The US Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC. The institution may be considering following the lead of China, which plans to issue a central bank digital currency. Photo: AFP

A member of the United States Federal Reserve’s board of governors has signaled that the institution is more open to the idea of central bank digital currency than previously.

Lael Brainard – who chairs several Fed committees – made her remarks during a speech at a symposium on the future of payments at the Stanford Graduate School of Business on February 5, Cointelegraph reported.

In her speech, Brainhard said the Fed was “conducting research and experimentation related to distributed ledger technologies and their potential use case for digital currencies, including the potential for a CBDC [central bank digital currency].”

Brainhard cited a recent survey by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) revealing that as of January 2020, 80% of central banks worldwide are now engaged in some form of CBDC work. That figure is up 10% from the previous year.

Given the dollar’s important role in global markets, Brainhard argued that it is essential for the Fed to remain “on the frontier of research and policy development regarding CBDC.”

New digital payments, currency and settlement instruments are now proliferating, she observed, singling out Facebook’s Libra project and China’s forthcoming digital yuan as pivotal developments in the private and public sector worldwide.

Twice in her speech Brainhard defined the potential role for CBDCs as being that of maintaining a sovereign currency as the anchor of a given nation’s payment system.

And while she did not explicitly extrapolate this argument to a global scale in the case of the US dollar – whose key role extends well beyond nation-state bounds – she noted the potential impact of new private and public projects: “For smaller economies, there may be material effects on monetary policy from private-sector digital currencies as well as foreign central bank digital currencies.

“In many respects, these effects may be the digital version of ‘dollarization,’ with the potential for a faster pace and wider scope of adoption.”

Less than 18 months ago, Brainhard told the Digital Currency Conference in San Francisco that there was “no compelling demonstrated need for a Fed-issued digital currency.”

Developments like Libra have also prompted calls on the Fed to accelerate its rollout of its forthcoming real-time, 24/7 payments and settlements service, “FedNow.”

While not a full-fledged CBDC, the service is designed to enable consumers and enterprises to manage their funds more flexibly and complete time-sensitive payments outside of conventional banking hours.

Meanwhile, the Nikkei Asian Review reported that in mid-April the heads of six central banks and the BIS will hold their first meeting on developing their own digital currencies, which can serve as alternatives to Facebook’s Libra or the digital yuan.

The central banks of the UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada and Japan as well as the European Central Bank formed a working group with the BIS in January for joint research on CBDCs.

The central bankers aim to create standards that will govern how digital currencies are used to make international payments between the banks. Security measures will be another key topic.

Senior representatives of the banks and working-level officials will prepare their findings before the leaders meet on the sidelines of an international conference in Washington. The group intends to issue an interim report in June and a final report in the autumn.

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