February 5, 2020 / 9:12 PM / 14 days ago

Fed looking into central bank digital coins, Brainard says

PALO ALTO, Calif., Feb 5 (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve is looking at a broad range of issues around regulations and protections for digital payments and currencies, including the costs and potential benefits of issuing its own digital currency, Governor Lael Brainard said on Wednesday.

“By transforming payments, digitalization has the potential to deliver greater value and convenience at lower cost,” Brainard said in remarks prepared for delivery at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The speech did not touch on interest rates or the current economic outlook.

“But there are risks,” Brainard said, in a partial reprisal of her own and other global central bankers’ worries about the rise of private digital payment systems and currencies, including Facebook’s Libra digital currency project. “Some of the new players are outside the financial system’s regulatory guardrails, and their new currencies could pose challenges in areas such as illicit finance, privacy, financial stability, and monetary policy transmission.”

Central banks globally are debating how to manage digital finance technology and the distributed ledger systems used by bitcoin, which promises near-instantaneous payment at potentially low cost. The Fed is developing its own round-the-clock real-time payments and settlement service, and is currently reviewing 200 comment letters submitted about the project, she said.

The Fed is also, she said, “conducting research and experimentation related to distributed ledger technologies and their potential use case for digital currencies, including the potential for a CBDC (central bank digital currency).”

Dozens of central banks globally are also doing such work, a recent international study showed, with China moving ahead on its plans to issue a digital coin.

In the U.S., Brainard said, issues that need study include whether a digital currency would make the payments system safer or simpler, and whether it could pose financial stability risks, including the possibility of bank runs if money can be turned “with a single swipe” into the central bank’s digital currency. Other issues that would need consideration include privacy and fraud protection, and even whether the coin would be considered legal tender.

“In the United States no less than in other major economies, the public sector needs to engage actively with the private sector and the research community to consider whether new guardrails need to be established, whether existing regulatory perimeters need to be redrawn, and whether a CBDC would deliver important benefits on net,” she said. (Reporting by Ann Saphir Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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