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A Central Bank issued Digital Currency (CBDC) is essentially like a cryptocurrency (i.e. Bitcoin) created by a central bank to either replace or work in conjunction with the existing fiat currency of the nation. News items on this topic swelled during the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos with announcements from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, UK, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Uruguay, Bahamas, China, Israel, Thailand, and Canada stating that these countries are considering if not researching the implementation of a CBDC.
In this paper, we provide a look at what the real benefits are for nations to consider the release of a digital currency.
A Central Bank issued Digital Currency (CBDC) is the digital form of a currency established as money by government regulation, monetary authority or law through the Central Bank authority of that country. This digital fiat currency could replace or complement the physical fiat currency already being used within that country.
Recent news has revealed that an ever-growing number of countries and central banks are planning or seriously considering the release of a CBDCs. The Bank of Canada also explored this use case as part of its Project Jasper2 blockchain exercise. Here are some compelling reasons why CBDCs are becoming more popular:
Seigniorage specifically refers to the profit made by a government from issuing currency, especially the difference between the face value of a coin or bill and the production costs associated with minting that currency. Through the issuance of digital currency, a Central Bank would save an estimated 90% on the costs associated with minting and issuing physical banknotes and coins, secure transportation, storage and distribution, and the collection and replacement of damaged notes and coins. This means that a CBDC has the potential to reduce the costs of Seigniorage by as much as 90%. The possible gradual obsolescence of physical currency could push this even higher.
Here is an example. On a typical $20 banknote, the central bank will invest the proceeds of issuing the $20 bill into government securities that are going to generate ~2.5% interest. Thus, the note will yield about 50 cents per year of interest revenue. If the cost to produce that note is about 20 cents and the note is expected to have a 10-year lifespan before having to be collected, destroyed and replaced, then the production costs average out to 2 cents per year. Generally, a note carries a cost of 2 cents per year for distribution expenses. That puts the total annual cost of the banknote at 4 cents. Deduct this cost from the interest accrued and the central bank is netting 46 cents per year on each $20 banknote that is currently in circulation.
With a CBDC, the production cost is approaching zero, the life expectancy of the currency is essentially infinite, and distribution and circulation costs are greatly reduced, meaning that a savings of .03½ cents per year or more is easily achievable.
Improved Monetary Logistics
The ability to provide Instant Central Bank issuance and distribution of digital currency will eliminate the time, costs, and other challenges of distributing and managing physical cash. Account-based CBDC offerings would serve as a near costless medium of exchange. Such accounts could be held directly at the Central Bank or made available via public-private partnerships with commercial banks. Simple apps and wallets would be available to anyone with access to a computer or a smartphone.
Cryptographically produced CBDC cannot be counterfeited. Each digital currency unit is issued with its own digital serial number and the Central Bank’s digital watermark. The digital dollar money supply is exclusively issued and monitored by the Central Bank. The system proves authenticity constantly through digital verification, and every transaction taking place in digital currency is instantaneously verified by the distributed ledger for authenticity and will not be processed unless it was issued by the Central Bank. With the availability of a variety of quantum-proof cryptographic solutions, which are ciphers that cannot be cracked through brute-force application of computing power, counterfeit-proofing of digital currencies is a reality.
Each digital dollar will have its own digital serial number that can be tracked continuously by the Central Bank and audited from an immutable ledger. Each transaction is recorded and can be viewed and tracked in real-time, facilitating better compliance with Anti-Money Laundering (AML) policies and Combating of Financing of Terrorism (CFT) frameworks.
Complete Monetary Control
A Central Bank would be able to monitor and exercise a measure of control in order to effect, for example, freezing and/or blacklisting of accounts/wallets as necessary. “The widespread use of CBDC and the obsolescence of paper currency would be helpful in discouraging tax evasion, money laundering, and other illegal activities” according to the National Bureau of Economic Research3. Central Banks could also coordinate between jurisdictions to limit international fraud and crimes by both individuals and organizations.
Boost Financial Inclusion
The World Bank had set the 2020 goal of achieving universal financial access and 8 out of 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs are underpinned by elements of Financial Inclusion – particularly those related to poverty and inequality. With the prohibitive costs and requirements to access products and services from traditional commercial banks, especially for those most vulnerable in society, digital currency could enable all users to access a broad range of basic affordable financial tools. These services could be most meaningful to the underbanked and unbanked citizens of any nation issuing a CBDC.
Dynamic Monetary Policies
With the availability of up to the second real-time reporting on monetary activity within the country, Central Banks will have unprecedented insights into the transactional activity of its citizens. This gives the Central Bank the ability to accurately monitor the effect of monetary policy actions and adjust accordingly. Going a step further to this, “an interest-bearing CBDC could provide a secure store of value, with a rate of return in line with other risk-free assets, such as short-term government securities. The CBDC interest rate could serve as the main tool for conducting monetary policy” according to Michael Bordo4 in the book ‘Structural Foundations of Monetary Policy’.
Between banks, central banks and virtual currencies, we’ve already seen an extensive amount of experimentation and success. Acceptance and adoption rates of digital currencies and payment methods are continuing to rise. According to the Bank of England, a CBDC has numerous macroeconomic benefits - CBDCs are likely to cause lower real interest rates, reduce monetary transaction costs, grow the economy, stabilize the business cycle, and improve monetary policy effectiveness and financial sector stability. “The case is based on new and evolving requirements for money, as well as essential public policy objectives. My message is that while the case for digital currency is not universal, we should investigate it further, seriously, carefully, and creatively.” according to Christine Lagarde5, Managing Director of the IMF in a speech on the topic of CBDCs.
Even with all of these benefits, there are still many technical and policy hurdles to overcome. We have already seen a failed attempt by Ecuador6 to launch a CBDC. Learning from these mistakes as well as looking at the successes with decentralized cryptocurrencies, there are deep resources to make this model work. As more countries move to roll out CBDCs, there may be even deeper international economic benefits that we have yet to realize.
As a Principal Technology Architect at Payments Canada, Craig is responsible for providing technical expertise and oversight in support of our payments modernization initiatives. His interests include Blockchain DLT, Digital Identity, monetary policy, cryptocurrencies and financial services standards. Prior to joining Payments Canada, Craig worked in the private and public sectors as a senior technical consultant on diverse large-scale systems integration projects.
1 The views presented in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Payments Canada.
2 Details on Bank of Canada’s Project Jasper: https://www.bankofcanada.ca/research/digital-currencies-and-fintech/fintech-experiments-and-projects/
3 NBER paper ‘Central Bank Digital Currency and the Future of Monetary Policy: https://dokumen.tips/documents/national-bureau-of-economic-research-bank-digital-currency-cbdc-would-be.html
4 Structural Foundation of Monetary Policy by Michael Bordo: Google books
5 Winds of Change: The Case for New Digital Currency By Christine Lagarde: https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2018/11/13/sp111418-winds-of-change-the-case-for-new-digital-currency
6 The World’s First Central Bank Electronic Money Has Come – And Gone: Ecuador, 2014–2018: https://www.cato.org/blog/worlds-first-central-bank-electronic-money-has-come-gone-ecuador-2014-2018