China’s Banking Sector Explores Impact Of Government-Issued Digital Currency

As China’s central bank moves forward on a national digital currency, the country’s banking industry is working to get a sense of how digital currency and blockchain technology will impact the country’s banking system and the issues that still need to be addressed, according to Leiphone.com, a platform focusing on mobile phone and smart hardware.

At the first "China Financial Technology Innovation Conference" held in Beijing recently, the senior executives of major banks discussed blockchain technology, artificial intelligence and financial issues. The executives are interested better understanding how digital currency will impact the banking system as the government moves forward on issuing a digital currency.

China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) announced today that it will make the necessary moves to work toward issuing a digital currency, as soon as possible, CCN reported. The central bank is also working to develop a blockchain-based financial assets trading platform.

Distributed Ledger Possible

Dr. Zhou Yonglin, the senior manager of the financial market department for the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, told the Beijing conference there is the possibility for a distributed general ledger for registering central bank issued digital money. Such a ledger would allow the central bank to provide identity-free verification. It would allow people to download a digital wallet.

Yonglin said the central bank wishes to provide a new asset holding and exchange mechanism. One benefit is it will reduce the cost associated with cash.

The central bank's digital currency could have a significant impact on monetary policy, financial infrastructure, finance, financial regulation and even a future digital economy, he said.

Private Versus Government Currency

Yonglin addressed some of the differences between a central bank issued currency and private virtual currency, such as bitcoin, which continues to grow.

The central bank digital currency is not a private digital currency like bitcoin. The value of central bank issued currency is fixed. The value of bitcoin, in contrast, is based on supply and demand.

Digital Currency Concerns

Bitcoin does, however, present issues associated with digital currency that need to be addressed. He said there is the issue of tax evasion to address.

Volatility is an issue with bitcoin. He noted bitcoin’s value has shifted significantly since 2013. Since 2014, he said it has appreciated more than 5000%. but fell by 56%, then in 2015 rose 37%. In 2016 it rose more than 119%, but has since fallen again.

He said there are already 600 kinds of digital money, with a market capitalization of more than $12 billion USD. Bitcoin accounts for 87% of the total market value.

In comparing bitcoin to other assets, gold and crude oil have fallen while bitcoin has increased, Yonglin said. The value of the U.S. dollar has risen while the yuan has fallen against the dollar.

Blockchain Brings Promise

Yonglin noted the possibilities for improving payment systems with blockchain technology.

He said with bitcoin, financial regulation becomes more transparent, making it unlikely it will be used for laundering.

Payment systems are already largely electronic, he said. Nevertheless, interbank, cross-border payments are highly complex. The People’s Bank of China has a multi-level, intermediary payment system. architecture that has not changed much since its inception.

ICICI Blockchain
Blockchain technology is being considered for a PBOC-issued digital currency.

There are shortcomings to the multi-level structure of the intermediate system, including its high cost and risk level. In addition, it cannot meet the Pratt & Whitney financial requirements.

“There are now 2 billion adults around the world without a bank account and cannot get financial services,” he said.

He noted that bitcoin has also become an investable commodity.

Also read: China's central bank will look to issue its own digital currency 'as soon as possible'

Central Bank Digital: UK Takes Lead

Focusing on central bank issued digital currency, Yonglin noted that the Bank of England has been exploring digital currency since 2015. The first goal is to establish a new payment architecture, the second to meet Pratt & Whitney financial standards, the third to facilitate cross-border payments, and the fourth to provide new monetary tools.

The central bank’s digital currency has the potential for long-term innovation that can have a significant impact on financial infrastructures, monetary policy, financial regulation and the future digital economy.

The proof of concept still needs to be applied to more large scale transactions. The impact on processing speed and efficiency are not yet clear.

Other issues to be resolved include legal supervision and impact on macroeconomic monetary policy.

A research team put together by the PBOC was set up as early as 2014 to conduct research and look into all possible regulatory frameworks for the issuance of a nationwide digital currency and the impact it may have on the economy, the media release noted on the PBOC’s official website.

The PBOC also revealed that it engaged experts from Citibank and Deloitte to discuss the frameworks required for the issuance of a national digital currency.

Images from Shutterstock.

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Lester Coleman

Lester Coleman is a media relations consultant for the payments and automated retailing industries.

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