Introduction to Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs)

By Karin Interfector
Published in Blog
June 07, 2024
4 min read
Introduction to Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs)

Digital technology has challenged traditional financial systems to keep pace with electronic transactions. While central banks are extremely cautious about the crypto sector, they recognize the need to stay competitive and meet new demands. Blockchain technology has introduced a decentralized, efficient, and secure investment model, driving a growing demand for more flexible financial services. In response, central banks are developing CBDCs (Central Bank Digital Currencies).

When talking about digital currencies issued by central banks, people must grasp their stark differences from crypto. These currencies essentially serve as digital representations of fiat assets, such as the US dollar, euro, or Chinese yuan. While the specifics of CBDCs may vary based on each central bank’s design and implementation, it’s essential to note that, unlike cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum, CBDCs are assets issued and controlled by a single entity. In essence, they lack decentralization.

CBDCs represent central banks’ efforts to modernize and digitize the financial system, offering an alternative to traditional fiat currency. They bring some interesting advantages, including reducing costs associated with handling, transportation, and processing of cash. Additionally, they enhance efficiency and speed in fund transfers. CBDCs could be used for many purposes such as paying for school and services like water, gas, and electricity.

Most CBDCs are in experimental phases, meaning that empirical data to evaluate potential advantages and disadvantages is limited. However, we can examine some cases and review certain headlines from recent months to get a preliminary idea of their potential impact. So, let’s dive into the examples, as we often like to do.

1. Bahamas - Sand Dollar.

Launched in October 2020 by the Central Bank of the Bahamas, the initiative aims to promote financial inclusion across the territory. This is particularly important as many people, especially those in the most remote islands, lack access to traditional banking services. Bahamas encompasses approximately 30 inhabited islands with a total population exceeding 400 thousand. Sand Dollar is pegged to Bahamian dollar, which, in turn, is pegged to the US dollar… In 2020, it made history as the world’s first fully implemented CBDC.

Bahamas authorities had been making significant progress on this project for some time. Early in 2019, they conducted a pilot test on the Exuma and Abaco islands, each with just over 20,000 inhabitants. According to the digital currency’s website: “Anyone with an electronic wallet approved by the Central Bank can accept the Sand Dollar”. Additionally, the website explains the difference between this project and crypto assets.

Currently, the Sand Dollar is only accepted within the Bahamas. However, payment service providers have been authorized to facilitate the exchange of Sand Dollars for foreign currency and vice versa.

2. Jamaica - JAM-DEX.

The digital currency issued by the Central Bank of Jamaica came into effect in June 2022. According to authorities, the project was initiated to provide a more convenient and secure alternative to physical banknotes. Initial tests for JAM-DEX began in March 2021 and concluded in December of that year. It’s worth noting that the Central Bank of Jamaica selected the Irish crypto security company eCurrency Mint as its technology provider to develop its CBDC.

In January 2022, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness anticipated that JAM-DEX would see 70% population usage by 2027. The political leader recognized the difficulties associated with executing such a project, while also underlining the importance of ensuring people have access to the internet and digital devices.

In August 2023, the Jamaica Observer published a fascinating report featuring Aldo Antonio, the executive president of the transporters’ union known as the National Transporters Alliance Group (NTAG)… Antonio noted a decrease in curiosity among bus and taxi drivers regarding JAM-DEX. However, he emphasized that his optimism for mass adoption is unwavering.

3. Russia - “Digital Ruble”.

In mid-2023, Olga Skorobogatova, the first deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia, announced the commencement of digital ruble testing on August 15th. The pilot program would primarily focus on establishing CBDC accounts, peer-to-peer transactions, and integrating QR codes for purchases and services, among other features. Deputy Governor Skorobogatova asserted the Central Bank’s anticipation that by 2025, both individuals and companies would embrace the “digital ruble”.

This March, Russian authorities shared insights from the initial tests. Skorobogatova revealed that commercial banks, acting as intermediaries, made operational errors. Participants had to create wallets within the banks’ mobile apps for transactions involving the Russian CBDC… It was at this point that some problems began to arise.

However, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia reported that they have successfully tackled the challenges, completing around 25,000 transactions. Among these, 19,000 were peer-to-peer payments, while 6,000 were payments for goods or services.

4. India.

India, the world’s most populous country, has long been exploring the possibility of issuing a digital currency for its entire territory. By the end of 2022, they launched two CBDCs: one wholesale (CBDC-W) and one retail (CBDC-R), as part of two pilot programs. Initially, the retail CBDC was introduced in four cities: New Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Bhubaneswar… However, the program rapidly expanded to encompass more than 15 cities, drawing in over 50,000 clients and 10,000 small and large businesses, according to an official closely involved in the pilot.

Early this year, news surfaced regarding the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) approach to implementing a large-scale CBDC. Governor Shaktikanta Das underscored that the institution isn’t hastening the implementation process. They aim to craft a sturdy project that guarantees security, integrity, and efficiency. This echoes statements made by an official to CoinDesk last February, suggesting that the RBI is actively exploring technological solutions to tackle the privacy challenges linked to the “digital rupee”.

Digital tech progress has brought about challenges for traditional financial systems, leading to the emergence of CBDCs. These initiatives aim to offer an alternative to conventional fiat currency, focusing on reducing costs and improving transaction efficiency. While the examples highlighted in this article show a growing interest, challenges persist in areas such as privacy, interoperability, and education. For further insights on this topic, we encourage you to subscribe to our Newsletter. We regularly produce original content and simultaneously strive to enhance Hamza.biz, the premier Web3 e-commerce platform powered by the LOAD protocol.


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