As the world has increasingly become more digital, so too has our money — as evidenced by the rise of digital banking and mobile payments. According to a 2018 study, approximately one-third of American adults generally did not use cash to make payments while one in ten millennials made payments only using digital apps. This trend has accelerated during the global pandemic as customers have favored digital and contactless transactions over physical cash, with one study showing that cash use declined by 40%. Further, 90% of respondents indicated that they will reduce their use of cash going forward.
The private sector has responded with the rise of mobile payment platforms, larger companies creating their own digital currencies, and the growth of “stablecoins” (i.e., fiat-pegged digital currencies). Central banks have also started to take notice by developing their own “central bank digital currencies” (CBDCs), which are digital forms of fiat currency.
According to PwC’s CBDC Global Index, more than 60 central banks are at different stages of research and development of CBDCs. Some countries such as the US and UK are conducting research but have not announced an intention to begin CBDC development, while others - including China and Sweden - have launched live pilot programs. Motivations cited by central banks for pursuing CBDCs include maintaining control over monetary policy, financial inclusion, traceability of transactions for anti-money laundering (AML) and tax purposes, and improved cross-border payments Critics have been quick to note that CBDCs could pose data security and privacy concerns as well as reduce deposits at banks, which could reduce liquidity in the financial system.
While it will likely take years to launch a digital dollar if the US decides to pursue its development, there are steps that financial institutions can take now to prepare themselves for potential domestic and global shifts toward CBDCs. This Regulatory brief provides our perspective on how CBDCs could impact the business models of financial institutions as well as how existing custody, blockchain, cybersecurity and other functions can be adapted to support CBDCs.
A publication of PwC's financial services regulatory practice