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Reimagining money in age of crypto, central bank digital currency

BY: IMFBlog

The recent plunge in crypto assets has left investors numbed by losses and surely in doubt. But the future of money is undoubtedly digital.

The question is, what will it look like? In our latest issue of Finance & Development, some of the world’s leading experts try to answer this complex and politically charged question.

Of course, digital money has been developing for some time already. New technologies hope to democratise finance and broaden access to financial products and services. A main goal is to achieve much cheaper, instantaneous domestic and cross-border payments. The gains could be especially great for people in developing countries.

Cornell’s Eswar Prasad takes us on a tour of existing and emerging forms of digital money and looks at the implications for finance, monetary policy, international capital flows—even the organization of societies.

Not every form of digital money will prove viable. Bitcoin, now down nearly 70 percent from its November peak, and other crypto assets fail as money, says Singapore’s Ravi Menon, among others. While they are actively traded and heavily speculated on, prices are divorced from any underlying economic value. Stablecoins are designed to rein in the volatility, but many have proved to be anything but stable, Menon adds, and depend on the quality of the reserve assets backing them.

Crypto here to stay

Still, journalist Michael Casey argues, decentralised finance and crypto are not only here to stay but can address real-world problems such as the energy crisis.

Regulation is key. The regulatory fabric is being woven, and a pattern is expected to emerge, explain the IMF’s Aditya Narain and Marina Moretti. But the longer this takes, they argue, the more national authorities will get locked into differing regulatory frameworks. They call for globally coordinated regulation to bring order to markets, help instill consumer confidence, and provide a safe space for innovation.

Meanwhile, central banks are considering their own digital currencies. Bank for International Settlements chief Agustín Carstens and his coauthors suggest that central banks should harness the technological innovations offered by crypto while also providing a crucial foundation of trust. Privacy and cybersecurity risks can be managed with responsibly designed central bank digital currencies, adds the Atlantic Council’s Josh Lipsky.

Elsewhere in the issue, our contributors look at the benefits and drawbacks of decentralized finance, the future of cross-border payments, and how India and countries in Africa are advancing the digital payment frontier.

It’s too early to tell how the digital landscape will evolve. But with the right policy and regulatory choices, we can imagine a future with a mix of government and privately backed currencies held safely in the digital wallets of billions of people.