This is a thought-provoking article that looks at the potential impact of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC) by a former World Bank chief economist and former first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
“Meanwhile, the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank (ECB), and others have begun to assess the prospects of issuing their own digital currency. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has already distributed packets of digital yuan in pilot cities, and the Central Bank of The Bahamas has gone even further, having fully issued a CBDC known as the “sand dollar”.
At the retail level, a CBDC would offer some obvious advantages, and would operate much like a credit card in effecting payments. A common argument is that it would help the poor and others who are currently underserved by the banking system.
It would also make it much easier for governments to administer social transfers like the household cash disbursements made during the pandemic. And a well-functioning international system of digital currencies would sharply reduce cross-border transaction costs.
But CBDCs have complications of their own. One crucial question is where CBDC accounts would be held. If it is in the central bank, how will privacy for transactions be preserved? Equally unclear is what role would be left for private banks, which are currently the predominant source of credit in most market economies. If banks no longer receive deposits, how will they issue loans?
For such an arrangement to function well, the CBDC would need to strike a balance between anonymity (privacy) and control of the system. Otherwise, there will be an abiding concern that the government can too readily access individual account holders’ information and intervene in credit allocation.
The alternative is that central banks would allocate deposits to member banks, which would then continue to function as sources of credit. In this case, there would need to be strong fractional reserve requirements, or other problems might arise.
There are also complications at the international level. Would central banks be willing to accept payments in other central banks’ CBDCs? Could countries retain control of their money supply once it has taken a digital form? In any case, it is difficult to imagine that major central banks would be willing to underwrite the international financial system without a high degree of cooperation, coordination, and control.”
Overview by Tim Sloane, VP, Payments Innovation at Mercator Advisory Group