As digital transformation reshapes everyday life, it’s also revolutionizing payment systems. From crypto assets, which operate without traditional backing, to ‘stablecoins’ anchored by tangible assets, and Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), digital form of a fiat currency, the financial world is at a crossroads.
These innovations, built on distributed ledger technology (DLT) and other platforms, challenge the dominance of cash and bank deposits, reigniting debates about public trust versus private sector efficiency in payments.
Stablecoins are a subset of cryptocurrencies designed to minimize price volatility by being pegged to a stable asset, typically a fiat currency like the US dollar. The primary purpose of stablecoins is to offer the benefits of digital currency without the wild price swings often associated with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
The most well-known stablecoins include USD Coin (USDC), Tether (USDT), and DAI (DAI).
There are various methods in how Stablecoins maintain an almost 1:1 ratio peg against FIAT currency like the US Dollar:
While stablecoins strive to maintain a stable peg, there are risks involved. One of the most talked-about concerns is the potential for depegging.
Terra, faced a drastic decline as its native token, LUNA, in 2022, which plummeted from a high of $119 to $0 within days, erasing investor funds. The central issue lay in Terra’s algorithmic stablecoin model. Unlike fiat-backed stablecoins like USDC or USDT, Terra’s UST relied on a delicate balance between UST and its sister cryptocurrency, LUNA.
In bullish markets, the mechanism adjusting the supply of UST by burning or minting LUNA could maintain the peg. However, in bearish scenarios, a loss in confidence can spark a massive sell-off, as witnessed with UST’s near-total value loss in a day.
Compounding Terra’s problems was its proof-of-stake (PoS) model which, due to a large concentration of staked LUNA tokens, presented decentralization and security challenges.
Stablecoins currently comprise roughly 10% of the total crypto market cap. Stablecoins offers users an option to navigate price volatility in the crypto sphere by offering a quick way to convert cryptocurrency assets into stablecoins. This means that with Tether leading the charge, stablecoins have found a significant place in Bitcoin trades and other crypto trades worldwide.
As they gain traction on major tech platforms, the allure of stablecoins for mainstream payments is also increasing, potentially offering user convenience and competitive fees, especially for cross-border transactions in regions with less sophisticated payment infrastructures.
In Q3 of 2023, Visa reported that they have extended stablecoin settlement capabilities by integrating Circle’s USDC following a successful pilot with Crypto.com. This advancement, operating on the Solana blockchain, enhances the speed of cross-border settlements.
When consumers transact using Visa, funds are moved between the purchasing bank and the merchant’s bank, a process facilitated by Visa’s systems. By incorporating USDC and blockchain networks like Solana and Ethereum, Visa optimizes this fund movement.
Previously, settlements for Crypto.com’s Visa card cross-border transactions involved lengthy currency conversion processes. Now, they can directly use USDC for settlements, simplifying global transactions.
The chart above illustrates the meteoric rise of stablecoins over a mere six-year span, transitioning from obscurity to nearing Visa’s transaction volume, surpassing both PayPal and global remittances, and showcasing the potential of regions to become central hubs in the burgeoning stablecoin marketplace. Stablecoins currently place below Fedwire and Automated Clearing Houses.
Central Bank Digital Currencies, or CBDCs, are a type of digital currency issued and governed by a nation’s central bank. Unlike cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) or Ether (ETH), which are decentralized and operate on public blockchains, CBDCs are centralized and typically operate on a permissioned blockchain, meaning access is controlled by the governing authority (i.e., the central bank).
The primary purpose of CBDCs is to digitalize the fiat currency of a particular nation, enabling seamless and direct transactions between the central bank and the citizens without the need for intermediaries. CBDCs transfer value directly from one entity to another without traditional banking delays or fees. By design, CBDCs aim to integrate the advantages of digital assets while being backed by the trust and authority of a nation’s central bank.
The rapid evolution of digital assets, coupled with the need for more efficient, secure, and inclusive payment systems, has spurred numerous countries to explore and even adopt CBDCs.
China’s Digital Yuan, Sweden’s e-Krona, and the Bahamas’ Sand Dollar are prime examples of CBDCs either in the testing phase or already in circulation.
There are several reasons countries are keen to delve into CBDCs:
Here are some commonalities between the both stablecoins and CBDCs:
While stablecoins and CBDCs share these similarities, it’s essential to note that they differ fundamentally in terms of governance, volatility, and adoption. CBDCs are governed by a nation’s central bank, providing them with inherent trust and authority, while stablecoins, though pegged to a stable asset like the US dollar, are typically governed by private entities and can be subjected to market fluctuations.
The main distinctions between stablecoins and CBDCs in terms of issuer, supervision, stability methods, legislation, accessibility, distribution, and privacy are listed below:
As nations like China and India delve into CBDC pilots and stablecoins such as Tether carve their niche, we stand on the brink of a revolutionary shift in global transactions. Both promise unprecedented transaction speeds, reduced costs, and the potential to bridge financial divides. However, they also face hurdles, from regulatory challenges to technological refinements.
As CBDCs and stablecoins race to redefine monetary exchanges, the coming years promise a thrilling transformation, ushering in an era of seamless, secure, and inclusive global finance. Prepare to be a part of this exhilarating journey into the next frontier of economic innovation.
The emergence of stablecoins and CBDCs stands as a testament to the inevitable digitalization of our monetary systems. While they share similarities, they are distinct in origin, governance, and purpose.
Stablecoins, often backed by traditional assets and underpinned by blockchain, offer a bridge between the decentralized world of cryptocurrencies and the more familiar fiat currencies. On the other hand, CBDCs, as sovereign digital currencies, symbolize a nation’s foray into blending traditional banking with the advantages of digital assets.
“Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” – Steve Jobs
What are stablecoins and how do they differ from traditional cryptocurrencies?
Stablecoins are a specific type of cryptocurrency designed to maintain price stability by being pegged to tangible assets, usually fiat currencies like the US dollar. Traditional cryptocurrencies are decentralized digital currencies that use cryptographic principles for secure peer-to-peer transactions.
Why are Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) important and how do they differ from other digital assets?
CBDCs are digital currencies issued and regulated by a nation’s central bank, providing a digitized version of a country’s fiat currency. CBDCs operate on permissioned blockchains, allowing the central bank to have direct control.
What are the primary differences between stablecoins and CBDCs?
Stablecoins, governed by private entities, are typically backed by assets or algorithmic techniques. CBDCs, in contrast, are digital representations of a country’s fiat currency, governed and regulated by the central bank.
Why is understanding the distinctions between stablecoins and CBDCs important for the future?
As digital finance continues to evolve, both stablecoins and CBDCs will play roles in reshaping global transactions. Grasping their unique attributes, benefits, and challenges is essential for anyone looking to navigate the upcoming era of digital monetary systems, ensuring readiness for future innovations in global finance.