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Beware the hype over central bank digital currencies

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We are at the peak of the hype cycle for central bank digital currencies, now being touted as one of the most fundamental innovations in the history of central banking. It is time for central banks and governments to be honest with unenthused populations. CBDC can’t deliver all the many promised improvements. As we come to design choices, there will be trade-offs. We might get improved payments but less credit. We could see greater financial inclusion but will lose privacy. Are the few benefits really worth the risk of disrupting the financial system?

A great series of experiments with money is running in the UK across eight locations.

These include: Botton Village in the North Yorkshire Moors, managed by a charity that supports people with learning and other difficulties; Burslem, near Stoke-on-Trent, which in 2018 became the first town in the UK of over 20,000 people without a single bank branch or ATM on its high street; and Cambuslang in South Lanarkshire, which saw its last three banks close in quick succession that same year.

The inhabitants of these and other pilot communities live in a different world to the econometricians, experts in monetary and macroprudential policy and data scientists at central banks around the world all now eagerly working to design a central bank digital currency (CBDC).

The BIS found at the start of this year that 60% of 60 central banks surveyed around the world were conducting experiments and proofs of work in CBDC, with 14% having already moved ahead to pilot projects.

CBDC, which analysts at Citi call digital money 2.0, could be very different from the trillions of dollars now moving electronically every day between wholesale and retail bank accounts.

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Yes, money is already digital and has been for decades.

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Peter Lee is Editorial Director. He joined Euromoney straight from Oxford University in 1985, and has written about banking and capital markets ever since, being appointed editor in 1999. He became editorial director of Euromoney in May 2005.
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