CBDC for commercial banks - Part 1: What you need to know
January 27, 2021
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Nothing in my memory compares to the momentum we're seeing around digital currency, and I’m no stranger to the space. After leaving Accenture in 2014 to cofound a Bitcoin startup, I returned in 2015 to refocus on CBDC. That's when the most fascinating and fast-moving journey of my career began.
Most central banks are now deep into experimentation and implementation of CBDC. As global focus intensifies, so do the concerns of commercial banks.
Make no mistake: Commercial banks have a pivotal role to play and a unique opportunity to shape the course of CBDC at its foundation. In this blog series, I’ll outline what you need to know and how to prepare.
Since March, my CBDC conversations have become much more robust. While the primary drivers remain matters of national security and sovereign control over domestic markets, 2020 exposed significant flaws in the way we move money as governments sought to deploy stimulus funds with unprecedented speed and scale.
The shortcomings of physical cash and coin are all too clear in a pandemic, but our electronic forms of payment are far from crisis-proof. Dependent on message-based reconciliation, they’re vulnerable in situations where bank networks or communications are disrupted, whether systems go offline or are otherwise unable to communicate.
A tokenized CBDC represents a third form of central bank money that mimics the features of bank notes but in digital form, with built-in properties that can attest to and transfer ownership without network connectivity. This provides several benefits:
A fast-paced digital world needs fast-paced digital money that addresses critical security, scalability, privacy and accessibility concerns. Tokenized CBDC (digital bearer instrument) meets these demands, making it all but inevitable. Our report (R)evolution of Money II delves into these considerations of tokenization and central bank digital currency developments.
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According to the World Economic Forum, more than 40 central banks are already experimenting with blockchain technology, a key enabler of CBDC. The BIS asserts that 80% of central banks are experimenting with CBDCs, with another 10% close to implementation.
Among the largest, China, Sweden and France are most far along. A number of smaller banks, including the Central Bank of the Bahamas, are even further established in the space, having already availed themselves of CBDC functionality to solve for weather-related system disruptions and the maritime transport of money.
It’s helpful to divide the playing field into wholesale and retail (or “general purpose”, as the BIS describes it)—the latter being a good indicator of central bank ambition. (For more on that, take a look at the International Money Fund’s (IMF) recent survey.)
In many cases, government approval is necessary for the development of a CBDC. That work is already under way in the U.S., where the Digital Dollar Foundation (DDF) is exploring legislative change as the Fed sharpens its focus. The UK also recently announced the pursuit of further research into CBDC and the initiation of the d-GBP initiative.
Other movers and shakers include:
Historically, CBDC is developing at a much faster pace than that of other payment systems. Whereas FedNow debuted decades after the introduction of similar European services, the current landscape suggests the race to CBDC is on among the world’s major central banks.
In the U.S. at least, the design of a CBDC will likely involve the private sector, and with the two-tier banking system set to remain in place, commercial banks must now step up and forge a path forward. In my next post, I’ll cover what all of this means for you and how you can identify the opportunities ahead.
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