Digital cash gets a look from the Fed
A digital dollar backed by the US government might lead to faster money transfers, and be more accessible than the current banking system, according to a new paper from the Federal Reserve (via CNBC).
The paper is meant to act as “the first step in a discussion,” and doesn’t advocate for actually creating a “central bank digital currency” (or CBDC). Still, the creation of a digital dollar would be a massive shift in how big a role the government would play in our finances. Potential downsides could include making commercial banks less attractive to consumers, and affect the Fed’s ability to influence the financial system. The Fed is now inviting comments, including on anything the paper may have missed.
The paper, a step toward the existence of a digital dollar, comes at a time when around 90 other countries are considering their own digital currencies, according to Reuters. The European Central Bank is investigating the creation of a digital Euro, and China has been testing a digital yuan, which it’s been working on since 2014. Meanwhile in the cryptocurrency world, stablecoins, some of which tie their value to the US dollar, have been rising in prominence.
The government is also looking to keep supporting “the dominant international role of the U.S. dollar,” as the paper puts it. Doing its research in public could help the government make it easier for other companies to design systems compatible with the US’s, as Bloomberg points out.
A digital currency from the central bank could combine some of the benefits of federally-backed cash and privately-controlled digital money, such as:
- Fast and easy transfers between people and businesses (even across borders)
- More accessibility for people without bank accounts, who may have difficulties opening accounts at private financial institutions
- More safety and consumer confidence — banks can fail or run into liquidity issues, which is less likely with the US government
There’s also the potential downsides: the government would have to navigate the market’s reaction to the US taking over a role traditionally served by commercial banks. It would also require citizens to trust the government directly with all their financial info, though the paper does vaguely say this concern could be mitigated by allowing “intermediaries” to address privacy concerns “by leveraging existing tools.”
A digital currency doesn’t have to be blockchain-based. The Fed, in its paper, makes clear that no specific design or technology has been proposed yet, saying it “will continue to explore a wide range of design options.”
If the central bank were to create a digital currency, it would have to be “privacy-protected, intermediated, widely transferable, and identity-verified,” according to the paper. The reserve is currently experimenting with and exploring centralized, blockchain, and distributed methods of making a currency.
If you’re interested in the future of money, the paper is well worth a read. And if you’ve got expertise or strong opinions about it, you’ll have plenty of room to express them while going through the 22-point questionnaire.