Lael Brainard: Private money and central bank money as payments go digital - an update on CBDCs

Speech (via webcast) by Ms Lael Brainard, Member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, at the Consensus by CoinDesk 2021 Conference, Washington DC, 24 May 2021.

Central bank speech  | 
25 May 2021
PDF full text
 |  12 pages

Technology is driving dramatic change in the U.S. payments system, which is a vital infrastructure that touches everyone. The pandemic accelerated the migration to contactless transactions and highlighted the importance of access to safe, timely, and low-cost payments for all. With technology platforms introducing digital private money into the U.S. payments system, and foreign authorities exploring the potential for central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) in cross-border payments, the Federal Reserve is stepping up its research and public engagement on CBDCs. As Chair Powell discussed last week, an important early step on public engagement is a plan to publish a discussion paper this summer to lay out the Federal Reserve Board's current thinking on digital payments, with a particular focus on the benefits and risks associated with CBDC in the U.S. context.

Sharpening the Focus on CBDCs

Four developments-the growing role of digital private money, the migration to digital payments, plans for the use of foreign CBDCs in cross-border payments, and concerns about financial exclusion-are sharpening the focus on CBDCs.

First, some technology platforms are developing stablecoins for use in payments networks. A stablecoin is a type of digital asset whose value is tied in some way to traditional stores of value, such as government-issued, or fiat, currencies or gold. Stablecoins vary widely in the assets they are linked to, the ability of users to redeem the stablecoin claims for the reference assets, whether they allow unhosted wallets, and the extent to which a central issuer is liable for making good on redemption rights. Unlike central bank fiat currencies, stablecoins do not have legal tender status. Depending on underlying arrangements, some may expose consumers and businesses to risk. If widely adopted, stablecoins could serve as the basis of an alternative payments system oriented around new private forms of money. Given the network externalities associated with achieving scale in payments, there is a risk that the widespread use of private monies for consumer payments could fragment parts of the U.S. payment system in ways that impose burdens and raise costs for households and businesses. A predominance of private monies may introduce consumer protection and financial stability risks because of their potential volatility and the risk of run-like behavior. Indeed, the period in the nineteenth century when there was active competition among issuers of private paper banknotes in the United States is now notorious for inefficiency, fraud, and instability in the payments system. It led to the need for a uniform form of money backed by the national government.