IMF’s push for CBDCs: The beginnings of the global CBDC platform
Though Canada is not presently poised to implement a central bank digital currency (CBDC), ongoing research and significant advocacy from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggest that a Canadian CBDC could become a reality in the not-too-distant future. In this blog, we delve into the concept of CBDCs, tackle the pressing issue of user privacy rights, offer insights into the IMF's initiatives regarding CBDCs, and encapsulate recent advancements in Canada's CBDC landscape.
What is a CBDC?
CBDC, or central bank digital currency, represents a nation's currency in digital form, which is officially issued and regulated by its central bank.
Amid the digital wave which has ushered in a cryptocurrency revolution and heralded the decline of traditional paper payments, the IMF and various central banks are examining the potential of CBDCs. This particular currency is distinct from the cryptocurrencies we are familiar with today, which are often treated as investment assets, given their inherently volatile values.
CBDCs, on the other hand, would introduce a sense of stability in the digital currency realm, as they would be underpinned by central banks, much like traditional cash. Picture the tangible cash in your wallet transformed into a secure digital equivalent, infusing the advantages of digital transactions with the solidity of central bank backing - that's the promise of CBDCs.
CBDCs are also distinct from cryptocurrencies known as stablecoins. While CBDCs and stablecoins both represent digital forms of currency and are both intended to maintain a stable value, their underlying structures and governance differentiate them significantly. Unlike CBDCs which are issued and regulated by a country's central bank, providing the same legal tender status as physical cash, stablecoins are cryptocurrencies designed to minimize volatility by being pegged to a reserve of assets, often traditional fiat currencies. However, they are generally issued by private organizations and do not have the same degree of regulatory supervision or the legal support from a central institution, as is the case with CBDCs.
One pivotal concern that accompanies the advent of CBDCs revolves around privacy. Transitioning from physical cash to digital format introduces complexities in safeguarding personal and financial information. While cash transactions allow for a level of anonymity, digital transactions are inherently traceable. The extent to which a central bank, or potentially other entities, could monitor individuals’ financial activities with CBDCs raises significant privacy questions. It’s crucial that the design and regulation of CBDCs strike a careful balance between preventing illicit activities and protecting users’ privacy rights, without transforming the currency into a tool for excessive surveillance.
Updates from the IMF
The IMF has done extensive research on CBDCs and has provided various updates throughout the last few years. Most recently, on June 19, 2023, IMF’s Managing Director, Kristaline Georgieva, stated in a conference that the IMF is working on a global CBDC platform. She noted that various central banks around the world had already launched pilot CBDC programs. In fact, as of the time of writing this blog, the countries of Nigeria, Bahamas and Jamaica have already launched e-Naira, Sand Dollar, and JAM-DEX, their respective CBDCs. With the potential to use CBDCs in cross-border payments, there is clearly a need for co-operation between countries. As such, the IMF wants to create a common regulatory framework for CBDCs that central banks can rely upon which addresses, amongst other things, the concerns surrounding individual privacy rights. The IMF expresses a concern that the absence of a common platform and/or poorly designed CBDC regulatory processes might lead to financial stability risks, data privacy and legal challenges, financial integrity and cyber risks, amongst other things.
The IMF has recently published an outline for a CBDC Handbook that will address foundational requirements and readiness, legal considerations, design process and considerations, technology approaches, potential macrofinancial impacts, and more. The Handbook is intended to be 19 chapters long, limited to topics within the IMF’s mandate, and published each year. Importantly, the Handbook is to provide information on how the IMF will collaborate with member countries and other international organizations. Unfortunately, since the outline was published, there has been a conspicuous silence, with no significant updates or developments emerging from the IMF.
Where does Canada stand?
Canada’s central bank, the Bank of Canada, is no stranger to CBDCs. In fact, the Bank of Canada launched a pilot program, Project Jasper, in 2017, to study CBDCs. Most recently, on May 8, 2023, the Bank of Canada launched an online public consultation on the features that could be included in a digital Canadian dollar. The consultation ran until June 19, 2023 and the report summarizing the consultation will be released later this year. Currently though, Canada is not a country with a CBDC. Unless CBDCs issued by foreign countries or stablecoins become widely used in Canada, or Canadians dramatically reduce their use of cash in day-to-day transactions, the Bank of Canada has stated that there is no need for a digital dollar at this time. Nonetheless, the Bank of Canada may change its stance depending upon the results of the consultation and as these conditions become more quickly met. Furthermore, IMF’s work on a global CBDC platform may make the Bank of Canada rethink their plans and instead expedite introducing a CBDC so that Canadians are not at risk of losing out on the potential benefits of the global CBDC platform.
As for what this means for the public, CBDCs may mean easier transactions both in person and online. For businesses, the implementation of a CBDC in Canada may mean the need for new technology and training to ensure that payment systems are still up to the same standard as card or other forms of payment. Going forward, whether Canada launches a CBDC or not, it must be mindful of privacy concerns (i.e., protecting personal and financial information). Whether the use of a CBDC is ultimately beneficial for Canadians is difficult to gauge at this time and we will need to learn from the experiences of other countries which have chosen to adopt CBDCs. Until then, we await further information from the IMF, the Bank of Canada and other relevant Canadian government agencies.
Reuters, “IMF working on global central bank digital currency platform” by Ahmed Eljechtimi, June 19, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/markets/imf-working-global-central-bank-digital-currency-platform-2023-06-19/
IMF, “High-level policy roundtable on Central Bank Digital Currencies: The role of the public sector in money and payments—A new vision”, IMF Managing Director’s Press Statement, June 19, 2023, https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2023/06/19/sp061923-md-press-statement-high-level-policy-roundtable-on-central-bank-digital-currencies
IMF, “IMF approach to Central Bank Digital Currency capacity development,” Staff Report, April 10, 2023, https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/Policy-Papers/Issues/2023/04/12/IMF-Approach-to-Central-Bank-Digital-Currency-Capacity-Development-532177
Bank of Canada, “Digital Canadian dollar”, https://www.bankofcanada.ca/digitaldollar/
Bank of Canada, “Digital currencies and fintech: projects”, https://www.bankofcanada.ca/research/digital-currencies-and-fintech/projects/
Bank of Canada, “Bank of Canada launches public consultations on a digital dollar”, May 8, 2023, https://www.bankofcanada.ca/2023/05/bank-canada-launches-public-consultations-digital-dollar/