Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs): The Future of Money?

Blessing Alabi

With a growing interest in cryptocurrencies and a decline in cash usage, central banks across the globe are now considering a new form of payment: central bank digital currency (CBDC).

CBDCs have emerged as a potential game-changer in the financial landscape as they seek to combine the benefits of digital transactions with the stability and credibility of traditional fiat currencies.

This article delves into the world of CBDCs, their implications, current events, and their potential for revolutionizing the future of money.

What is a central bank digital currency (CBDC)?

CBDCs are digital representations of a country's official currency issued and regulated by the central bank. Unlike cryptocurrencies, CBDCs are backed by the full faith and support of their respective governments, offering a stable form of digital payment. These digital currencies can take different forms, such as token-based or account-based systems, each with its mechanisms and features.

Token-based CBDCs are similar to cash. They operate through a digital wallet system where individuals store and transact with digital tokens, also known as “digital cash.” When making a payment, the value of the transaction is deducted from the wallet accordingly, similar to spending physical cash. The token is pegged to the value of the local currency, and the primary focus is to ensure that the validity of each token corresponds to the money spent in fiat.

Account-based CBDCs, on the other hand, function like traditional bank accounts, where individuals can hold CBDC balances in their accounts and perform transactions between these accounts. The key focus here is on identification.

CBDCs vs. Cryptocurrencies

CBDCs and cryptocurrencies share similar concepts in terms of implementation, but they differ in terms of ideas. They represent different approaches to digital currency, particularly regarding regulation. CBDCs are centralized and issued by central banks, and are subject to the same regulatory frameworks that govern traditional fiat currencies. This allows for greater control, oversight, and adherence to regulatory measures, such as AML and KYC requirements.

On the other hand, cryptocurrencies operate in decentralized systems, often without direct regulation or oversight from central authorities. This regulatory difference poses challenges for policymakers as they strive to strike a balance between fostering innovation and ensuring consumer protection and financial stability.

Another key difference is the absence of mining in CBDCs. To generate and distribute new tokens, cryptocurrencies require mining, a process that involves solving complex mathematical problems. In contrast, central banks settle CBDC transactions and distribute the currency directly to the people, often by swapping real money for digital money.

The potential to prevent financial crime makes a compelling case for central banks to employ CBDCs. The transparency provided by CBDCs allows for traceable transactions, making it easier to detect and prevent criminal activities such as corruption and money laundering.

Why central bank digital currencies (CBDCs)?

Central banks have diverse reasons for considering the issuance of CBDCs, with an emphasis on providing a non-private payment option for the nation’s economy. With the decline in cash usage in several countries across the globe, relying solely on private cryptocurrencies may pose a major concern. By introducing CBDCs as an alternative payment system, central banks can reduce the impact of theft, payment system failure, fraud, and many other financial issues, ensuring a reliable means of conducting transactions.

Central banks address the challenges associated with cryptocurrencies, like the fact that they are entirely anonymous, making them ideal for illegally moving money. For instance, China banned cryptocurrency exchange operations in 2017 and transactions in 2021, largely because it was difficult to regulate.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin rely on blockchain technology, a decentralized and unchangeable ledger designed to bypass traditional financial institutions. In contrast, CBDCs are government-controlled fiat currencies. The value of a CBDC, like the digital yuan in China, is stable and predictable because it is pegged to the same currency basket as the national currency (RMB). Cryptocurrencies, on the other hand, have a volatile value that is determined by supply and demand. For a centralized country like China, a CBDC is more appealing than a cryptocurrency due to the control it offers. However, this raises questions about surveillance and privacy.

Global developments in CBDCs

Many nations are focusing on CBDCs as they take steps to look into and create digital currencies backed by their central banks. Several nations are actively conducting research, pilot projects, and studies to understand the potential benefits and challenges of CBDC adoption. Countries like China have already started their digital yuan pilot programs, giving millions of residents the chance to test and use digital money in practical situations.

Similarly, other countries such as Sweden, the Bahamas, Latin America, and the Eastern Caribbean are also moving forward with their CBDC programs. These countries employ various approaches, from retail-focused CBDCs aimed at enhancing everyday transactions to wholesale CBDCs targeting interbank settlements.

What is the future of CBDCs?

CBDCs hold great potential but also present challenges. As they are still in their early stages of development, central banks are carefully analyzing the implications of existing systems.

In the meantime, private entities are rapidly innovating and launching various payment alternatives. Although central banks may not match the speed of private sector innovation, they have a crucial role to play in addressing societal considerations that private players may overlook. This includes regulatory measures to reduce risks to investors, as seen with the proposed cryptocurrency regulation by the European Union.

The future of CBDCs depends on finding a good balance. Central banks need to use innovative ideas from the private sector while also having strong rules to protect people's money and ensure things run smoothly. By doing this, CBDCs can change how we use money, making it safer, faster, and fairer for everyone. CBDCs have the potential to provide digital payment options that are secure, easy to use, and available to everyone.

Final Thoughts

Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) are getting more attention in the financial world. Countries are working on their own CBDC projects, and it's important to find a balance between using new ideas from the private sector and having strong rules to keep things safe.

CBDCs have the potential to change how we use money by making digital payments secure, fast, and available to everyone. They can also help more people access financial services and make transactions easier. But we need to be careful about protecting people's privacy, keeping things secure, and making sure consumers are safe.