IMF chief urges more proactive push for central bank digital currencies

By Marc Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – The head of the International Monetary Fund has urged countries to make a more proactive push to develop central bank digital currencies (CBDC).

Eleven countries, including a number in the Caribbean, and Nigeria, have already launched CBDCs. Around 120 others are exploring them, although progress and approaches differ widely and a few have even abandoned the idea altogether.

“We may be at a point where the public sector needs to offer a little more guidance,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in a speech in Singapore.

“Not to crowd out, not to disrupt,” she added. “But to act as a catalyst, to ensure safety and efficiency – and to counter fragmentation.”

She made her remarks as the IMF published the first instalment of a “virtual handbook” on CBDCs, designed to help countries with the design and set-up process and ensure that the new technologies are globally interoperable.

Supporters say CBDCs will modernise payments with new functionality and provide an alternative to physical cash, which seems in terminal decline.

But questions remain as to why they represent an advance when current systems are already capable of many of the proposed benefits, and countries such as Nigeria that have already launched CBDCs are seeing very low uptake among the public.

Georgieva said that with technology advancing so rapidly, countries needed to push ahead with development now to avoid getting caught out in future.

“If anything, we need to raise another sail to pick up speed,” she said, likening the efforts to a nautical journey. “The world is changing faster than most imagined”.

(Reporting by Marc Jones; Editing by Paul Simao)