In the past weeks, a buzz in the global financial markets has been the announcements by central bankers over Central Bank Digital Currency [CBDC]. The International Bank of Settlement’s recent survey of 68 central banks reported that 80% were researching or piloting CBDC projects.
When central bankers talk of CBDC, they are really talking about a crypto-currency. A government created and controlled crypto version of their national currency based on a blockchain controlled by them. A crypto-dollar. The irony of all this is that just a couple of years ago, they ridiculed the concept.
The driver of these announcements are the perceived threats of Facebook-led corporate crypto called Libra and, more importantly, the Q1 launch of the new Chinese CBDC. Unlike most CBDC, Libra and the crypto-yuan are designed to become new international reserve currencies to facilitate remittances and global trade to compete with the US dollar.
Locally, the Reserve Bank of Australia has recently announced their new Innovation Lab to study the issue of a CBDC. Insiders say that the New Zealand central bank is also involved with this project.
As part of their announcement, the RBA wanted to be clear that their CBDC may never be offered to the public and will simply be used to make inter-bank payments instant. They also report about the potential risks to the current banking system should this new currency become dominant.
No public use! Huh? Why wouldn’t they want the public to gain the full benefits of crypto-based currency when it’s a much better form of digital money?
The answer is simply that, like most disruptive digital technology, it makes the system more efficient by bypassing the middlemen which in this case are the main banks who control money distribution and settlement.
This old system is a monopoly for those banks so naturally the RBA does not want to change a system that works for them and their big banks friends. Especially when they have no political pressure to change and the public have no influence.
Like most organisations controlling a system being disrupted by technology, central banks will find their market changing faster than they want and their lack of control will freak them out. This is a horse that has already bolted. A crypto-dollar with a new monetary system is evitable in halve the time people imagine. Delays simply means that the public will switch to an alternative currency. The only winner will be the public and those banks and politicians supporting the change. .