Archive for May 12th, 2020

What to expect from Facebook’s Libra 2.0?

May 12, 2020

My new piece in moneycontrol.

Amidst all the chaos, the Libra Association (LA) released a new paper on Libra titled Libra 2.0. The article explores the changes and modifications in Libra 2.0.

Should ECB issue an e-Euro?

May 12, 2020

On 27-March-2020, Banque de France invited applications from different industry players to figure whether ECB should issue a CBDC.

In view of the opportunities opened up by technological progress and in an effort to avoid  excessive fragmentation in settlement procedures, the Banque de France is taking steps to review and adjust the conditions under which it provides financial intermediaries with central bank money. With this in mind, the Banque de France is launching a programme of experiments to test the integration of a central bank digital currency (CBDC) in innovative procedures for the
exchange and settlement of tokenised financial assets between financial intermediaries.

These experiments will act as a contribution by the Banque de France to a broader discussion within the Eurosystem, which will make any decision on whether to set up a CBDC. The tests are not intended to be continued on a long-term basis or applied on a wide scale by the Banque de France itself.

Clearly BdF is taking a lead in Europe’s CBDC.

Yves Mersch, ECB Board member recently spoke  on whether ECB should issue a CBDC. He says Wholesale CBDC (CBDC between banks) is not an issue at all. The real deal is retail CBDC:

A wholesale CBDC, restricted to a limited group of financial counterparties, would be largely business as usual. However, a retail CBDC, accessible to all, would be a game changer. So a retail CBDC is now our main focus.

Setting up a CBDC would require a solid legal basis, in line with the principle of conferral under EU law. One key consideration here is whether a retail CBDC could and should have the same legal tender status as banknotes and coins. In practice, legal tender status implies that a CBDC would have to be usable at any location and under any condition, possibly even offline. Without legal tender status, the legal basis would need to be clarified, as would the relationship between a CBDC and euro banknotes and coins, along with the process by which one could be exchanged for the other. Should it not be acknowledged that the ECB’s exclusive right to authorise issuance in euro would also be applicable to a digital issuance?

A retail CBDC could be based on digital tokens, which would circulate in a decentralised manner – that is without a central ledger – and allow for anonymity towards the central bank, similar to cash. Some argue that a token-based digital currency might not guarantee complete anonymity. If that proved to be the case, it would inevitably raise social, political and legal issues. We are currently looking into the legal questions raised by the potential use of intermediaries to facilitate the circulation of a CBDC and also the processing of transactions in a CBDC. To what extent are we permitted to outsource public law tasks to private entities? And what would be the appropriate extent of supervision over such entities?

Alternatively, a retail CBDC could be based on deposit accounts with the central bank. Though involving vast numbers of accounts, it would not be a particularly innovative option from a technological viewpoint. For the euro area, it would basically mean increasing the number of current deposit accounts offered from around ten thousand to between 300 and 500 million. A CBDC of this nature would enable the central bank to register transfers between users, thereby providing protection against money laundering and other illicit uses (or those considered illicit by the rulers of the day), depending on the degree of privacy granted to users.

These are just two of the many ways to design a CBDC. We are currently scrutinising the various options to assess their potential impact – both positive and negative – on the financial system and on our ability to honour our mandate.

A retail CBDC is technologically possible. Yet ECB (and other central banks) is not interested in retail CBDC. Why? Because central banks will then do woks of commercial banks:

You may wonder why central banks have not chosen to provide retail access to central bank money, despite the technology for an account-based CBDC already being largely available. The main reason is that introducing a retail CBDC could have major consequences for the financial system.

If households were able to convert commercial bank deposits into a CBDC at a rate of 1 to 1, they may find it far more attractive to hold a risk-free CBDC rather than bank deposits. During a systemic banking crisis, this could trigger digital bank runs of unprecedented speed and scale, magnifying the effects of such a crisis.

Banks might manage to render their deposits more attractive than central bank ones. They could, for instance, provide additional services to those offered by central banks. Such services could include paying bills, or cross-selling financial insurance products. Otherwise – even in the absence of a crisis – a readily convertible CBDC could crowd out bank deposits, leading to the disintermediation of the banking sector. This could have far-reaching implications for the structure of the financial system and for the ability of central banks to perform their core tasks and ensure that their monetary policy is transmitted to the real economy.

If the central bank were to take retail deposits, it might also have to provide loans, with all the ensuing consequences. The central bank would need to launch customer-facing business lines. Deposit and lending facilities would also require the central bank to take on the burden of regulatory compliance in areas such as anti-money laundering, consumer protection and confidentiality.

Some argue that this may reinforce monetary sovereignty, as disintermediation would make the financial system safer and reduce the moral hazard of banks by diminishing their role in money creation.[5]

But disintermediation would be economically inefficient and legally untenable. The EU Treaty provides for the ECB to operate in an open market economy, essentially reflecting a policy choice in favour of decentralised market decisions on the optimal allocation of resources. Historical cases of economy-wide resource allocation by central banks are hardly models of efficiency or good service. Furthermore, a retail CBDC would create a disproportionate concentration of power in the central bank.

Options?

What, then, could be done to mitigate the impact of a CBDC on the financial system?

One option could be to remunerate CBDC at below-market rates in order to create incentives for non-banks to rely more on market-based alternatives rather than on central bank deposits. The drawback would be that, in times of crisis, it may become necessary to apply highly negative rates, which could generate criticism from the public and substantially undermine public confidence in the central bank as well as in the basic values of saving which underlie our societies.

Another option is a tiered remuneration system.[6] In line with the functions of money, the first tier could serve as a means of payment. The central bank would have to refrain from setting a lower or a negative interest rate in order to keep a CBDC attractive to the public as a means of payment. While the second tier could serve as a store of value, the central banks could discourage people from using it as such by setting unattractive interest rates. However, such schemes should draw from the experience of multiple exchange rate regimes. And the repercussions of the intentional use of such schemes need to be subjected to an additional comprehensive investigation.

 

 


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