RBI Executive Director Reveals India’s Testing of CBDCs Offline Capability

RBI Executive Director Reveals India’s Testing of CBDCs Offline Capability

Ajay Kumar Choudhary, the executive director of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), has revealed that the recently launched digital rupee, India’s in-house central bank digital currency (CBDC), is undergoing offline functionality testing. 

Apart from evaluating its offline capability, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is assessing the potential of CBDCs for cross-border transactions and their integration with legacy systems of other nations.

The wholesale segment pilot was launched by the RBI on November 1, 2022, with 50,000 users and 5,000 merchants onboarded for real-world testing. As of the end of February 2023, around $134 million and 800,000 transactions have been completed via wholesale CBDCs.

In addition to offline functionality, the RBI is also exploring the CBDC’s potential for cross-border transactions and its linkage with the legacy systems of other countries. Choudhary stated that the RBI is eagerly anticipating the participation of private sectors and fintechs in CBDC, especially on offline and cross-border transactions.

Furthermore, the banks’ executive stated that the CBDC would soon become the medium of exchange. That’s why it needs all features of physical currency, including its anonymity. 

The launch of CBDC is India’s motivation for improving regional financial inclusion and leading the digital economy. CBDC would also eventually replace cryptocurrencies, as per Choudhary’s statement on behalf of the RBI.

India’s CBDC for remittances

India’s national payment network, the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), has expanded its services to Singapore as of February 21, 2023. 

The integration of UPI with PayNow enables citizens of both countries to transfer funds across borders with great speed.

The facility was launched by Shaktikanta Das, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and Ravi Menon, Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, through token transactions using the UPI-PayNow linkage.

This integration of UPI with PayNow will allow users from India and Singapore to transfer money across borders with great speed. Users can send or receive money from India using only a UPI-id, cellphone number, or virtual payment address for money held in bank accounts or e-wallets. UPI’s instant real-time payment system allows for immediate cash transfer between the two bank accounts via a mobile interface.

Initially, four major Indian banks, namely State Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank, Indian Bank, and ICICI Bank, will support outgoing remittances. Incoming remittances will be facilitated by Axis Bank and DBS Bank India. Users in the region will have access to the service through Singapore’s DBS Bank and Liquid Group.

ICICI Bank is one of the participants in India’s central bank digital currency (CBDC) program. 

According to Sathvik Vishwanath, CEO of Indian crypto exchange Unocoin, this integration of UPI with PayNow is a valuable addition to India’s payment rails. As close to 30% of Singapore’s population consists of expatriates, and they send money to India once a month or quarter, this integration eliminates friction, reducing the processing time and costs.

While India’s digital payment infrastructure has expanded significantly over the last few years due to COVID-19, the government remains skeptical about cryptocurrencies. The government imposed a 30% tax on crypto gains, forcing major players to relocate from the country. However, the government is eager to utilize blockchain technology for its CBDC program and intends to use existing infrastructure to scale the CBDC program.

But India is in no hurry to push out CBDC

Despite joining the CBDC race a few months ago, the Indian government is in no hurry to rush its central bank digital currency (CBDC) pilot. As per a report by The Economic Times on Feb. 8, India’s digital rupee pilot, launched by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), has attracted 50,000 users and 5,000 merchants.

At a press conference, RBI Deputy Governor Rabi Sankar announced the first public milestones of India’s digital currency and emphasized the government’s plan to proceed with CBDC testing in the smoothest way possible. Sankar stated that the RBI doesn’t want to push CBDC developments without having a full understanding of its potential impact.

Furthermore, Sankar noted that the RBI has set targets in terms of users and merchants and plans to go slowly with the CBDC testing. He stated that they want the process to happen gradually and slowly and that they are in no hurry to make something happen so quickly.

The latest announcement is in line with data from an official digital rupee application, which indicates that the pilot has reached its capacity for users. As per the data from the digital rupee app by the ICICI Bank, India’s CBDC program is full at present, suggesting that more users will be able to join the trial at a later date.

India’s CBDC development came after countries like China aggressively rolled out digital currency in April 2020. However, despite significant efforts to promote the use of CBDCs, some former central bank officials claimed that the digital yuan’s usage has been low.

Turkey and Other Countries Aim To Test CBDCs

Turkey and Other Countries Aim To Test CBDCs

The Turkish central bank is interested in adopting the CBDC technology. It has recently completed its first payments using digital currency. It will continue to test this technology in 2023.

The first trial of the digital currency of the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey was completed using the Digital Turkish Lira. They have indicated plans to continue testing through 2023.

According to a press release by the Turkish central bank issued on December 29, 2022, the first payment transaction using the digital lira was successful. 

It stated that it would continue to conduct closed-circuit pilot tests with technology stakeholders in 2023’s first quarter. The program will later expand to include select banks and financial technology companies throughout the year.

The Turkish central bank stated that the results of these tests would be made available to the public via a comprehensive evaluation report. Next, it will reveal more about the next phases of this study, which will increase participation.

This follows the announcement by the Turkish central bank, which was made on September 21, 2022, that it was investigating the benefits of introducing a digital Turkish Lira. The project is called  “Central Bank Digital Turkish Lira Research and Development.”

The government did not make any commitment to digitalizing the final currency of the country and stated that it had not made a decision about the issuance of the digital Turkish lira.

The Turkish central bank also stated in its latest statement that it would continue to test distributed ledger technology in payment systems and their integration with an instant payment system.

It will also focus on the legal aspects of the digital Turkish Lira. This includes the economic as well as the legal framework surrounding digital identification. The bank is also revising the technical requirements for the program. 

More countries are experimenting with CBDC

Many countries, including the United Kingdom, Kazakhstan, and India, have begun to pilot programs for central bank digital currencies.

The Bank of England (BOE) has allocated nearly $255,000 for the development of a central bank digital currency wallet. This will allow basic functions such as payments and transactions to be executed. 

This wallet could be a proof-of-concept that can hold a central bank’s digital currency (CBDC).

The BOE published a request for applications on the United Kingdom government’s Digital Marketplace. This is a place where government agencies can seek work for digital projects.

The proof-of-concept wallet should provide basic functionality. It must be able to show balances, transactions, and notifications. The wallet must also be able to load and unload with a CBDC. It also needs to be able to request peer-to-peer payments via an account ID or QR code. It must also be capable of being used to pay businesses online.

Meanwhile, the central bank of Kazakhstan recommended that an in-house CBDC be introduced as early as 2023 and a gradual implementation over three years. The latest research paper confirmed Kazakhstan’s intention to launch the digital tenge. 

Kazakhstan is one of the largest Bitcoin mining countries in the world. After the second phase of the CBDC test was completed, the National Bank of Kazakhstan (NBK), revealed the findings. The primary purpose of conducting research on CBDC was to assess its potential to improve financial inclusion and promote innovation in the payments sector. It also aimed to increase the country’s global competitiveness.

Pilot research was focused on offline payments. It also examined programmability. The report recommended that market participants and infrastructure players be included in different scenarios. 

More than 140 proposals have been submitted by the finance sector for a pilot program of central bank digital currency in Australia. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) warns that digital currency could replace the Australian dollar, and people will avoid commercial banks.

The RBA released a speech by Assistant Governor Brad Jones on December 8. This speech was given at a central banking conference that took place from Dec. 8 through Dec. 9. Jones discussed in detail the potential impact of a CBDC on Australia’s economy.

More than 80 financial institutions have proposed use cases in many areas, including e-commerce and government payments. The pilot eAUD team is currently deciding which use cases it will take into the pilot phase. They expect to publish a report about the project in the middle of 2023. Other risks associated with an Australian CBDC could be liquidity problems, and other problems banks might face if the CBDC is chosen as the preferred source for holdings. If people prefer the CBDC, then banks may not have enough capital to lend money to consumers.

The Caribbean Is Planning To Go CBDC

The Caribbean Is Planning To Go CBDC

Bankers in the Caribbean are facing difficult times. Like many other small economies, these 35 countries face dollarization, dependence on foreign trade, and remittances.

De-risking, a common banking practice, is also causing serious problems. It is no surprise that the region is taking more interest than ever in digital currency adoption.

Carmelle Cadet is the founder and CEO at Emtech. She is a native Haitian and has worked with central banks in Ghana and Haiti. Her company is also part of the Digital Dollar Project Technical Sandbox Program, which is exploring aspects of the United States central bank digital currency (CBDC). She believes that establishing a functioning CBDC in the Caribbean is “a difficult task.”

Banks in the Caribbean: The Risks

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) lists countries under special surveillance for money laundering and other illegal activities. The so-called grey list was only four, but it seems that the entire region is affected. It is important to do extra research when large international banks offer services like settlement to small local banks in these countries, a process known as correspondent relationships.

International banks are more expensive to do business with if they have done additional due diligence. Banks will often cut ties with banks located in gray-listed countries to avoid paying a higher cost. This is known as de-risking. Many Caribbean countries lost half of their correspondent relationships. This has severe consequences for their economies as well as their societies.

On September 14th, the United States House of Representatives Financial Services Committee held a hearing entitled “When Banks Leave: The Effects of De-Risking in the Caribbean and Strategies for Ensuring Financial Access.” The hearings were attended by Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, and Keith Rowley, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

According to prime minister Mottley, the regional banking services are accessed with difficulty: “We spend weeks, and businesses that come into our region spend weeks and months, just to open a bank account.”

On Sept. 24, Bahamian Prime Minster Philip Davis raised the topic of de-risking before United Nations General Assembly ten days after the Congressional hearings. He asked, “Why are all the countries being targeted small and vulnerable and former colonies of European states?” 

The Bahamas is not currently on the gray list.

Are CBDCs the solution?

The Atlantic Council CBDC tracker shows that three CBDCs were launched within the Caribbean region: Bahamas’ Sand Dollar; Jamaica’s JamDex; and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank DCash. These CBDCs are located in seven of eight member countries.

The council has listed Haiti’s Digital Gourde under development. Cadet stated that Emtech and HaitiPay presented a proof of concept for a CBDC to the Haitian Embassy in Washington, Washington, on May 5.

Cadet was born in Haiti and immigrated to America in her youth. She was an executive at the IBM Blockchain division when the Bahamas requested proposals for the Sand Dollar. In 2019, as Haiti was going through a roadshow to develop its CBDC, Cadet stated, “If the Bahamas can do that, why not Haiti?” Carmelle Cadet quit IBM to start Emtech.

After the Haiti earthquake, the first financial technology companies were established in Haiti. In 2010, technologies that relied on mobile wallets gained the lead. Jean Baden Dubois, governor of the Haitian Central Bank, stated that mobile phone penetration was 60% in 2008 and is likely to rise in 2021.

Emtech proposed that the CBDC would work online, using mobile phone data. Cadet stated that the rollout of a Haitian CBDC would include device distribution through a partnership with a charity organization. She said that emerging economies are known for using telecommunications to support CBDC functions rather than data networks.

Dubois stated that the Haitian Central Bank saw the CBDC as a way to improve policy efficiency and transparency. This would allow the FATF gray-listed country to meet Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing Of Terrorism standards.

Cadet stated that “dollarization undermines central bank mission of stability.” But by using CBDCs to make cross-border payments, the liquidity and visibility of the reserve would be improved.

But not all CBDC emerging markets are the same 

Cadet stated that there are many ways in which CBDC designs are different for emerging markets from those for developed markets. As they strive to settle in real-time, developed markets can afford to slow down, while emerging markets have a greater need for CBDCs.

She said that emerging markets have less baggage, which allows fintech to thrive. While commercial banking is easier in developed markets, the CBDC has more legacy systems that can be integrated.

It is unclear, however, how successful CBDCs are in the Caribbean. 

The Sand Dollar, which was widely considered to be the first CBDC, launched in 2020. In July 2022, there were 30,000 digital wallets and about 845 merchants who accepted them. It is promoted by the Bahamian government regularly.

DCash was introduced in April 2021 but crashed in January, and it was down for almost two months. A spokesperson for Grenada-based conglomerate Geo. F. Huggins & Co., the first company to accept a DCash payment, said during the outage that the CBDC represented a “minimal” portion of its sales.

Cadet stated that her company was in talks with the Haitian Central Bank “to understand the licensing risk” about a year prior to the proof-of-concept presentation. She has been in contact with the bank ever since. According to her, the company is currently waiting for the central bank to issue a request for proposals for vendors.

The Digital Euro Could Be Launched by 2026

The Digital Euro Could Be Launched by 2026

According to Fabio Panetta, a senior official at the European Central Bank (ECB), a digital euro could be issued within the next four years by the European Union (EU). A potential first use would be peer-to-peer payments.

Due to concerns about Russia’s war against Ukraine and the rise of private stablecoins such as Facebook’s now-abandoned Libra, the timeline for the central bank digital currency (CBDC), has been moved back and forth.

What would the digital Euro be used for?

At an event at the National College of Ireland, Fabio Panetta, an executive board member of the European Central Bank, or ECB, has said: “The idea would be that let’s say, four years from now, we will be ideally ready to issue the digital euro,” and also expressed his optimism that the CBDC could be launched within the next four years, although it will be a complicated process that hasn’t been done before. 

Panetta suggested that a peer-to-peer (P2P) payment solution, which allows transactions between friends, could be the first test ground for the new technology before it spreads to other areas such as online payments or business payments such as physical and online shops.

He said that a P2P payment system that covers large numbers of users in the whole euro area could be a fertile ground for the adoption of a digital currency. Research has shown that the application would have the greatest impact on early adoption.

The ECB began a two-year investigation phase in October to examine issues such as which use cases should be prioritized. However, the ECB is still not sure if it will issue a digital currency. Panetta previously stated that the realization stage, which is due to begin late next year, could last for three years.

Christine Lagarde, President of the ECB, stated in March that the sanctions imposed by the war in Ukraine were a reason to accelerate the plans. However, other EU officials Monday suggested that they are letting their feet off the pedal.

We also have to note that Jurgen Schaaf, an ECB advisor, stated that the EU’s research and experiments on a digital euro are not a guarantee that they will launch a CBDC.

Why is the EU researching a CBDC?

After an industry consortium led Facebook suggested its own cryptocurrency, Libra, the idea of the EU issuing its very own CBDC was born. The Libra project was later renamed Diem and abandoned.

Mairead McGuinness (EU’s financial-services Commissioner) said that there was a feeling of urgency back some time ago, due to the fears of what might happen with private providers. McGuinness said that they will not hurry the research process. They want to move fairly quickly, but  “not hastily.”

Panetta stated that recent declines in the crypto market private may be another reason to continue the project.

Stablecoins lack the regulatory safety net that banks have and are, therefore “vulnerable to runs”, he stated. He cited the crash of TerraUSD (UST) from May 9th-13th. The supposedly stablecoin was issued and backed up by the Luna Foundation Guard.

Another example of an unregulated stablecoin is Tether (USDT), which also lost its peg to the USD dollar during the same week. Luckily, the USDT quickly recovered. 

Another reason for EU’s urge to research and regulate cryptocurrency is the war between Russia and Ukraine. Following the invasion of Ukraine, the EU and U.S. implemented severe sanctions against Russia. However, there are many concerns over the role of crypto in evading sanctions. This has prompted regulators around the world to accelerate their efforts to regulate the sector.

At the same time, U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order regarding crypto Wednesday encouraging federal agencies to adopt a common approach when regulating the sector. He asked the government to evaluate the benefits and risks of creating a digital currency.

Russia to Use Crypto in Commercial Relations With Africa

Russia to Use Crypto in Commercial Relations With Africa

A representative of Russia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry called for the government to carry out cross-border settlements using CBDCs (central bank digital currency) and cryptocurrency.

According to TASS, a local Russian publication, Sergei Katyrin, President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, wrote a letter to Mikhail Mishustin, the Russian Prime Minister, containing a series of proposals for developing cooperation between African countries. 

Russia to create a new bank to support economic trade with African countries

Katyrin advocated the use CBDCs (central bank digital currency) and cryptocurrency for mutual settlement and payment as part of Russia’s intent to develop more economic relationships with African countries, as a way to circumvent the Western sanctions imposed as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sergei Katyrin stated, “It seems useful to instruct the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation, together with the Central Bank, to ensure providing intergovernmental agreements with African states on the use of national currencies and cryptocurrencies in mutual settlements and payments.”

He also mentioned that the government should create a new export-import bank to support small and medium-sized enterprises in Africa.

At the same time, some African countries consider cooperation with Russia-linked blockchain networks.

Africa is starting to adopt crypto on a larger scale

At the beginning of April, three African countries, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the Republic of the Congo made a joint announcement about their plans to adopt TONcoin, the native coin of Ton blockchain. The announcement stated that each country would make a gradual transition to adopt cryptocurrency as a central pillar in their economic structures.

The TON blockchain is supported by the TON Foundation and has raised funds of around $250 from big companies from the crypto industry. Huobi Incubator and KuCoin Ventures were among the fund’s contributors. As projects are accepted, the fund will deploy funds via incubation, investment grants, hackathons, and educational programs. 

Benjamin Rameau, the managing partner of TONcoin Fund, states that they are focusing on Web 3-related developments and are currently incubating a non-fungible token (NFT) and a decentralized exchange. He added that wallets, NFT marketplaces, and decentralized finance are all possibilities for the fund.

Unofficially, TON has been associated with Telegram, the privacy-focused messaging app, as its co-founder, Pavel Durov expresses support for TON and possible integrations on the Telegram app. 

According to reports, the DRC may also launch a new national stablecoin on top of TON blockchain. 

Other African countries have also reported CBDC projects, including Kenya, Ghana, and the Republic of South Africa. Ghana worked last year to build offline capabilities to support its potential CBDC. This was to encourage its use in all sectors of society.

Crypto status in Russia

Russia continues to work on issuing a new federal bill regarding the use of cryptocurrencies after they banned crypto payments in 2021. But only one year later, in mid-February 2021, the Bank of Russia launched the digital ruble trial. Russian citizens successfully transacted the digital ruble and the trial was a success. 

The digital ruble trial included 12 financial institutions and three of them have already successfully implemented the CBDC platform. During the first stage of the process, users will open digital wallets on the platform’s mobile application. They can also convert the fiat in their bank accounts into CBDC and use tokens for national transactions. 

The next stage of the trial is to test the digital rubles as a payment method in stores. More developments are planned for the CBDC that will enable users to use it as they use fiat currencies.