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Retail CBDCs: what’s in it for the banks?

by uma
Editorial & Advertiser disclosure

 

 

Jeremy Boot, Product Strategist at Temenos 

Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) – a digital form of central bank money – are firmly on the radar of Central Banks globally.On one hand there is pressure to participate, coming from customer expectations, the competitive market, and possibly the state in the form of regulation. If retail CBDCs are launched, they will likely be an intrinsic part of a country’s financial system and banks will be obliged to follow.

But what could banks get out of this and how can they monetise it? 

Making customers pay for CBDC payments would be a major dis-incentive for uptake. No-one wants to pay fees for paymentstoday!But in many countries, we do pay for access to cash in the form of ATM fees. So it could be that banks charge small fees for CBDC conversion services. Or they might only charge the businesseswho are receiving CBDC and would need depository and exchange services.Such charges might be offset by reduced merchant transaction fees compared to credit card networks, assuming the central banks make the CBDC network cheapor free to use.

Then as CBDC progressively replaces cash banks may be able to save money on infrastructure and the logistics required to support physical cash. 

Furthermore, we would likely see new services evolve that could be monetised. With fast settlement times CBDCs could open new possibilitiesand efficiencies in the way liquidity is managed.Privacy rules permitting, transactional data could allow insights to new trendsand allow positioning of new products. Future use cases around automatedpayments– thinkIoT such as smart cars with automatic payment for recharging or parking – would require wallets and infrastructure to gain access to the CBDC network that could be charged for.

There is also the question of future readiness, being ready for other potential use cases such as if CBDC was ever expanded to commercial bank loans, or just keeping an open door to yet to be thought of uses.

 

Assuming banks do then participate in CBDC networks, how would thisfit into their banking model?

CBDC systems

First let’s have a quick look how CBDCs are being built. This is a vast topic in itself (see this excellent Oliver Wyman & AWS paperfor a detailed look) but a few key points are worth noting.

Underpinning everything is of course the CBDC network. It’s where the central bank mints, issues and controls the CBDC, and where data storage, transaction processing, and the governance model reside.Thetrend is towardsdistributed ledger technology (DLT), although centralisedCBDC systemssuch as in China also exist. For DLT systems intermediaries connect to the network through node infrastructure.

Then there are different types of wallet. Non-custodial wallets hold all information (such as private keys) required for a userto sign their own transactions. The downside of this kind of wallet is – like a physical wallet – if you lose your phone, without proper backup you could lose your assets. They are best suited to small amounts.

Custodial walletson the other hand delegate transaction signing responsibility to an intermediary who manages connectivity to the DLT ledger. This kind of wallet can still support bearer instruments when assets are held within a segregated(as opposed to omnibus) structure, that is,with customer-specific on-ledger accounts. If for any reason the bank failed, those assets could be traced and recovered. 

CBDC services in banks

As a first step central banks may well mandate creation of generic wallet apps for their populations. The challenge in a standalone app however is the customer registration and payment to gain initial access to CBDC, all potential causes of friction.

So we could see such apps become white-labelled by banks to facilitate integration to the existing financial system, and as adoption grows, the embedding of custodial wallets directly into existing mobile banking apps.

Banks can provide origination capabilitiesto support customers’opening walletsand on-ledger accounts. With some CBDCs we see requirements for multiple wallet tiers with different balance limitsoffering varying degrees of privacy and imposingdifferent levels of KYC. Banks are ideally placed to support and manage this complexity.

Then the key advantage for banks – they can provide slick conversion facilities to allow users to link their deposit accounts and easily ‘top-up’ or ‘cash-out’ their wallets as and when they want. In this way they can provide an integrated experience, aggregate holdings across deposits, savings, loans, cards and CBDC – all in one place. They have ready-to-go customer-facing support services to help in case of customer difficulty, for example if transactions fail due to imposition of limits.

On the back endthe bank can orchestrate CBDC issuance and redemption with the central bank to their vault account and manage their liquidity.They have the expertise to handle the processing for customer conversions – fund reservation, balance checks, the on-ledger CBDC transaction from the banks to the customer’s account, and finalising deposit balances. They can provide depository services for businesses accepting CBDC. They canoffer payment processing and AML controls, where these are not offered at CBDC network level.

Modern banking platform

In short, there are several potential CBDC touchpoints where banks may act.Yet for banks to fully unlock the potential requires a modern, composable, banking platform. A platform that can scale for the banks business. That allows for the straightforward addition of new products and the robust flexibility to enable the processing required for CBDC. And that brings an open architecture to facilitate integrationssuch as with the DLT nodes. 

This is a fundamental first step for banks to fully gain access to the potential opportunitiesthat digital currencies will bring.

Summary

The digital payments space is ripe for innovation and CBDCs are gaining momentum globally as one option to fill that need. Commercial banks are expected to be key participants in these networks as they emerge, providing accessibility to CBDC and supporting adoption by the wider population. Banks can look to this new technology as an opportunity for investment and development of new products and services as the world moves forward into theera of digital currencies.

 

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