Bank of England official: Tech firms may beat central banks on digital currency

A senior official at the Bank of England has said that central banks should quicken the pace of development of central bank digital currencies, to avoid losing ground to tech companies in the race for the future of payments.

Sarah John, chief cashier at the central bank, made the comments in an article published in The Telegraph, in which she urged reserve banks to move more quickly towards developing and deploying crypto payment solutions.

Highlighting the ongoing work in the private sector to develop stablecoins, John said it was “really important” that central banks treated the issue with more urgency to avoid losing ground.

Warning of the risk of central banks falling behind the private sector, John said it was crucial banks “think about whether a public sector or private sector would be best to provide a digital currency going forward.“

It is absolutely right that central banks think about whether a public sector or private sector would be best to provide a digital currency going forward.

The statement comes shortly after the Financial Stability Board (FSB) issued a similar warning to central banks to “quicken the pace of developing the necessary regulatory and supervisory responses to these new instruments.”

“As this sector grows and evolves, there may be new vulnerabilities that need assessment. The FSB is forming a group to consider what work is appropriate and whether to reorganize existing work on non-bank financial intermediation,” according to the international monitoring body.

It follows from a press statement in which the board said “global stablecoins […] need to be evaluated and appropriately addressed before they commence operation.”

Yet despite the warnings, some central banks remain cautious. Scott Hendry of the Bank of Canada said he was unconvinced of the utility of DLT technology in interbank payments.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of benefits if you look at a DLT system and the current efficient centralized system for the sole purpose of interbank payments.”

Harro Boven of the Dutch central bank expressed similar views, suggesting central banks could themselves be trusted to manage the integrity of the global ledger.

“The essence of the DLT infrastructure is that no single party should be trusted enough, but don’t we just trust a central bank to maintain the integrity of the global ledger?”

With private sector projects, notably including Facebook’s Libra, at an advanced stage of development, it remains to be seen whether central banks can overcome their prejudices against CBDCs to gain ground on tech companies.

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