The Bank of Canada has highlighted several challenges standing in the way of banking regulators looking to launch a central bank digital currency (CBDC) amid rapid digitization.
In a staff discussion paper, the Bank of Canada noted that efforts to roll out CBDCs will be complicated by the desire to achieve inclusivity for all demographics. Global central banks often cited financial inclusion as a motivating factor for experimenting with retail CBDCs.
To build a CBDC with a universal application, the paper stressed that central banks must achieve the trio of digital inclusion, accessibility, and financial inclusion. The Bank of Canada remarks that the three conditions are not mutually exclusive but work in synergy to ensure universal usage.
The central bank poked holes into the inability of existing private payment forms to cater to financial inclusivity needs for a cross-section of individuals. Upon a closer survey of the inadequacies of the payment system, the analytical note surmised that many people have significant clogs in their access to global financial services.
“Our analysis suggests that the number of individuals who face barriers or exclusion is much larger than was previously assumed,” read the report.
While launching a CBDC may be the perfect answer, the Bank of Canada noted that it will not be smooth sailing for central banks. The report stated that central banks will have to grapple with the issue of trust over security and privacy concerns associated with using a CBDC.
Furthermore, central banks will have to find a solution around the need for more financial literacy among users and “deeper research into design for cognitive accessibility.” In Canada, for example, there are low levels of smartphone usage amongst older Canadians, and several studies have also indicated that Canadians with disabilities may face specific accessibility barriers when adopting CBDCs, noting that they are more likely to be without internet access.
The Bank of Canada has already begun addressing potential pain points with CBDCS, with the institution already mulling over the possibilities of offline functionalities in the country. Although no clear blueprint has been laid forward, the central bank noted that the proposed functionality would allow users in remote locations to make payments without needing an internet connection.
Other challenges facing CBDCs
CBDCs will need help competing favorably with existing payment options in their payment ecosystems, according to the Bank of Canada. In August, the Canadian central bank stated that it sees limited adoption of CBDC locally, given the widespread access to diverse payment options available to the average resident.
There are still lingering fears that a botched launch of a CBDC could affect commercial banks in jurisdictions with mass acceptance, adversely affecting their abilities to issue loans. Central banks are advised to collaborate with commercial banks and fintechs to solve the challenge from ideation to full-scale launch.
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