“We are testing digital currency in near real conditions”

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The Swiss National Bank is convinced of blockchain technology. However, central banker Thomas Moser says there is no evidence yet that digital currencies are better than fiat money, as he explains in an interview with finews.com.

The first part of our exclusive interview with Thomas Moser was published on Wednesday. In it, the respected economist talks about the development of Bitcoin and the merits and weaknesses of blockchain. The second part of the interview revolves around the question of the introduction of digital central bank money.

Thomas Moser, in the first part of our interview, you stressed the importance of innovation. A digital franc – an e-franc – would also be such an innovation. Do you think that you, as a consumer, will ever use an e-franc?

I would like to say at the outset that the SNB does not intend to introduce such an electronic franc for consumers. For Switzerland, we have come to the conclusion that currently the risks outweigh the benefits compared to existing systems. But due to the more and more development of digital instruments, it is certainly possible that someday there will be something like an e-franc, but mainly for financial institutions only.

What is the real difference between a franc that you pay with a credit card and the e-franc?

This is the key question, and this is the reason why we, as a central bank, have no pressure to introduce an electronic franc. The advantages of the e-franc are not so clear. Today’s consumers can pay both electronically and in cash. But an electronic franc issued by the SNB would be free from counterparty risk, unlike the digital currency on the books of financial institutions.

Sweden is working specifically on the launch of the electronic crown, why not the SNB?

In Sweden, the situation is different from Switzerland in that cash disappears in everyday life.

“One of the advantages of cash is that you can use it to pay completely anonymously”

The more consumers turn to digital means of payment, the more likely it is that the question will arise whether central bank digital currency might be needed. However, this is not a problem for us at the moment, as cash is very widely used in Switzerland and is considered an indispensable means of payment.

Are there other reasons why the SNB is rather reluctant towards an e-franc?

In Switzerland, data protection and privacy are highly valued. One of the advantages of cash is that you can use it to pay completely anonymously. If, on the other hand, you pay digitally, a lot of data is generated. Not only financial data, but also data about what you are buying and where you are at any given time.

“The worst would therefore be if such an innovation did not work technically”

The introduction of digital central bank money should, of course, always include a discussion of what data is collected, how it should be protected and who has access to what data.

One of the strengths of the Swiss franc is the absolute confidence of the population in this currency. How would trust be created in the CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency)?

I am convinced that confidence in a central bank would theoretically transfer to a digital currency. If you trust the SNB, you trust the CBDC will work. Obviously, trust is a function of reputation, and reputation is accumulated past experience. That is why it would be important for a CBDC to function perfectly before it is launched. The worst would therefore be if such an innovation did not work technically or if it was even hacked. Confidence would then be compromised. Therefore, like I said, there is no reason to rush with CBDC.

From the outside, the SNB was initially rather hesitant towards the CBDC. Why was this the case?

We are very interested in the security of the financial infrastructure. In addition to the reasons already mentioned, this also somewhat limits our willingness to experiment. We want to enable innovation in payment transactions, but new concepts and products must first prove their worth.

“The definitive proof that this new system is better than the old one is still pending”

Hence the “Helvetia” project, in which we are studying the possibilities of a digital currency for payments between financial market players. What we have proven in the first phase of the “Helvetia” project is that you can provide exactly the same services with DLT as with traditional infrastructure. It works wonderfully – but not a lot better. Other central banks like the Bank of Canada have had the same experiences as us and the final proof that this new system is better than the old one is still pending.

How do things look from the point of view of the financial center?

You will need to ask the financial institutions directly. But it is conceivable that it could translate into efficiency gains for banks in certain areas, for example by simplifying the processing of purchases and the management of securities. It’s easy to share data on the blockchain and automate processes. It remains to be seen whether this technology will actually lead to the hoped-for efficiency gains. However, it is important for us to have a good understanding of the impact of this technological change.

What do you hope to learn from the second part of the “Helvetia” project?

We’re going to work and set up the digital currency for the financial center in such detail that we could theoretically use it. It is still the last kilometer on both sides, that is to say for the banks and also for us.

“We are under no pressure to launch a CBDC”

What we are also looking at in more depth is what such a system would look like in cross-border payment traffic and what other legal issues need to be clarified. The advantage of “Helvetia” lies in the conditions under which we experiment. Since the SDX digital exchange wants to launch its platform this year, we can test the CBDC in a near real environment. This sets our project apart from the pure research projects of other central banks.

But you are not yet ready to implement CBDC?

No. For us, this is only a feasibility study. From our perspective, the development of SDX and our CBDC project are proceeding independently. SDX does not need a CBDC to be put online. And for our part, we are under no pressure to launch a CBDC for financial institutions.

How many resources does the SNB put into the development of CBDC?