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U.S. Must At Least Be ‘Fast Followers’ On Digital Currency, Panel Hears

Panelists discussed the benefits of a digital currency backed by the Federal Reserve.

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Dante Disparte, the chief strategy officer at digital financial services company Circle

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Industry and a House representative pushed the benefits of a central bank digital currency on Thursday, arguing that the regulated coin would help reduce banking costs and bring those who otherwise don’t use banks into the financial system.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., told an event hosted by the Center for Strategies and International Studies, that the digital coin, backed by other currencies, would bring in people who don’t use the banking system, which are about 5.4 percent of American households, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Roughly three times as many more are “underbanked,” referring to those who engage in costly nonbank services such as check cashing, money orders, payday lenders and international remittance services, the data show.

Himes, who said the U.S. is late to the digital currency game, added that by enabling these Americans to access this new digital system, this would lower prices for remittances and foster financial inclusion.

Separately, high-powered law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom explained in a recent memo that a CBDC could provide “safer, faster and cheaper payments.”

Dante Disparte, the chief strategy officer and head of global policy at digital financial services company Circle, said for countries that depend on foreign remittances, this is a pathway for accelerating currency receipts and increasing settlements.

Digital currency an international race

“We are seeing things we could not do with our money as compared to if our money stayed in physical or analog form,” said Disparte, adding on the international front, this is akin to the “space race.”

A panel at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies said earlier this month that the U.S. was falling behind China, a technology powerhouse, on the digital currency front.

“We don’t need to win every technological race out there, but we need to at least be fast followers,” said Himes. “Let us not find ourselves left behind on the innovation this could provide.” Disparte agreed with Himes that the U.S. is late to the game, but added his caution to the Federal Reserve’s cautionary approach in April to develop a potential CBDC for the U.S.

“Better get it right than to get it first or fast,” Disparte said.

Himes said his ‘elevator pitch for a CBDC rests on the benefits the digital dollar provides for innovation. In the United States’ potential development of a CBDC, the framework or result will not satisfy everyone, but it will be a platform of innovation.

Disparte added that digital dollar currencies such as “blockchain and stable coin will change the world when people start to think of it less as a digital challenge to the dollar and to the U.S. banking system, but rather as foundational technology” for U.S. innovation.

Editor’s note: A prior version of this story referenced a report by the law firm of Skadden Arps and said that the report had argued that a CBDC would allow for “safer, faster and cheaper payments.” The article has been revised to clarify that the Skadden report was not mentioned at the CSIS event, and to note that the the firm explained that a CBDC could allow for such “safer, faster and cheaper payments.”

Reporter Riley Haight studied sociology at Brigham Young University. She has a passion for human rights and effective communication. She embraces the opportunity to learn and interact with those from diverse backgrounds.

Blockchain

Payment Stablecoins Should be Regulated for Safety, FDIC Chair Says

“The main benefit…of a payment stablecoin is the ability to offer cost-effective, real-time, around-the-clock retail and business payments.’

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Screenshot of Martin Gruenberg, acting chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2022 – Martin Gruenberg, acting chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, on Thursday argued payment stablecoins would be safer if subjected to “prudential” – or risk-minimizing – regulation. 

Speaking at a web event hosted by the Brookings Institution, Gruenberg outlined risks associated with cryptocurrencies – including market volatility and fraudulent behavior – and floated the introduction of “payment stablecoins,” which he said could be used for retail transactions.

“There has been considerable discussion and public debate regarding the benefits and risks associated with the development of a payment stablecoin for both domestic and international, cross-border payment purposes that is subject to prudential regulation,” said Gruenberg. “The main benefit given for the development of a payment stablecoin is the ability to offer cost-effective, real-time, around-the-clock retail and business payments.”

The value of stablecoins, a type of cryptocurrency designed to reduce price volatility, is tied to a reserve asset, such as the U.S. dollar. Stablecoins were developed to trade between other cryptocurrencies without “the need for converting into and out of fiat currencies,” Gruenberg said. Panelists at previous events argued for stablecoins potential ability to increase financial inclusion in the country, and its importance in the technology race with China

Part of the criteria for such stablecoins, Gruenberg further said, is that they be backed dollar-for-dollar by high-quality, short-dated United States treasury assets, and for the transactions to be conducted on well-regulated permissioned ledger systems.

A permissioned ledger system allows moderators to regulate who can participate in the network.  In addition, participants are not anonymous, which, according to Gruenberg, is important for the safety of payment stablecoins. “The ability to know all the parties…that are engaging in payment stablecoin activities is critical to ensuring compliance with anti-money laundering and countering-the-financing-of-terrorism regulations and deterring sanction evasion,” he argued.

Because of the novel and complex nature of cryptocurrency, Gruenberg said, the FDIC should approach its regulation with thought and care. The FDIC issued a letter to its supervised banks that requested information on their cryptocurrency activities earlier this year, and Gruenberg said collaboration with banks would continue.

“There are important risks and policy concerns that will need to be taken into consideration before a payment stablecoin system is developed,” he said.

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Treasury to Release Three Reports on Digital Currencies in ‘Coming Weeks’

The reports will discuss digital asset implications on national security, financial inclusion, privacy and citizens.

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Photo of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen

WASHINGTON, August 29, 2022 – The Treasury Department announced last week it will be releasing a series of reports about the security and state of digital currencies in the U.S. “in the coming weeks.”

The department said three reports will be released and will discuss the impact of digital assets on issues such as national security, financial inclusion, privacy and on consumers, businesses, and investors.

The department’s August 24 announcement will fulfill a commitment required by a March executive order from the Biden administration that mandates within 180 days the department produce a report about the future of money and payments systems, including adoption of digital assets, and the implications of technology and those assets on the country’s financial system.

The Biden administration has put “a high level of urgency towards research and development efforts into a potential U.S. central bank digital currency,” Julia Smearman, director of international financial markets at the Treasury Department, said Wednesday.

At an event earlier this year, experts pondered whether the U.S. was falling behind other nations, such as China, when it comes to developing their own digital currency.

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Blockchain

IBM Exec Touts Blockchain Technology as Economy Accelerator

Blockchain will be commonplace in the economy ‘within the decade,’ the IBM executive said.

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Screenshot of Jerry Cuomo, IBM vice president of blockchain technologies

WASHINGTON, August 23 – Blockchain technology will speed up the economy in the coming decade in part by making the process of verifying information – such as user identity – more safe, streamlined and efficient, said IBM’s vice president of blockchain technologies at a Tech Forward event on Tuesday.

Jerry Cuomo described blockchain as an “odd duck” type of database with a few defining features, explaining that each blockchain has several administrators, that each transaction must be vetted by the administrators before being recorded to the digital “ledger,” and that transactions, once recorded to the ledger, are essentially impossible to change or delete. Cuomo also explained that each data point – or “block” – in each blockchain is heavily encrypted, which creates high levels of security and user trust.

Although blockchain is most widely associated with the transactions of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Cuomo said it can used for a wide variety of purposes – including identity verification, food safety and intra–supply chain communication. For example, Cuomo suggested that instead of making hundreds of accounts on various websites, a user may soon be able to have a single, blockchain-based identity that would be accessible whenever verification is necessary.

Cuomo said he believes food safety, for example, can be improved by using blockchain technology to document salient information about food conditions during transport. IBM Food Trust is a blockchain-based service that the company says allows participants to track a food product throughout a given supply chain and to ensure that it is safe, fresh, and sustainably sourced.

The company said it offers a wide variety of blockchain services. IBM’s supply chain service, for instance, promises “data integrity and faster reconciliation,” features that are made possible by the immutability of each blockchain record once it is entered into the ledger.

As for the timetable on blockchain technologies becoming commonplace in the economy? “I think its within the decade,” said Cuomo. “This is not an ‘if,’ this is a ‘when.’”

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