Swiss central bank believes retail CBDCs could destabilize financial system

Swiss National Bank (SNB) Chairman Thomas Jordan said the central bank “sees no need” to issue a central bank digital currency (CBDC) for public use despite the benefits of a wholesale version.

Jordan argued that the current financial market offers a wide selection of efficient and innovative payment methods through the private sector, rendering a retail CBDC unnecessary.

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Retail risks

The central bank chairman said that retail CBDCs could significantly disrupt the established monetary system and the symbiotic relationship between central banks and commercial banks, leading to extensive and unpredictable impacts on the overall financial framework.

Jordan added that the disadvantages of a retail CBDC likely outweigh any benefits, and introducing them could have “far-reaching consequences” on financial stability.

The Swiss central bank’s skepticism comes amid a growing interest in digital currencies and blockchain technology globally, with central banks exploring their impact on conventional banking and monetary policy.

Jordan also emphasized that the SNB upgraded its Swiss Interbank Clearing (SIC) system in November 2023 and the country’s most widely used banks will be able to use it to provide instant payments to retail clients by summer.

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SIC also provides a foundation for new payment instruments and programmable payments.

Benefits of wholesale

In contrast to the skepticism surrounding retail CBDC, the SNB has shown a more favorable attitude towards wholesale version designed to facilitate transactions between commercial banks using central bank funds.

The SNB has initiated a trial, dubbed Project Helvetia III, to explore the benefits of employing wholesale CBDC in financial transactions. The pilot project, involving major financial institutions such as UBS and Zuercher Kantonal Bank, has already seen successful settlements of bond issuances from Basel-Stadt and Zurich cantons, as well as the cities of Lugano and St. Gallen.

Jordan pointed out the efficiency and security benefits of settling transactions with central bank money through Project Helvetia III, stating that wholesale CBDC could be issued on third-party platforms to safely and efficiently settle tokenized assets.

However, he also noted that several questions must be addressed before making a broader decision on the implementation of wholesale CBDC in Switzerland, including issues related to overnight holding of digital central bank money, its remuneration, and the access privileges for financial institutions.

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Jordan also contextualized CBDCs within broader tokenization trends, suggesting that CBDCs could help settle various tokenized assets. The central is considering using the Swiss franc wholesale CBDC to settle monetary policy operations, such as repos or SNB Bills.

Posted In: Switzerland, CBDCs

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Author: Mike Dalton

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