What Do Banks Need to Know About Central Bank Digital Currencies? | NTT DATA

Mon, 03 June 2024

What Do Banks Need to Know About Central Bank Digital Currencies?

The Future of Money: CBDCs

While the banking industry’s fascination with artificial intelligence (AI) has temporarily overshadowed discussions about Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), it has by no means forgotten the role they may play in the future of money.

Earlier this month, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that it had approved the participation of 10 market players and 6 Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) operators in the first wave of trials and experiments.  The ECB’s trials will investigate using DLT and central bank money to facilitate securities settlement, cross-border payments, and other wholesale transactions.

At their core, CBDCs are digital representations of a country's fiat currency, issued and regulated by the nation's central bank. Unlike decentralised cryptocurrencies, CBDCs are centralised and backed by the full faith and credit of the government, making them a potential game-changer in the way we perceive and transact with money.

Learn more about the work University College London is carrying out into CBDCs through their ‘Future of Money’ initiative.

However, as with DLT and blockchain, there are still many unknowns and misconceptions surrounding the implementation and adoption of CBDCs. Businesses and financial institutions must stay informed and prepared to navigate these uncertainties if they want to make the best use of them.

The Unknowns

One of the most pressing questions is the underlying infrastructure and technology that will power these digital currencies. While DLT offers potential solutions through immutability, smart contracts, and secure networks, the decision whether to build CBDCs on blockchain technology or traditional databases remains uncertain. This decision by regulators and central banks will have major implications for integration.

Crucially, UK lenders face uncertainty around how CBDCs can be seamlessly integrated with their existing payment rails and core banking systems. Addressing interoperability will require innovative solutions and close collaboration between central banks, financial institutions, and regulatory bodies.

Another critical aspect is the role of central banks in issuing and managing CBDC wallets for the general public. Efficient and secure wallet management will be crucial for widespread adoption and user confidence, yet it’s still unclear exactly how this feature could be implemented - will central banks directly issue and manage digital wallets for individuals and businesses? Or will they rely on regulated third parties like banks to handle wallet provisioning and custody?

As with any disruptive technology, CBDCs will require robust regulatory frameworks to address issues such as privacy, security, and compliance. These frameworks are currently being developed, and their impact on the adoption and implementation of CBDCs remains to be seen, adding another layer of uncertainty to this uncharted territory.

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6 Key Benefits from Blockchain

While the uncertainties surrounding CBDCs may muddy the waters, businesses and financial institutions have an opportunity to leverage the potential of blockchain technology in their day-to-day operations. Here are some key considerations:

  1. A "Golden Source of Truth": DLT/blockchain could provide a reliable and immutable source of financial data, addressing the longstanding pain point of fragmented and inconsistent information across siloed systems.
  2. Seamless Integration: Blockchain networks with programmable smart contracts could enable seamless integration of CBDCs with existing payment rails and banking services, facilitating efficient and secure transactions.
  3. Privacy and Compliance: Privacy-enhancing cryptographic techniques on blockchain could help strike a balance between data protection and regulatory compliance, ensuring the secure and responsible use of CBDCs.
  4. Secure and Resilient Infrastructure: Deploying permissioned blockchain networks managed by central banks and regulated entities could provide a secure and resilient backbone for CBDC wallets and transactions.
  5. Simplified Identity Management: Exploring blockchain identity standards could pave the way for simplified CBDC wallet management integrated with digital identities, enhancing user experience and security.
  6. Harnessing Blockchain Properties: Even if CBDCs are not built directly on blockchain, they could potentially leverage certain blockchain properties, such as data integrity, traceability, and smart contract automation, to enhance their functionality and efficiency.

Preparing for the Future of Digital Currency

While the foundational distributed ledger technology is ready, significant challenges remain in crafting appropriate regulations and integrating CBDCs seamlessly with existing banking systems for retail usage. Also, robust regulatory frameworks that address data privacy, cybersecurity, and compliance requirements will be crucial prerequisites for CBDCs to gain traction.

To make that happen, we’ll need close collaboration between policymakers and industry stakeholders to enable responsible innovation while mitigating risks like fraud and price fluctuations that have shaken public trust in cryptocurrencies. A balanced, pragmatic regulatory approach can facilitate CBDC development while upholding consumer safeguards.

If you’d like to discover more about the solutions that can help your bank navigate these complexities—such as blockchain integration, secure wallet management, and compliance frameworks—please get in touch.

1 https://www.ecb.europa.eu/press/intro/news/html/ecb.mipnews240403.en.html

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