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CBDCs for the People

With the rapid adoption of digital payment technologies, central banks have an opportunity to explore reforms and new tools, including by issuing their own digital currencies. Provided that policymakers get the design right, a CBDC could go a long way toward improving financial inclusion and driving innovation.

THE HAGUE/BASEL – Central banks around the world are considering whether to issue their own digital currencies. While financial inclusion is often cited as a key motivation, this outcome is not automatic. Precisely how can central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) be designed and implemented to ensure that “unbanked” people have access to essential financial services?

According to the World Bank, 1.7 billion adults worldwide are unbanked. With no access to services from the formal financial sector, they are forced to resort to alternatives, often at significant cost or risk. Such financial exclusion entrenches poverty, limits opportunity, and prevents people from protecting themselves against hardship. It stifles hope for a better future.

Financial inclusion starts, but does not end, with the ability to make and receive payments. People need a fast, secure, and cheap way to transfer money. To date, central banks have largely met this need by providing the most inclusive form of money we currently have: cash. But using cash exclusively leaves the unbanked outside the formal financial system and without the data and transaction trail needed to readily access financial services. This can make it much more difficult for small businesses to build savings and gain access to credit.