Central Bank Digital Currencies: What’s Next for Digital Payments?

In an increasingly digital world, countries continually explore cutting-edge technologies to enhance the efficiency and convenience of financial transactions. The latest stride in this journey is the adoption of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs).

The bold step taken by the European Central Bank in its journey towards introducing a digital euro marks a significant moment when the latest evolution of currency must demonstrate its value.

What is CBDC?

A retail CBDC is a digital representation of traditional physical cash. It’s issued and regulated by a central bank, maintains a fixed exchange rate with the local currency, and is accessible to everyone, irrespective of location. 

It retains the core attributes of physical cash while offering the practicality and ease of digital payment options. This implies that it can be employed for in-store and online transactions, as well as effortlessly sent to friends and family members.

Assessing the Value of Central Bank Digital Currencies

11 countries have already adopted central bank digital currencies, with another 21 having piloted the program. China, for instance, is currently in the testing phase of a prototype yuan, which already boasts a substantial user base of circa 200 million people. Meanwhile, India is making preparations for a pilot program, and across the globe, approximately 130 countries, representing a staggering 98% of the global economy, are actively exploring the possibilities of digital cash.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) is set to enter the second phase of its e-Hong Kong dollar (e-HKD) pilot program following the successful completion of the initial trial for its in-house central bank digital currency.

Launched in November 2022 as part of the “Fintech 2025″ strategy, the e-HKD pilot program aims to assess the commercial viability of an in-house CBDC. The first phase focused on six key areas, including full-fledged payments, programmable payments, offline payments, tokenised deposits, and the settlement of Web3 transactions and tokenised assets. The UK is also not left behind in this novel endeavour with the treasury expected to come up with a decision by 2025. If successful, the digital pound would then see the light of day.

The European Central Bank’s decision to initiate a pilot program, with the potential to pave the way for a digital currency serving the 20 nations that share the common euro, is a significant milestone. It positions the ECB as the first major Western central bank to take concrete steps in this direction, with the potential to set precedence for other regions. 

The Pros and Cons

But why do countries want to incorporate CBDCs?

  • CBDCs can cut transaction costs and times
  • CBDCs can help people access money in the event of an emergency
  • CBDCs can boost financial inclusion
  • CBDCs can play a key role in countering criminal activities. 

Privacy stands out as one of the foremost worries associated with CBDCs, as per the World Economic Forum’s Digital Currency Governance Consortium White Paper Series. The concern is entirely valid, especially with the growing importance of data protection and online privacy issues in our ever-more digitalised world.

Nonetheless, just as governments globally have responded to these concerns by enacting new laws and regulations, they will similarly need to establish guidelines for CBDCs. This would encompass implementing privacy-enhancing technologies and safeguards to protect consumers, as emphasised by the Forum.

The Federal Reserve and banks, like the ECB, are actively exploring strategies to incorporate enhanced privacy measures within CBDCs. As articulated by the ECB, the decision of whether to issue a CBDC remains majorly a policy-oriented consideration. However, it is wise to approach this decision with enough knowledge of the specific design elements that a CBDC could encompass, including cryptography and blockchain security modes.

Image Source: Adobe Stock

Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.