Bank of Canada lays groundwork for digital currency

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The Bank of Canada is laying the groundwork to introduce a digital currency, should the need for one emerge, Deputy Gov.r Tim Lane said.

While Canadians are well served by the present payment system, the central bank has begun to look at potential features and requirements of a digital currency, though it doesn't see a compelling case to issue one at the present time, Lane said, according to the text of remarks to be delivered Tuesday in Montreal. The central bank also released a background document that laid out plans for a prototype digital currency.

"We need to move forward to work out what a potential CBDC might look like and how it could be managed, if the decision were ever taken to issue one," Lane said, regarding preparations for a potential central bank digital currency in Canada.

Timothy Lane, deputy governor of Bank of Canada, speaks during an event at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington on Feb. 6, 2019.
Timothy Lane, deputy governor of Bank of Canada, speaks during an event at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington on Feb. 6, 2019.

Central banks around the world are trying to get to grips with emerging payment technologies. Private-sector initiatives such as Facebook's Libra are adding urgency to the debate over how digital currencies should be handled.

The Bank for International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund have called for central banks to at least study the possibility of as private-sector firms experiment with competing units of exchange. A survey of 66 central banks by the Basel-based BIS showed that some 80% were engaged in the matter, up from 70% the year before. The proportion likely to issue a digital currency to the public in the one to three years doubled to 10%.

Public interest

The Bank of Canada sees two main scenarios where it could decide to issue its own digital currency: first, if the use of cash is restricted or eliminated, and second, if private cryptocurrencies were to make serious inroads.

"In both scenarios, there would be an argument for the Bank of Canada to step in," Lane said. "The bank would do this as a trusted public institution, creating an official digital currency that is designed with the interest of the public as its top priority, with no commercial motive."

It isn't the Bank of Canada's first foray into the matter — staff have written several papers on the potential effects of introducing a central bank digital currency, including the possibility of reduced market power of private banks. However, the central bank is shifting to the development of an actual prototype, though it could still be years away from being ready, and will still need a legislative framework.

"If one or more alternative digital currencies threatened to become used widely as an alternative to the Canadian dollar" then a central bank issued digital currency culd be used to defend monetary sovereignty, the bank said.

Bloomberg News
Digital currencies
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