it must be properly designed so as to mitigate all of those risks.

The Eurosystem is taking a comprehensive approach to addressing these challenges. As part of a high-level Eurosystem task force, my colleagues and I identified possible scenarios that would require the issuance of a digital euro and published them last October in the ECB’s “Report on a digital euro”4 The Governing Council of the ECB has not yet reached a decision on whether to introduce a digital euro. We must first be sure that there is a need to issue CBDC and, if so, that we are able to manage the accompanying risks. In the digital age, time is of essence. But we also have to take the time to do our homework.

Therefore, the Eurosystem has started to engage widely with citizens, academia, the financial sector and public authorities to assess in detail their needs, as well as the benefits and challenges they expect from the issuance of a digital euro. In mid-January, a public consultation on the digital euro came to an end with record levels of participation from European citizens.

Experimental work supports the analysis of possible technical designs and their implications. Further outreach to the market and exchange with other international central banks leading the work on central bank digital currencies will follow. And this brings me to my last point.

4 International dimension will be key 

International cooperation will be key in shaping the future ecosystem for central bank digital currencies.

As the BIS and other central banks have rightly emphasised in their report5 regardless of the final design, there are certain core features and common standards that are valuable in guiding a central bank when deciding to issue a digital currency for the public.

The features I consider most relevant in this context are convertibility, interoperability and international standards.

Convertibility is essential to ensure trust in a currency. People must be sure they can exchange the form of the money they hold at par at any point in time.

Interoperability is required to ensure a smooth exchange of money between different kinds of payment systems. In a digitalised world, this is an absolute prerequisite to ensure an efficient financial system.

Finally, appropriate international standards are the focal point in ensuring an efficient cross-border payments flow.

In my view, these three features are the key determinants of a stable and broadly accepted digital currency that fits into the international financial system.

Against this backdrop, safe and efficient payment markets must be brought to the next level, in particular for cross-border and cross-currency payments. This topic has been on the agenda for several years. While we have seen significant progress in improving payments at the domestic or regional level, cross-border payments are, putting it bluntly, still in the medieval age.

The G20 roadmap on enhancing cross-border payments is an important step in this direction. The Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures, together with the Financial Stability Board and the BIS, has set up a comprehensive working programme encompassing 19 building blocks across five focus areas, including new payment infrastructures and arrangements, which covers central bank digital currencies, amongst other things.

This work can only serve the long-term goal of achieving a fair and sustainable payments landscape, as long as international cooperation thrives.

I am optimistic that this fruitful work initiated by the G20, but also in the form of other international formats, will continue. CBDC might not be the panacea for all challenges that payments are facing. But it might be an option, including for cross-border payments.

In a nutshell, payments are – and always will – be a backbone of the economy. The digital economy has already changed the payment landscape quite significantly and will continue to do so in future. It is the responsibility of the central bank to create trust in its currency and to ensure that payments remain competitive, innovative and safe. We also have to ensure that central bank money will be offered in a way that is compatible with the digital economy.

Let me finish with the words of Abraham Lincoln: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”


1 BIS Papers No 114, Ready, steady, go? – Results of the third BIS survey on central bank digital currencies (January 2021).

2 https://www.bundesbank.de/en/tasks/topics/making-payments-in-2020-the-year-of-covid-19-card-based-and-contactless-payments-trending-823592

3 https://www.bis.org/publ/othp33.pdf

4 https://www.ecb.europa.eu/pub/pdf/other/Report_on_a_digital_euro~4d7268b458.en.pdf

5 https://www.bis.org/publ/othp33.pdf

Banque de France conducted a successful experiment with IZNES on the use of central bank digital money for interbank settlement purposes.

On 17 December 2020, the Banque de France successfully carried out an experiment on central bank digital currency (CBDC) with IZNES as part of the experimental programme launched in March 1.

The experiment consisted in the subscription and redemption by investors of money market fund units on a private Blockchain, provided by SETL, for a global amount exceeded 2 million euros. Cash settlements were simulated by central bank digital money issued on the blockchain. From a technological point of view, the experiment required the development and
deployment of smart contracts so that the Banque de France could issue and control the circulation of CBDC tokens and ensure that their transfer takes place simultaneously with the delivery of the fund unit tokens into the investors’ portfolio.
The experiment was carried out in collaboration with IZNES, SETL, CACEIS, CITIGROUP, GROUPAMA AM, OFI AM and DXC.
This experiment represents a significant step forward in assessing the levers that a central bank digital currency provides for enhancing the efficiency and resilience of the settlement of financial asset in a blockchain environment, thereby contributing to the smooth functioning of
the real economy. The programme’s other experiments are ongoing until mid-2021 and all the lessons learned will be an important part of the Banque de France’s contribution to the Eurosystem’s more global reflection on the benefits of CBDC.

Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation to develop virtual assets and to facilitate CBDC infrastructure with the Stellar Development Foundation

On December 28, the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine and the Stellar Development Foundation (SDF) signed a Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation, within which they will work on the development of a strategy for virtual assets in Ukraine.

Under the Memorandum, the Ministry of Digital Transformation and SDF will work to develop a modern virtual asset market infrastructure and enhance Ukraine’s status as an innovative digital country in the financial market in Eastern Europe.

“The Ministry of Digital Transformation is working on creating the legal environment for the development of virtual assets in Ukraine. We believe our cooperation with the Stellar Development Foundation will contribute to development of the virtual asset industry and its integration into the global financial ecosystem,” said Oleksandr Bornyakov, Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation for IT Development. “Another important aspect of this cooperation is contributing to the development of the infrastructure for a Ukrainian national digital currency. Most of the world’s leading countries are developing their own national digital currencies. The National Bank of Ukraine has been researching the possibility of CBDC implementation since 2017. It demonstrates Ukraine’s movement towards one of major financial trends. At the Ministry, we aspire to ensure our country’s adaptation to technological innovations and competitiveness in the financial market in Eastern Europe.”

The memorandum outlines the core focus of the partnership as follows:

  • cooperation on the development of the virtual assets market in Ukraine;
  • provision of support to projects related to virtual assets;
  • implementation and regulation of stablecoin circulation in Ukraine; and,
  • facilitation of the development of the digital currency of the Central Bank in Ukraine.

“We believe digital assets and national digital currencies are one of the most important innovations of our lifetimes and we are excited to play a role in the creation of Ukraine’s digital asset infrastructure,” said Denelle Dixon, CEO and Executive Director, Stellar Development Foundation. “Through the leadership of the Ministry, Ukraine has demonstrated its commitment to fostering an environment of innovation for the digital economy. We look forward to working with the Ministry and other stakeholders to digitize the hryvnia, to bring Stellar-based tools and services to the people and businesses of Ukraine, and to introduce new partnership opportunities in Ukraine to businesses in the Stellar ecosystem.”

Stellar Development Foundation will officially launch its activity with Ukraine in January 2021.

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About Stellar

Stellar is a decentralized, fast, scalable, and uniquely sustainable network for financial products and services. It is both a cross-currency transaction system and a platform for digital asset issuance, designed to connect the world’s financial infrastructure. Dozens of financial institutions worldwide issue assets and settle payments on the Stellar network, which has grown to over 4.7 million accounts. 

About the Stellar Development Foundation

The Stellar Development Foundation (SDF) is a non-profit organization that supports the development and growth of Stellar, an open-source network that connects the world’s financial infrastructure. Founded in 2014, the Foundation helps maintain Stellar’s codebase, supports the technical and business communities building on the network, and serves as a voice to regulators and institutions. The Foundation seeks to create equitable access to the global financial system, using the Stellar network to unlock the world’s economic potential through blockchain technology.

From the payments revolution to the reinvention of money

Speech by Fabio Panetta, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB, at the Deutsche Bundesbank conference on the “Future of Payments in Europe”

Frankfurt am Main, 27 November 2020

Retail payments play a fundamental role in our daily lives and for the economy. Last year, adults in the euro area made two payments per day on average.[1] The universe of retail transactions[2] amounted to 213 billion payments – two million every five minutes – with an estimated total value of €164 trillion.[3]

As part of its mission to promote the smooth operation of the payment system, the Eurosystem has two main objectives in the area of retail payments. The first is to guarantee that people have access to efficient payment solutions that meet their preferences. The second is to ensure that transactions remain safe, underpinning confidence in our currency and the functioning of our economy.

Technological innovation means that the policy implications of these objectives are changing, and new opportunities and risks are emerging. Today I will present the Eurosystem’s response: a strategy for empowering Europeans with efficient, inclusive and secure payments in the digital age. And I will argue that the impending revolution in payments requires us to stand ready to reinvent sovereign money.

Convenience and safety in the digital age – Payments

Payments have evolved substantially over time, but the key determinants of their success have remained fundamentally unchanged. People want payments that offer convenience and safety at a low cost. Convenience requires payments to be easy to use, fast and widely accepted, while safety requires low risk from an economic, financial and societal perspective.

The digital transformation is raising the bar for convenience and safety. With the growth of e-commerce and connected lifestyles, people are increasingly demanding immediacy and seamless integration between payments and digital services. At the same time, they are increasingly concerned about privacy, cybersecurity and reliability.

This wide range of desirable features creates scope for innovative payment solutions. Currently, none of the existing solutions – cash, cards, credit transfers, direct debits and e-money – meet all the required features at once. People are forced to use several instruments at the same time. In-person transactions[4] are mostly conducted with cash and cards.[5] Remote purchases are dominated by cards and e-payments.[6] And bills are generally paid using direct debits and credit transfers.[7]

The coronavirus (COVID-19) shock has accelerated the trend towards digitalisation, leading to a surge in online transactions and contactless payments in shops. This trend is likely to persist once the pandemic is over.[8] So we must ask ourselves whether the available means of payment adequately meet the needs of consumers in the digital age.

Cash offers a secure and inclusive way of making in-person payments, but it is not well suited for payments in a digital context, such as in e-commerce. So it is no surprise that it is being used less.[9] Payment cards, on the other hand,facilitate digital, contactless payments. But they are not accepted everywhere. And the Europe-wide acceptance of cards issued under national card schemes currently relies on agreements with international card schemes. As a result, people mostly use international schemes for cross-border card payments, and the European market for card payments is dominated by non-European schemes.

Generally, Europe is increasingly relying on foreign providers, with a high degree of market concentration in some segments, such as card transactions and online payments.[10]

We should not let this reliance turn into dependence. Dependence on foreign providers and excessive market concentration would harm competition, limiting the choice for consumers and exposing them to non-competitive pricing. It could reduce the resilience of the payment system and weaken the ability of European authorities to exercise controls.

We must ensure that the payment market remains open to competition, including from European suppliers and technology.

The influx of technology firms

Fintech companies have sparked the latest wave of innovation, accelerating the evolution of the payment system.[11] Many of them have adopted data-driven business models, where payment services are provided free of charge in exchange for personal data. Numerous banks are expanding their range of digital services by entering into agreements with fintechs; in some cases, integration is achieved when a bank acquires a fintech firm.

The global tech giants – the so-called big techs – are aiming for a revolution in the payments landscape, and represent a threat to traditional intermediation.[12] These firms can use data-driven models on an entirely new scale by leveraging their large customer base, real-time data and control of crucial infrastructures for commerce and economic activity – from online marketplaces to social media and mobile technologies. They can use these advantages, their financial strength and their global footprint to provide new payment solutions and expand in both domestic and cross-border transactions. This would offer them an even stronger base to further expand the range of their financial activities, including lending, as their superior ability to collect and analyse large volumes of data gives them an information advantage.

If not properly regulated, big techs may pose considerable risks from an economic and social perspective and they may restrict, rather than expand, consumer choice. They can aggravate the risk of personal information being misused for commercial or other purposes, jeopardising privacy and competition. And they can make the European payment market dependent on technologies designed and governed elsewhere, exacerbating its vulnerability to external disruption such as cyberattacks.

The big techs may also contribute to a rapid take-up, both domestically and across borders, of so-called stablecoins.[13] As I have argued previously[14], stablecoins raise concerns with regard to consumer protection and financial stability. In fact, the issuer of a stablecoin cannot guarantee the certainty of the value of the payment instrument it offers to consumers. Such a guarantee can only be provided by the central bank.

Moreover, unlike bank deposits, stablecoins do not benefit from deposit guarantee schemes, their holders cannot rely on the degree of scrutiny that is now the norm in banking supervision, and the issuers do not have access to central bank standing facilities. As a result, stablecoin users are likely to bear higher credit, market and liquidity risks, and the stablecoins themselves are vulnerable to runs[15], with potentially systemic implications[16].

These risks could be mitigated if the stablecoin issuer were able to invest its reserve assets[17] in the form of risk-free deposits at the central bank, as this would eliminate the investment risks that ultimately fall on the shoulders of stablecoin holders.[18]

This would not be acceptable, however, as it would be tantamount to outsourcing the provision of central bank money. It could endanger monetary sovereignty if, as a result, private money – the stablecoin – were to largely displace sovereign money as a means of payment. Money would then be reduced to a “club good” offered in return for the payment of a fee or membership of a platform.[19]

We should safeguard the role of sovereign money, a public good that central banks have been managing for centuries in the public interest and that should be available to all citizens to satisfy their need for safety.

Monetary sovereignty could also be threatened if foreign central bank digital currencies became widely used in the euro area, with implications for international monetary spillovers.[20]

These risks are not imminent. We must nonetheless be alert to possible non-linear developments that could endanger financial stability and monetary and economic sovereignty. As we aim to enhance the efficiency of European payments, we therefore need to be prepared to rethink the nature and the role of sovereign money.

The Eurosystem policy response

The Eurosystem is implementing a comprehensive policy to ensure that citizens’ payment needs are met, while safeguarding the integrity of the payment system and financial stability. Our policy is based on interconnected elements addressing the entire payment value chain.

First, we have enhanced our retail payments strategy, in order to foster competitive and innovative payments with a strong European presence. We are actively promoting pan-European initiatives that offer secure, cheap and widely accepted payment solutions.[21]

We are supporting access to bank accounts by non-bank providers, so that they can expand the range of payment initiation services they offer. Yesterday the Euro Retail Payments Board, chaired by the ECB, launched a work stream to facilitate this access. We are working to make the European e-identity and e-signature frameworks better suited for payments and the financial sector more broadly.

Our retail payments strategy also builds on the promotion of instant payments, which make funds immediately available to recipients. We have created a solid basis for instant payments, with commonly agreed rules and powerful infrastructures, including the TARGET Instant Payment Settlement (TIPS) service, operated by the Eurosystem. Thanks to the measures we have taken in recent months, all euro instant payment providers and infrastructures will have access to TIPS by the end of 2021.

Second, we are adapting our regulatory and oversight framework to the fast pace of financial and technological innovation. We have reviewed our Regulation on oversight requirements for systemically important payment systems[22], introducing a more forward-looking approach to identify payment systems that are systemically important. And today we are launching a public consultation on the new regulation, which will then become operational by mid-2021.

We are also completing the public consultation on our new framework for electronic payment instruments, schemes and arrangements, the so-called PISA framework. PISA extends our oversight[23] to digital payment tokens[24], including stablecoins, and to payment arrangements providing functionalities to end users of electronic payment instruments[25]. As a result, technology providers can become subject to oversight.

As part of our comprehensive policy, we are working to safeguard the role of sovereign money in the digital era: we want to be ready to introduce a digital euro, if needed.

A digital euro would combine the efficiency of a digital payment instrument with the safety of central bank money. It would complement cash, not replace it. Together, these two types of money would be available to all, offering greater choice and access to simple, costless ways of paying.

We have started a public consultation to seek feedback from people across Europe and gain a better understanding of their needs. It will be completed in January, and the results will be published once they have been analysed.

A digital euro would need to be carefully designed, in order to enhance privacy in digital payments[26], respect the rules on countering illegal activities and avoid interference with central bank policies, first and foremost monetary policy and financial stability.

In particular, a digital euro should be a means of payment, not a form of investment that competes with other financial instruments. This would require limiting the holdings of individual users[27] and mean that, unlike stablecoin issuers, the issuer of the digital euro – the ECB – would not aim to acquire deposits.

A digital euro would support the modernisation of the financial sector and the broader economy. It would be designed to be interoperable with private payment solutions and would thus represent the “raw material” that supervised intermediaries could use to offer pan-European, front-end payment solutions.

A digital euro would also generate synergies with other elements of our strategy, facilitating the digitalisation of information exchange in payments through e-invoices, e-receipts, e-identity and e-signature. And in making it easier for intermediaries to provide added value and advanced technological features at lower cost, it would give rise to products that could compete with those of the big techs, thereby benefiting end users.

The ECB and the national central banks have started preliminary experimentation through four work streams. First, we will test the compatibility between a digital euro and existing central bank settlement services (such as TIPS).[28] Second, we will explore the interconnection between decentralised technologies, such as distributed ledgers, and centralised systems. Third, we will investigate the use of payment-dedicated blockchains with electronic identity. And fourth, we will assess the functionalities of hardware devices that could enable offline transactions, guaranteeing privacy.[29]

We will take the necessary time to explore all aspects of different options: whether they are technically feasible, whether they comply with the principles and policy objectives of the Eurosystem, and whether they satisfy the needs of prospective users.

Conclusion

Let me conclude. The digital transformation is triggering a revolution in the financial sector, which will bring innovation but also risks. In particular, big techs and stablecoins could disrupt the European financial system. And while they could offer convenient and efficient payment solutions, they also risk endangering competition, privacy, financial stability and even monetary sovereignty.

Our policies provide a forceful policy reaction to the digital shock. We want to create the conditions for a resilient, innovative, diverse and competitive payments landscape that can better serve the evolving needs of European people and businesses. We are promoting safe, pan-European instant payments.

What is at stake is nothing short of the future of money. As private money goes digital, sovereign money also needs to be reinvented. This requires central bank money to remain available under all circumstances – in the form of cash, of course, but also potentially as a digital euro.

We want to enable people to choose their preferred way of paying without having to compromise on their expectations of fast, secure, inclusive and seamless payments. This is our aim today, and it will remain our aim in the future.

Ida Wolden Bache: Central bank digital currency (CBDC) and real-time payments

Speech by Ms Ida Wolden Bache, Deputy Governor of Norges Bank (Central Bank of Norway), at Finance Norway’s Payments Conference, 5 November 2020.

Introduction

Thank you for the invitation to speak here today. For anyone interested in payment systems, this conference is an important meeting place – and that applies equally to this year’s conference, with its many digital participants.

The payments landscape in Norway is changing. Technological advances, user preferences and globalisation are strong driving forces for change, offering opportunities but also posing challenges:

How can we ensure the existence of an efficient system for payments in NOK while at the same time safeguarding security? How can we improve the common infrastructure for payment services? How can we best promote competition and innovation?

The private sector, organisations and authorities must together and individually work to further develop the payment system. Norges Bank is responsible for promoting an efficient and secure payment system. This is why we are now assessing whether there is a need for central bank digital currency and whether Norges Bank should expand its operational role in real-time payment settlement. This is the theme of my remarks here today.

A changing payments landscape

Changes in payment patterns have accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Norges Bank conducted a new payments survey three weeks ago. Only 4 percent of payments are now made using cash. This share is approximately the same as in spring, and considerably lower than before the pandemic. To our knowledge, the share of cash payments is lower in Norway than in any other country.

Contactless and PIN-less payments are increasing sharply. Three out of every four card payments are now contactless payments. An increasing number of smartphone apps can be used to make payments in shops. Online shopping is growing, and payment is increasingly made via smartphone apps and other digital wallets.

New payment methods are contributing to the efficiency of the payment system. Payment processes are being simplified. Payments are faster. These are positive developments. At the same time, the payments market is characterised by scale and network advantages. We must therefore be vigilant to developments whereby some operators – domestic or global – gain market power that weakens competition.

Global technology companies are involved in many parts of the payment system. Some companies such as Amazon, Apple and Facebook also control shopping and social network platforms, often offering services on the platform in competition with other operators. This allows these technology companies to regulate and restrict competition – including in the payments arena. There is a risk that users will be locked in and that the range of payment options will be reduced over time. Interoperability across systems and operators merits continued focus.

Big technology companies, or BigTechs, have so far offered services to end-users overlaid on top of traditional payment infrastructures. They can also have an interest in offering their own currency and payment systems. One example is Libra, backed by among others Facebook. Regulation of such systems will be important if we as a society are to secure the benefits of these new solutions while limiting the associated risks. The European Commission recently presented legislative proposals for an EU regulatory framework on crypto-assets as part of its digital finance package. As an EEA country, Norway will also be affected by this framework.

Globalisation is about more than BigTechs entering the payments market. Payment infrastructure providers are also undergoing structural changes. Global operators are taking positions in Norway and the Nordic region. Mastercard will be acquiring many of Nets’ services and will be an important provider for Norway’s payment system.

Central bank digital currency CBDC

Structural changes in the payment landscape raise questions around whether there is a need for Norges Bank to implement measures to ensure that payments can continue to be made efficiently and securely in NOK in the future. A central question is whether Norges Bank should provide central bank money to the public in digital as well as physical form.

Central bank digital currency – CBDC – will be both a new type of money and a new payment system. CBDC, like cash, is a claim on the central bank. In contrast, bank deposits are claims on private banks. CBDC raises some fundamental questions as to the role of central bank money. This is much more than a question of technology.

Norges Bank is not alone in assessing the need for central bank digital currency. Many central banks are engaged in similar research. Several are in the process of testing technical solutions. Both Sveriges Riksbank and the central bank of China launched pilot projects earlier this year. The European Central Bank (ECB) signalled last month that it was stepping up its research on a digital euro.

Central banks are considering introducing a CBDC for a variety of reasons. In emerging economies, the focus is on financial inclusion and low-cost payments. In advanced economies, the focus is more on the role of cash and the emergence of new monetary and payment systems.

A trend specific to Norway and some of our neighbouring countries is the low and falling level of cash use. Users increasingly choose solutions offering contactless payments and payments via smartphone apps. These solutions use bank deposits as the means of payment.                                                                           

At the same time, cash has some unique characteristics that could be important to preserve in the payment system of the future:

  • Cash is part of the contingency arrangements if the electronic contingency solutions fail.
  • Cash is a credit risk-free alternative to bank deposits and can promote competition in the payment market.
  • Cash is legal tender that is widely accessible.

These are characteristics that are important to society, but that the individual user does not necessarily prioritise in their choice of payment solution. The question is whether something important will be lost if cash dies out and we do not introduce CBDC? Is central bank money crucial to confidence in the monetary system? Could CBDC provide more than cash can offer, in the form of a greater range of uses and more innovation?

Declining cash use is not the only motivation for Norges Bank’s research into CBDC. The precautionary principle is also an important factor. We want to be prepared to be able to introduce a CBDC if the payment system develops in a different direction than we can foresee today.

We must take account of changes in the payment solutions offered, including different forms of money. Libra will not be the last initiative of this kind. We must also take structural changes in banks’ payment infrastructure into account. We must think through the effect these changes may have on competition, contingency solutions and national governance and control of the payment system. 

Norges Bank’s research has now been in progress for almost four years. The prospective introduction of a CBDC is still some way off. The lack of urgency reflects our view so far that there is no acute need to introduce a CBDC. The introduction of a CBDC could have considerable consequences in a number of areas. Our decision must be well-informed. Introducing a CBDC will involve such a substantial change in the monetary system that it will require a political decision. It could also involve the question of whether the Central Bank Act would have to be amended.

What is the current situation? Norges Bank’s research is now in a third phase, to be completed in the new year. We are working on specifying the features a CBDC should have and considering a range of technical solutions. We are also drawing on other central banks’ experience and plans. Possible strategies for testing and experimenting with technological solutions are also being assessed.

The core of a prospective CBDC system will be controlled by Norges Bank. Banks and other third parties could provide end-user services. This is a natural division of roles. Norges Bank would facilitate innovation through the design of the system’s technical core and regulatory framework.

The consequences a CBDC could have for the financial system depend entirely on its design. The design could influence which claims the public decide to replace with CBDC and on what scale. If CBDC replaces cash, banks’ balance sheets will not be affected – the public will simply replace one claim on the central bank with another. If the public replaces bank deposits with CBDC, the consequences for the financial system could be more severe. Banks’ access to deposit funding could be reduced and banks’ funding costs could rise.

During a financial crisis or other situations of high uncertainty, the public can suddenly withdraw bank deposits. Such bank runs can lead to instability in the financial system. We have not observed such movements in Norwegian banks’ funding for a long time. Both the bank guarantee scheme and banks’ strong financial position have likely played an important role here. With the introduction of CBDC, digital bank runs might occur more easily and with greater speed. Avoiding digital bank runs are therefore an important factor to consider when designing CBDC.

In addition to assessing the consequences of the introduction of CBDC, we must also analyse the consequences of a payment system without central bank money. We must ask ourselves whether we can maintain confidence in the monetary system and achieve the goal of an efficient and secure payment system using instruments other than introducing a CBDC. We do not have the answer yet.

Norges Bank will decide how the Bank will proceed with its work on CBDC in the first half of next year. We want to be transparent about our work. Three reports have been published so far, and there are plans to publish another report early next year. We hope that this will provide inspiration for continued dialogue with and contributions from a broad set of stakeholders. And already next week – on 9 November – we will be hosting an open webinar about the project.  

Further to my remarks on CBDC, I would also like to comment briefly on the central bank money we already have, namely cash. In order to fulfil its functions in the payment system and contribute to efficiency, it is important that cash is both available and easy to use, ie that the public has real opportunities to obtain and use cash. Norges Bank will continue to issue cash and work to facilitate its use as long as this is appropriate and cost-effective for society.

Real-time payments

A common infrastructure can be regarded as a collective good that benefits us all. Payment solutions should therefore build on a common underlying infrastructure that is secure and fast and operates at low cost. Providers can then compete freely for customers through various applications and interfaces.

Norwegian banks have traditionally agreed on good common solutions for the payment system infrastructure, but owing to developments in technology and market structure in recent years, payment services have increasingly become a competitive arena. Customer contact through payment services has gained increased strategic importance for banks and other providers. At the same time, this may have weakened incentives to develop common solutions.

Real-time payments are payments where funds are available in the payee’s account within seconds of payment initiation – 24/7. A well-functioning solution for real-time payments is an important part of an efficient payment system. We expect the share of real-time payments to increase in the years ahead.

Norway’s banking sector established a common infrastructure for real-time payments (called “Straks”) in 2013. The solution had some shortcomings and it took many years before it was adopted by several of the larger banks. An improved solution, called “Straks 2.0”, was introduced in 2020 and is used by all the banks. Straks 2.0 is a clear advance on the previous solution. Before Straks 2.0, the payee’s account was credited before interbank settlement had been completed. The payee’s bank ran the risk that the funds from the payer’s bank might not arrive as agreed. For all practical purposes, this risk has now been removed, with liquidity set aside at the central bank to guarantee settlement.

Although the removal of settlement risk is a positive step, this is not enough. The real-time payment infrastructure must be further developed. Today, real-time payments are made almost exclusively between private individuals, through Vipps and online banking. The infrastructure must better facilitate payments for businesses and the public sector. It must also allow for more innovation of services on top of this infrastructure. Solutions both in the infrastructure and in banks must be established in line with international messaging standards.

Like several other central banks, Norges Bank is considering whether to expand its role as payment system operator. We are now exploring whether real-time payments should be settled directly in Norges Bank. This would give us greater opportunities to influence developments.

Two alternatives for real-time settlement in Norges Bank are being considered. The first alternative is to establish a system whereby Norges Bank is itself responsible for management, development and operation. The second is to join the Eurosystem’s TIPS solution. Payments would then be settled in TIPS in NOK on behalf of Norges Bank. Sveriges Riksbank decided to join TIPS earlier this year.

Norges Bank’s research will continue for a few more months before we decide whether to pursue one of these alternatives. If we reject both, we will continue to work for better real-time payments under the current division of responsibility with the banking industry. Irrespective of which solution we choose, the system for real-time payments must be efficient and secure, facilitate innovation and competition, and ensure satisfactory national governance and control. 

We conduct our research in dialogue with the industry and relevant government bodies. It is important to Norges Bank that affected parties support the chosen solution. For society to secure the benefits, we need market participants that develop payment services based on a common infrastructure.

The introduction of ISO 20022, a global messaging standard, is important for both real-time payments and the payment system as a whole. A standard whereby different solutions throughout the whole value chain “speak the same language” offers considerable advantages. Projects are now in progress, both in the industry and Norges Bank, to replace legacy national standards and formats with ISO 20022. Solid plans have been made – now it is up to all the affected parties to contribute to implementation.

Technological advances – innovation and security

Innovation and competition improve payment system efficiency, with solutions that are better adapted to society’s needs.

So far, I have mainly spoken about domestic payments, but innovation is also transforming payment systems across borders and currencies. For example, the SWIFT Global Payment Initiative has contributed to faster and more transparent cross-border payments. However, a large proportion of cross-border payments do not go through SWIFT. Cross-border payments are generally expensive, slow and opaque. The services offered are not of the same standard as for domestic payments.

The challenges have long been highlighted by international organisations, but implementing changes has proved demanding. The G20 and the Financial Stability Board (FSB) are behind a new and forceful initiative. The FSB has identified measures and recently published a roadmap for their implementation. I hope that this can be a breakthrough in the work to improve cross-border payments.

Furthermore, I would like to mention that the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) is in the process of establishing BIS Innovation Hub Centres in many parts of the world. Their primary purpose is to promote insight into financial technology that can strengthen the financial system. One such hub centre is being established in Stockholm, with the central banks of Sweden and Denmark, Sveriges Riksbank and Danmarks Nationalbank, the Central Bank of Iceland and Norges Bank as participating banks, in addition to the BIS.

New technology provides new opportunities for innovation, but also presents new risks that must be addressed. Vulnerability to technology-enabled disruption is increasing – whether the disruption is the result of malicious attacks or other factors. As the use of digital solutions increases, attack surfaces expand. Cyber attacks have increased during the pandemic. A successful attack can result in users being unable to make payments, heavy financial losses and sensitive information falling into the wrong hands. The entire financial system can be affected.

Norges Bank will, in cooperation with Finanstilsynet (Financial Supervisory Authority of Norway), draw up a proposal for a framework for testing the cyber resilience of the banking and payment system in Norway. This will build on the TIBER-EU framework, which has been developed by the ECB. The aim is to enhance the cyber resilience of the financial sector and promote financial stability. The national framework will be designed in cooperation with the industry and relevant authorities.

Conclusion

Let me conclude. Private individuals, firms and the economy as a whole depend on an efficient, reliable and secure payment system, which Norway largely has today. But there is more to be done.

We must constantly be on the lookout for ways to make improvements. Many of you participating in this conference are likely already working on this. Norges Bank is particularly focused on improving the common infrastructure for payment services, which will provide a solid foundation for competition, innovation and security in the payments market. Our ambition is to contribute in making a sound Norwegian payment system even better, in dialogue and collaboration with the industry.

RBA partners with Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, Perpetual and ConsenSys Software on Wholesale Central Bank Digital Currency Research Project

The Reserve Bank today announced that it is partnering with Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, Perpetual and ConsenSys Software, a blockchain technology company, on a collaborative project to explore the potential use and implications of a wholesale form of central bank digital currency (CBDC) using distributed ledger technology (DLT). This is part of ongoing research at the Reserve Bank on wholesale CBDC.

The project will involve the development of a proof-of-concept (POC) for the issuance of a tokenised form of CBDC that can be used by wholesale market participants for the funding, settlement and repayment of a tokenised syndicated loan on an Ethereum-based DLT platform. The POC will be used to explore the implications of ‘atomic’ delivery-versus-payment settlement on a DLT platform as well as other potential programmability and automation features of tokenised CBDC and financial assets.

Assistant Governor (Financial System) Michele Bullock said ‘With this project we are aiming to explore the implications of a CBDC for efficiency, risk management and innovation in wholesale financial market transactions. While the case for the use of a CBDC in these markets remains an open question, we are pleased to be collaborating with industry partners to explore if there is a future role for a wholesale CBDC in the Australian payments system.’

The project is expected to be completed around the end of 2020 and the parties intend to publish a report on the project and its main findings during the first half of 2021.