A director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) thinks the private sector could bring value to the technology supporting central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), should they be adopted by nations.

  • Tobias Adrian, a financial counselor and director of the IMF's Monetary and Capital Markets Department, gave a keynote address last week at the “Building CBDC: A Race To Reality” conference, sponsored by blockchain software firm R3.
  • Adrian offered two models for the provision of a CBDC, varying in how they would pair the private sector with central banks.
  • The first model looked at synthetic CBDCs (sCBDC), which are backed by the liabilities of a central bank but issued with the aid of a private entity, such as a commercial bank.
  • Adrian noted the private sector should be left to deal with customer due diligence, wallet design and currency distribution, while the central bank would be in charge of regulation and supervision.
  • The second, "two-tiered," model puts central banks in charge of the issuance of a CBDC and transaction settlement, with technology likely to be occasionally updated.
  • As such, the sCBDC model would spur private sector-led innovation at a more "fundamental level," he said.
  • Such innovation "could be extremely valuable, given the pace of technological change, and given many central banks’ limited experience in providing retail services," according to Adrian.
  • However, there are several potential challenges to central banks partnering with private firms, including interoperability, unfair competition and payment system stability.
  • Overall, Adrian said both models could offer an "especially liquid and safe payment instrument."
  • Adrian spoke at a time when central banks are more widely expressing a willingness to examine CBDCs, with the Bank of England, Bank of Japan and Sweden's Riksbank among those already exploring, if cautiously, the possibility of a future launch.
  • The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) is currently taking center stage with its two-tier model, and already has its digital yuan moving to testing with commercial enterprises.

See also: Private Firms Can Boost Central Bank Digital Currencies, IMF Official Says

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