A form of central bank digital currency (CBDC) may go live in 2018.
At least that's according to Antony Lewis, research director at global banking consortium and distributed ledger software startup R3, who issued the prediction during a panel discussion at the Deconomy event in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.
“For wholesale use (of CBDC), I think we are looking at this year. We have had conversations with central banks who have mandates to fix certain payment problems, and one solution they look to is a blockchain type of platform,” Lewis said.
Yet, Lewis clarified that this does not mean consumers will have a new payment choice that functions like bitcoin or ether do today, per se. In fact, Lewis projected that such a cryptocurrency would be used only by select financial institutions to start.
In this way, Lewis argued such a system would likely even only be used in certain specific situations, such as in instances of disaster recovery due to their current limitations.
Other panelists weren't as optimistic as Lewis in their projects, though they agreed on points.
Stanley Yong, global CBDC lead at IBM and a former CBDC researcher at Singapore’s central bank, for instance, said he believes that a blockchain system will eventually be best applied to commercial banking.
"If it issues cryptocurrency to millions and billions of citizens, it will have to hold all these individual accounts, which inherently increases the market and credit risks,” Yong said.
Taking a different angle, Ian Grigg, a financial cryptographer, said it may not even be the fundamental role of central banks to issue a retail CBDC. Citing the Bank of England as an example, Grigg explained that the policy of the institution is to support the deposit of commercial banks.
As such, directly issuing a cryptocurrency to the public could undermine the deposit base of existing commercial banks, which subsequently will affect the loan market, Grigg said.
Still, while projections varied, there was an optimism that blockchains would replace existing banking technology, with Yong going so far as to state such systems are “due for retirement.”
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