SNB's Maechler says cryptocurrencies won't rival conventional currency

ZURICH (Reuters) - Cryptocurrencies are not true competitors to conventional currencies despite soaring interest in products like bitcoin, Swiss National Bank Governing Board member Andrea Maechler said on Thursday.

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Private-sector digital currencies were better and less risky than any version that might be offered by a central bank, Maechler added, indicating the SNB has no appetite for launching its own e-franc.

“Digital central bank money for the general public is not necessary to ensure an efficient system for cashless retail payments,” she said in remarks prepared for an event in Zurich.

“It would deliver scarcely any advantages, but would give rise to incalculable risks with regard to financial stability by calling into question the tried-and-tested two-tier system,” she told an event in Zurich.

Under the current system, the SNB acts as bank to commercial banks, which in turn deal with end customers.

Central bank digital money could increase the risk of bank runs by making it easier for people to transfer their money out of their commercial bank accounts if they felt the bank was in difficulties.

Maechler said the hype built up around cryptocurrencies had become considerable and far outweighed their actual use.

Money must be a viable medium of exchange and be a stable unit of account for the value of the goods and services that are exchanged, she said, adding it should also be used as a long-term store of value, for example for saving.

“Cryptocurrencies such as the much-discussed bitcoin do not perform these functions adequately, if at all,” Maechler said.

Digital currencies had a high degree of price volatility and are more of a speculative investment instrument than a means of payment capable of maintaining their value, she said.

However Maechler said some of the technology used in cryptocurrencies such as distributed ledger technology, also known as blockchain, had potential.

The technology which allows participants to read, write and save information without the need for an intermediary could help in the areas of buying and selling securities and cross-border payments.

Because blockchain makes verified information available to a large number of parties simultaneously, it is particularly appealing in the case of complex processes where coordination is required across a range of participants, Maechler said.

Although this offered efficiency gains, there were still improvements necessary before market-ready blockchain solutions became a reality in the financial market, Maechler said.

Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Michael Shields