The global push for central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) faces a compelling challenge: the necessity of private-sector collaboration to ensure their widespread acceptance, Nikkei Asia reported Oct. 26.
According to the report, CBDCs have emerged as a potential alternative to fiat and other digital currencies to increase financial inclusion and enhance efficiency in the global monetary system.
However, their success appears intricately tied to strategic partnerships with existing private payment systems, a lesson learned from the experiences of China and Cambodia.
China’s ambitious rollout of the digital yuan garnered considerable attention. However, despite extensive trials across 26 areas in 17 provinces by the end of 2022, the currency’s utility remains constrained.
According to the report, most people choose to convert their digital yuan into traditional currency for everyday transactions due to the lack of integration with retailers and payment systems.
The adoption rate is further dampened by the absence of interest accrual and investment opportunities, which makes CBDCs less appealing to the average consumer.
Despite the government’s push, the digital yuan only made up 0.1% of the total yuan supply — roughly $1.86 billion — as of Dec. 2022.
The slow adoption rate is mainly attributed to the competition stemming from private-sector digital payment systems such as Alipay and WeChat Pay, which are deeply embedded in the daily lives of Chinese citizens.
Chinese authorities have wisened up and taken significant steps to integrate the digital yuan with platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay. However, disrupting the established dominance of these private-sector giants requires a gradual, persistent effort, the report said.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s eNaira — introduced in 2021 — has similarly struggled to gain traction with the populace. However, unlike the Chinese, who prefer fiat currency, Nigerians are increasingly turning to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as their preferred method of exchange.
An International Monetary Fund report recently revealed that 98.5% of eNaira wallets remained dormant weekly despite the CBDC being out for multiple years. Similarly, the Bahamanian sand dollar, one of the earliest CBDCs to launch in 2020, constituted less than 1% of the Bahamas’ circulating currency at the end of 2022.
CBDCs, fundamentally designed to coexist with private-sector financial services, encounter hurdles in incentivizing adoption. They lack the promotional benefits offered by commercial banks. Therefore, collaboration with the private sector emerges as the linchpin for success.
The Cambodian Success Story
Cambodia offers an instructive case study. The nation introduced Bakong, one of the earliest CBDCs, in Oct.2020.
Initially, it faced challenges akin to the digital yuan, with entrenched private-sector QR code-based platforms. However, the landscape shifted dramatically with the introducing of KHQR, a standardized QR code payment system facilitating the CBDC’s integration with current private-sector payment platforms.
Consequently, the number of Bakong users surged to 8.5 million by the close of 2022, with 1.5 million merchants accepting the digital currency. The CBDC is expected to reach a penetration rate of 60% to 70% in the near future.
President Kazumasa Miyazawa of global tech firm Soramitsu, a co-developer of Bakong, said Bakong’s growth trajectory has shown that private-sector cooperation is critical in spurring CBDC adoption.
The public will only want to use CBDCs when they offer the same level of convenience and benefits as private payment systems operating right now.
A recent Bank for International Settlements survey reveals that over 90% of the 86 central banks polled are actively engaged in CBDC-related work, underscoring the worldwide interest in these digital currencies.
While challenges persist, experts emphasize that issuing a CBDC is merely the initial step. A comprehensive framework for CBDC evolution over five to ten years is imperative.
The experiences of China’s digital yuan and Cambodia’s Bakong highlight the importance of balancing public and private initiatives to catalyze the adoption and utility of CBDCs in today’s evolving financial landscape.