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Reserve Bank of Australia: Bitcoin 'limited risk' to payment systems

Australia's central bank has spelled out the perceived risks of bitcoin adoption in a document only recently made public.

Apr 30, 2014 at 12:10 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 10:43 a.m. UTC

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has issued a briefing document in which it calls bitcoin a “limited” risk to the country’s payment systems. The document was published some time ago, but was only recently made public.

The briefing (which can be read at the bottom of this article) describes bitcoin’s method of confirming transactions as “an inefficient use of resources” and says that the digital currency faces an uphill battle in dislodging the current payments infrastructure:

“The appeal of low fees and fast transaction times are not themselves sufficient for the wide adoption of bitcoin as a payment system.”

Prepared for the bank’s Payments System Board in May 2013, the briefing document was recently acquired through a Freedom of Information request and posted on Reddit.

Good understanding of bitcoin

Primarily an informational document, the briefing notes a number of risks posed by the potential widespread adoption of bitcoin to the RBA, including a “reduced ability to implement monetary policy”, a fall in revenue from the minting of money, and a potential to destabilise the financial system if there was a rush to sell bitcoins “because of a loss of confidence in the core bitcoin system or large third-party service providers.”

The document argues that a significant amount of computing power is wasted in the winner-takes-all race to mine blocks, and points out that the first-mover advantage, which makes it difficult for bitcoin to replace existing payment systems, also makes it likely that it will remain the pre-eminent digital currency.

If nothing else, the slightly out-of-date document, which includes references to Mt. Gox’s trading volumes, for example, shows a remarkably strong understanding of the ins and outs of digital currencies.

Government regulation around bitcoin, the document suggests, is born not from ignorance, but perhaps because they understand the implications all too well.

Reserve Bank of Australia image by Newtown Graffiti

DISCLOSURE

The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

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