The Future Of Money: A Speech By The Governor Of The Bank Of England

Last week the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, gave a virtual speech at the Brookings Institute on the future of money, technology, payments, digital currencies and central bank digital currencies. It’s an interesting speech, and worth sharing here. Enjoy.

Reinventing the Wheel (with more automation) Speech given by Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England at the Brookings Institute virtual event, September 3 2020.

Introduction

“As authorities and regulators, it is not in our interest to stop innovation”

Even central bankers can sometimes be accused of overusing language. So, the world is always more uncertain than ever – except that at the moment it really is. And, innovation is all around us except in the productivity numbers. One area where innovation really is around is the world of payments, the focus of my remarks today.

Innovation is a good thing. As authorities and regulators, it is not in our interest – the broad public interest – to stop innovation. Moreover, when supported by clear standards and expectations, innovation can support the pursuit of public interest objectives such as greater inclusivity and network resilience. Making such standards clear early is much preferred to attempting to claw back the ground later, and particularly if that comes after things go wrong.

This is the backdrop to innovation in payments, particularly in the area of so-called digital currencies, developed to offer new forms of “money”.

The way we pay for things is changing rapidly. As people increasingly turn away from transactional use of cash, which comes after the decline of cheques, innovative alternatives are flourishing. The focus of use of such innovation has so far more been within domestic markets. The picture of payments going across borders is less encouraging.

It can still take as long as 10 days to transfer money to different jurisdictions and the transaction cost can sometimes be 10% of the value of the transfer.

As part of a global G20, Financial Stability Board (FSB), and Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures (CPMI) initiative, the recent report on ‘Enhancing cross-border payments: building blocks of a global roadmap’ clearly sets out the challenges and frictions that exist. These include significant barriers to entry, long transaction chains with multiple currencies and intermediaries involved, legacy technology, limited operating hours, and high operating costs from compliance checks and funding requirements.

The CPMI Task Force on Cross Border Payments; involving the Bank of England, other central banks and standard setting bodies, has led this work, and has set out an ambitious plan for a joint public and private sector vision; global regulatory, supervisory and oversight coordination; improvement of existing payment infrastructures; enhancing data quality; and exploring the potential of new innovations.

But, with these benefits comes risks and challenges for authorities. We should treat this as being in the nature of change. The Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee has set out principles to respond to the significant changes in the payments landscape. Payments regulation should reflect the financial stability risk, rather than the legal or technological form, of payment activities. Firms that are systemically important should be subject to standards of operational and financial resilience that reflect the risks they pose, with sufficient data available to monitor emerging risks. These may sound like common sense points, but innovation is increasingly challenging regulators’ ability to ensure they are met.

Money and Cash

“It took [cash] 310 years to get to £34 billion [in circulation] and then just over 16 years to move on to £77 billion, and it has not fallen.”

Returning to the theme of central banks and their particular use of language, an important distinction we often refer to is between central bank and commercial bank money. Literally, this is the distinction between money which is a direct claim on the balance sheet of a central bank and money that is a claim on the balance sheet of an authorised and regulated commercial bank to which the local deposit protection rules apply.

Central bank money takes two forms. Reserve accounts are held by banks and other financial institutions and provide part of the stock of high-quality liquid assets and from that the balances used to effect the making and settlement of payments between themselves. They are also a crucial part of how central banks set monetary policy. Cash is the only form of central bank money accessible by the general public.

Another important term to bring in here is fiat money. Fiat money is state-backed money denominated in the national currency. Cash is a form of fiat money. Commercial bank money is only acceptable for wide scale use in the UK if it is denominated in sterling, convertible into sterling fiat money at par, and convertible on demand. Private providers of commercial money need to demonstrate they can meet these obligations so that individuals and business can have confidence in being able to regard different types of money as indistinguishable from cash, and be able to change it 1-for-1 on demand.

Until recently in the UK, cash accounted for the largest number of payments (by number not value).  But in the UK the use of cash in transactions was declining before the COVID pandemic. With the impact of COVID and the UK lockdown, cash withdrawal volumes have dropped further. At their lowest during the UK lockdown, cash withdrawals were 60% lower in April 2020 than a year before. Even as the UK lockdown has eased, cash withdrawal volumes have remained low – in July they were around 40% lower than the year before. The increased use of non-cash payments places even greater importance on payments systems, which underlies the work the Bank is doing to upgrade RTGS.

But, there is an increasing paradox in the area of cash. I can speak from personal experience on this as a former Chief Cashier of the Bank of England. When I became Chief Cashier at the start of 2004 the value of notes in circulation (NIC) was £34 billion. When I moved on in March 2011 it was £49 billion. Today it stands at £77 billion. It took 310 years to get to £34 billion and then just over 16 years to move on to £77 billion, and it has not fallen.

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