BIS Innovation Hub to Focus on CBDC, DeFi Experimentation This Year

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), an umbrella group for central banks, is going all out on central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and decentralized finance (DeFi) research this year.

According to a statement published Tuesday, BIS is planning projects to explore CBDCs, next-generation payments systems, DeFi and green finance through its Innovation Hub in 2022.

CBDCs and improvements in payments systems continue to be an area of exploratory focus, accounting for 13 out of 17 projects that were active in 2021 or will be launched in 2022, according to the statement.

At the end of last year, at least 64 central banks were exploring a retail CBDC, according to the CBDC Tracker. Of those, 20 have been launched or tested or were in the very advanced exploration stages. China has been trialing a digital currency, the eCNY, over the past year, running transactions worth around $9.7 billion. Last October, Nigeria’s central bank launched the eNaira, while the European central bank kicked off a two year experiment into a retail CBDC. Last week the U.S. Federal Reserve published a discussion paper on the benefits and risks of a U.S. implementation.

The BIS Innovation Hub has been on a growth streak, setting up research centers in Hong Kong, London, Stockholm, Singapore and Switzerland in the last two years. All of them will be working on at least one project related to CBDCs.

One London project, for instance, will look at how individuals and businesses can benefit from the development of CBDCs, while a second will develop a platform supporting applications with retail CBDCs.

In November 2021, BIS helped the New York Federal Reserve to set up a fintech research wing, also focusing on projects to do with CBDCs and stablecoins. In early January, BIS brought in CBDC expert Raphael Auer as the head of the Innovation Hub’s European region.

Last year, the global head of the Innovation Hub, Benoit Coure, signaled central banks across the world to start working on CBDCs.

CBDCs will take years to be rolled out, while stablecoins and crypto assets are already here. This makes it even more urgent to start, Coure said in September.

As for DeFi, details are sparse, but a new project at the Hong Kong center plans to explore whether DeFi technologies including blockchain, tokenization and smart contracts, can improve financing for small and medium enterprises, a historically underserved market segment.

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