The hype around central banks, digital currencies, and blockchains

Central banks and blockchainThere has been a lot of hype around central banks, interbank payments, blockchains, and central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), but the narrative has become confusing and often misses the point.  What’s going on?  Actually two independent things are being actively explored:

  1. Decentralisation of interbank payment systems
  2. Wider access to digital central bank money (Central Bank Digital Currencies – CBDCs)

I aim to explain them both in this post.

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A gentle introduction to interbank payment systems

How do banks pay each other?  In most countries, when banks want to transfer money to each other, perhaps upon instruction from a customer, they don’t put bundles of banknotes in vans, they pay each other digitally.  How does this work?

This post is intended as a primer about payment systems and explains correspondent banking, nostros, real time gross settlement (RTGS) systems and deferred net settlement (DNS) systems.  It supports other posts where I discuss decentralisation of these systems using distributed ledgers.

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Blockchains and cyberwar: Why the next wave of interbank settlement systems will be decentralised

Currently a number of central banks around the world are exploring two things:

  1. A decentralised interbank payment system
  2. A central bank digital currency

Though often conflated, these are slightly different concepts.  You can decentralise your interbank payment systems without allowing the public to have digital access to the central bank’s balance sheet, and vice versa.

This short post is about the first set of experiments: decentralising the interbank payment systems.

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Confused by blockchains? Revolution vs Evolution

Confused by blockchains? Revolution vs Evolution

This article attempts to explain the difference between the revolutionary disruptive innovation of bitcoin and the evolutionary efficiency innovations of industry workflow tools, and why calling them both “blockchains”, even as a generic term, is incredibly confusing.
Cryptocurrencies vs Industry Workflow Tools

For the rest of this post, I will use the phrase “industry workflow tools” instead of industry blockchains, as some of the emerging solutions being proposed in this space are not blockchains (eg, R3’s Corda is not a blockchain but Digital Asset’s solutions are – however, both companies are proposing industry workflow tools).

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