Central Banks Want Digital Currencies That Don’t Nudge Out Cash

Officials keen to guard against risk to financial stability. ECB took major step last week toward issuing digital euro.

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Central banks have identified key criteria for issuing their own digital currencies in a report from the Bank of International Settlements.

Digital money will have to co-exist with cash and other forms of tender, do no harm to monetary and financial stability, and be very cheap or free to use. There should also be “an appropriate role for the private sector,” according to a report by the BIS, the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve and other institutions published on Friday.

“A design that delivers these features can promote more resilient, efficient, inclusive and innovative payments,” said working group co-chair Benoit Coeure, who leads the BIS’s Innovation Hub, set up last year to help officials embrace financial technology.

The paper, which provides “a springboard for further development,” comes less than a week after the ECB announced it would start public consultation and experimentation on digital currencies, a major step toward possibly creating a digital euro.

Just a few years ago, crypto-assets based on similar technology elicited condemnation from policy makers, with Coeure terming Bitcoin “the evil spawn of the financial crisis.”

But central banks are increasingly paying attention to and experimenting in the field after Facebook Inc. proposed creating its own electronic means of payment, Libra.

They’re electronic versions of legal tender, available either directly to consumers or via banks
They’re based on a technology called blockchain, used for verifying and recording transactions
They can improve access to legal tender in countries where cash use is dwindling, while also facilitating cross-border payments
A key challenge is to ensure the commercial banking system doesn’t suffer because people move their deposits to the perceived safety of the central bank
For more, read a Bloomberg QuickTake on digital currencies
A survey of 66 central banks by the Basel-based BIS published early this year found that some 80% were engaged in the matter, up from 70% the year before. The proportion saying they were likely to issue a digital currency to the public in the next 1-3 years doubled to 10%, it found.

– Bloomberg

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