Managing Consultant , Synechron, Hong Kong
Consultant , Synechron, Singapore
Digital money is a familiar concept today. Lately, a new form of digital currency called the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) has been the topic of discussion across the world. Globally, Central Banks are racing to explore the possibilities of implementing CBDCs and they are at various stages of research, development, and pilot, while a few countries like The Bahamas and Nigeria have already launched their CBDCs. The European Central Bank (ECB) has also recently announced its start of the two-year preparation phase to implement a digital euro in November 2023.
Motivation for introducing CBDCs vary. Central banks may present benefits of financial inclusion, increased transparency in money flow, and lowering transaction cost as drivers, often linked to the domestic economic environment. Another key advantage of CBDC is that it can be used for offline transactions. CBDCs can also provide a secure and reliable means of digital payment and remittance.
As central banks explore the implementation of CBDCs, it is essential to consider the implications on society. Thorough market analysis is a pre-requisite for the success of any product, and CBDCs are no exception. Many central banks are aware of this need and seek to gauge public sentiment for adoption of digital currencies via public consultations and surveys.
In this article, we will explore the progress of CBDC development across the globe and capture current trends in public opinion.
At present, a total of 11 Caribbean or African nations have officially launched CBDCs. The Central Bank of The Bahamas launched the world’s first CBDC, the Sand Dollar, in 2020. As of August 2023, slightly over 1 million Sand Dollars were in circulation. This figure pales in comparison to the aggregate monetary supply denominated in Bahamian dollars, which exceeded $9 billion. Besides low e-money penetration in the macroeconomy, the limited adoption rate of the Sand Dollar can be attributed to the among the public. The Jamaica JAM-DEX, Nigerian eNaira and Eastern Caribbean Currency Union’s DCash have also encountered challenges in achieving widespread utilisation since their inception. A common theme across these regions is the prevailing lack of trust that the public harbours toward their respective governments and public institutions. Concerns primarily centre on privacy-related issues pertaining to CBDCs and apprehensions regarding the potential monitoring of financial transactions by governmental authorities.
United States (US)
Current Stage = Development
The Cato Institute surveyed 2,000 Americans in 2023, with only 16% of respondents supportive of CBDCs. However, almost half were not fully aware of what a CBDC is. A primary concern heard in public discourse is the perception that the government will monitor and control individual spending. In a January 2022 Federal Reserve Board discussion paper on potential CBDC benefits and risks, some responders expressed their opinion that CBDCs could enhance transparency in financial transactions and provide consumers with better insights into the amount, destination, and timing of their money transfers. Others felt that CBDCs could potentially lower costs and hence, increase the affordability and accessibility of financial services. While many expressed optimism at the introduction of a CBDC, a significant portion of respondents held concerns about CBDCs exacerbating the “digital divide”, especially for elderly and low-income individuals who may not have dependable internet and phone access.
European Union (EU)
Current Stage = Development
In a 2022 survey commissioned by the ECB of more than 2,500 participants spanning all eurozone countries, a majority demonstrated limited awareness of CBDCs. Many respondents displayed reservations about embracing the idea of a digital euro due to the widespread availability of existing payment methods within the eurozone, and their uncertainty regarding the additional benefits that a digital euro might offer. Another common concern among most respondents pertained to matters of privacy, where there were reservations about the confidentiality of their transaction data following digital Euro adoption. The ECB has stressed that a digital Euro will not be programmable money i.e., without limitations on where, when or to whom people can pay with a digital euro. The ECB have announced in October 2023 that the digital euro can be used for all digital payments, will be free of charge and will meet the highest privacy standards. In the study commissioned by ECB in 2023, individuals who were less familiar with current digital payment methods generally displayed a moderately positive or neutral attitude toward a CBDC.
In contrast, the Tech Savvy population had mixed opinions, with the majority falling into two categories: those curious about adopting a CBDC and those taking a wait-and-see stance. A smaller segment rejected the notion of a CBDC, citing the saturation of existing digital payment options. As for the unbanked population, there was a prevailing sense of apprehension and discomfort regarding digital payments. This section showed reluctance to embrace any digital currency, expressing a preference for the continued use of physical cash. Overall, public sentiment differs, with the potential benefits of CBDC adoption countered by vocal data privacy and security fears.
Current Stage = Pilot
Japan’s reliance on physical cash in retail payments is high, where cash use represented 51% of point-of-sale transactions in 2023. Many in Japan do not see the need to introduce a CBDC given the widespread accessibility of cash-accepting establishments in Japan and the convenience of real-time cash transactions. In a survey conducted by the Bank of Japan in September 2022, more than 75% of Japanese lacked familiarity with the concept of a CBDC. Moreover, nearly half of the respondents expressed their inclination towards using digital payment methods only if there was proper management of personal information. This result points out the high value placed by the Japanese public on privacy when it comes to making transactions and data security.
Current Stage = Pilot
One of the most known advantages of CBDCs is their potential to extend banking services to the unbanked population. This holds greater relevance in countries like India where, despite a sharp increase in new bank accounts, approximately 20% of the population remains unbanked as of the latest World Bank Global Findex Database 2021. Given that CBDCs are issued directly by the central bank, they present a unique opportunity for citizens without traditional bank accounts to participate in digital financial transactions. Other use cases for the e-Rupee include the ability to direct transfers digitally even in offline environments. However, there are many who argue that the current instant consumer payment system, the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), poses a formidable competition to the introduction of the e-rupee. As such, it appears that Indian bankers do not see any advantage of the e-rupee at this point. Whether public opinion shifts on e-rupee adoption is yet to be seen.
Hong Kong (HK)
Current Stage = Pilot
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology conducted a survey last year on the general public’s perception of CBDCs. A large majority were unaware of CBDCs. However, most displayed a willingness to use the e-HKD when launched. Cybersecurity and personal data privacy were highlighted as the key features most valued, in contrast to the concerns in precisely these areas in other geographies. Around 6,600 adults were polled with 65% indicating acceptance for traceability of CBDC transactions, similar to credit cards. Overall, it appeared that people had neutral to positive views on the future e-HKD usage.
Looking across the world, we see progress being made in assessing the feasibility and public opinions regarding the usage and benefits of developing Central Bank Digital Currencies. Here are Synechron’s conclusions:
These challenges can be mitigated through adequate technical design and security protocols. Synechron features experts with deep experience on cybersecurity, data privacy and regulatory advisory. We have extensive experience in implementation of blockchain technology. For more than 21 years, we have been partnering with Tier-1 financial services firms for their advisory needs, across an array of operational needs. Driving our capability, we successfully integrated our subsidiary, Attra, within our wider Synechron brand. Over 2,500 payments technology experts, working across the banking and finance space, will continue to provide best-in-class services across the payments value chain.
Reach out to us to learn more about CBDCs and for our unique view on your current business challenges, themes, and approaches. We can help you modernize and digitize your business toward realizing optimal efficiencies.