In 2023 we continued to cover cash, payments and Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). This article provides a swift summary of the year that was.
Editorials: Our editorials ranged from making the case for cash (time to reframe it and cash as the backstop to individual freedom) to the weaknesses of digital payments, the challenges of CBDCs, and whether the cash community should think differently about them, and the opportunities for cash in the Metaverse. We wrote about the changing role of Issue Directors and just how important the role is.
Event coverage: we summarised elements from seven events in 2023:
World Banknote Summit (February)
Silk Road Payments Conference (March)
Currency Conference (May)
CBDC Conference (August)
Future of Cash conference (September)
ATMIA Europe and Emerging Market Cash ATM seminar (October)
Retail Bank Transformation summit
In 2023 cash has shown growth overall but with transaction volumes under pressure. Central banks have conducted considerable research on cash usage and have started to move to ensure continued access to cash, including legislation. There has been considerable focus on efficiency and resilience.
Usage: In March 2023 the IMF concluded that cash usage was falling globally. In May the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) issued a paper that cash was recovering and holding on. In September Antti Heinonen found that cash volumes continued to increase almost universally around the world. At the end of the year, UK data showed that the number of cash transactions had actually started to increase. A somewhat mixed picture with the BIS, perhaps, having what feels like a reasonable conclusion.
A number of central banks published or spoke about calculating the demand for cash, particularly the Bank of Israel at the Currency Conference in May, the IMF in June and in August a Banque de France paper.
The Central Bank of Kenya published an analysis of what happened when it demonetised.
The need for cash: This was a recurring topic during the year. The thinktank Cash Essentials has led on this, culminating with the September Future of Cash conference, but the International Currency Association also issued recommendations in March to central banks about safeguarding cash, and at the Currency Conference in May the Bundesbank and the European Savings and Retail Banking group spoke about the future of cash.
The Dutch National Bank (DNB) published research on who actually needs cash, Banque de France on whether the French love cash and the Bank of Canada on cash usage in Canada. Munich RePEc published an article on the importance of emotion in making payment decision. In January we covered a story with the headline, ‘When is money real? When it hurts to pay.’
Brett Scott made the powerful case that arguments for cash are missing the mark because they are framed in the language of advocates of the ‘less cash’ lobby. The narrative needs to be reframed to promote cash positively, particularly where cash has substantive advantages.
Access to cash: 2023 saw considerable work by central banks on maintaining access to cash in ‘less cash’ countries. The European Commission consulted on legal tender definitions and the European Central Bank (ECB) simultaneously made moves to reduce further the cash limits and took steps to ensure access to cash.
The Dutch Treasury announced plans to legislate for access for cash and the UK has enacted legislation. Hungary legislated on minimum requirements for currency infrastructure. Sweden continued its work to safeguard cash and Denmark announced changes to its notes in ‘order to keep them’.
While the ECB has talked about the need for acceptance of cash, other central banks have shied away from taking steps on this.
Resilience and efficiency: At ATMIA’s Europe and Emerging Market’s Cash ATM seminar in October, Bancomat laid out the reality of delivering cash infrastructure in Sweden. Brinks (outsourcing ATM services), Diebold Nixdorf (shared banking) and Paycorp (diversification) offered new ways for cash management companies to work.
G+D laid out what it described as the ‘hyper-efficient’ cash cycle. Bank Negara Malaysia reported at the Silk Road Conference on how they have introduced automated cash centres and CashInfraPro shared its work with the Central Bank of Kazakhstan on its new cash centre. Geldmaat described at the ATMIA event how a utility ATM company works. In May the International Association of Currency Affairs (IACA) held a discussion meeting on how to deliver a resilient cash cycle.
We covered recurring themes in the payment space, many of them negative – constant and widespread legal action against payment fees, the scale, cost and reach of digital payment crime, the very real challenges of financial inclusion, outages raising concerns about resilience, branch closures etc.
Government digital payment support: A number of central banks issued payment studies and/or strategies – Australia, Canada, the ECB, Bank of England, Sweden. There has also been a stream of stories about government’s taking action to increase digital payments with the most frequently mentioned countries being Brazil (PIX), Ghana, India (subsidising and legislating to support its Universal Payments Interface UPI), Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
The IMF published an article praising India’s digital infrastructure. India has been strongly promoting UPI outside of India.
M-Pesa’s expansion into Ethiopia has been much reported, as have a stream of initiatives by AliPay and WeChat Pay to extend their payment reach into their Asian neighbours, and beyond.
The European Payments Initiative, after a number of setbacks over the last few years, appears to be gaining momentum once more. Although its ambitions have been scaled back from a direct and full attempt to replace Visa and Mastercard, it is again seeking to offer pan-European solutions.
Central banks and other commentators continue to link cash with illegal activity, particularly tax avoidance, despite the evidence that digital payments are the criminals favoured way of benefiting from criminal activity.
Alternative payment methods and new technology: It is important to keep abreast of our changing world. To that end, during the year we wrote about mobile payments at the point of sale, account-to- account payments, the use of QR codes in payments, DeFi (decentralised finance), Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Machine Learning, stablecoins and the new cryptocurrency tracker.
We start 2024 with a summary of some of the recent AI & CB (Artificial Intelligence and Central Bank) online conference held in December 2023.
CBDCs had another big year with almost constant announcements of new pilot projects and reports on work done. While Wholesale CBDCs have seen substantive trials taking place, Retail CBDC work remains more experimental.
The key focus for CBDCs is currently the use case with the need to answer ‘why’ a core action. This has become more urgent as the libertarian communities, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon countries, have now started to politicise opposition to CBDCs.
In that context, we have written about privacy, the vital importance of CBDC use cases, the need for a very good reason for CBDCs, the usefulness of CBDCs in high inflation and in a crisis, and, from a Danmarks Nationalbank CBDC event, that it is all about trust.
Coverage also included the need for and delivery of an offline capability, CBDCs as public infrastructure for innovation, understanding the impact of retail CBDCs on banking and how CBDCs impacts monetary policy.
Articles about lessons learnt from introducing a CBDC in China and securing your reputation when issuing a CBDC touched on the need to get the communication and launch of a CBDC right. We have written about the Digital Dollar project, the innovation potential of the e-Krona, expanding the use of the e-CNY in China and lessons learned from Ghana’s pilot.
As the BIS and IMF have added to their library of CBDC literature, for example the IMF’s CBDC virtual handbook, we have covered the key points.
In CBDC news we have also kept a record of many of the pilot projects brought to market.
Although sustainability is more mainstream to sister publication Currency News™, we have written about the ABC of carbon offsetting, Pakistan’s update to its banknote fitness standards, BioBanknote’s work on composting and the progress of the UK’s Cash Industry Environmental Charter’s group work on reducing the impact of cash in the cash cycle.