Remarks by Bo Li, IMF Deputy Managing Director At the seminar “Central Bank Digital Currency and Crypto Assets” in celebration of the 20-year Anniversary of the African Regional Technical Assistance Centre (AFRITAC) East
April 5, 2022
As prepared for delivery
I am delighted to join you today to celebrate the 20th anniversary of AFRITAC East and welcome you to this virtual conference, organized jointly by the IMF and the Bank of Tanzania.
To begin with, let me congratulate AFRITAC East for reaching this notable milestone and thank all of the member countries, which have achieved so much in building their institutions over the past twenty years. A special vote of thanks goes to the Tanzanian authorities for hosting the center and to our donor partners for their generous support.
AFRITAC East was the first of what are now six IMF regional capacity development centers in Africa. This was a major innovation in the way we participated in capacity building, and I think all stakeholders agree that it has paid handsome dividends. The center’s location in the region facilitates the provision of prompt, tailored, and sustained hands-on support. Through its workshops and peer-to-peer visit programs, the center promotes mutual learning as well as regional harmonization and integration. The center’s inclusive governance structure makes member countries a key part of the venture. And the close coordination with development partners helps to minimize duplicative CD efforts.
AFRITAC East has been able to adapt quickly to countries’ evolving needs, as has been demonstrated amply during the COVID-19 pandemic. But to remain relevant, the center must continue to be agile, assisting its members with the realities they face. That is why the center has been collaborating with IMF headquarters to step up its support on key emerging issues, including: building resilience to climate change; promoting inclusive growth; and leveraging fintech and digital transformation.
This brings me naturally to the topic of this conference—namely, crypto assets and central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs.
Crypto assets, as you know, are privately issued digital tokens that use cryptographic techniques. Bitcoin is perhaps the most famous example.
This asset class has grown rapidly. Market capitalization reached US$2.3 trillion by end-2021, and we’ve seen substantial action right here in the region, in such countries as Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, and Tanzania.
But there are risks. Insofar as their movements are correlated with those of other financial instruments, crypto assets could lead to the amplification of shocks. They could, in some circumstances, replace local currency as a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a unit of account—a risk which has been dubbed as “cryptoization.” And they can be misused for money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illegal activities.
Countries have taken different regulatory approaches to address possible financial stability threats—some completely hands-off, others with licensing regimes of various restrictiveness, and yet others banning these assets outright. There is an active debate going on worldwide regarding the right regulatory and supervisory options to employ. The IMF has made a strong call for a comprehensive, consistent, and coordinated global regulatory framework for crypto assets. It will be good to hear your perspectives on this during the conference.
Now let me turn to CBDCs.
Unlike crypto assets, CBDCs are issued by central banks and recorded as a liability of the central bank.
Central banks around the world are exploring the potential benefits and risks of CBDCs from various angles, including how a CBDC could improve the efficiency and safety of payments systems. If designed prudently, CBDC could reduce incentives for adopting crypto assets, and at the same time support public policy objectives such as efficiency and stability of the payment systems in the digital age.
The IMF recently did a stocktaking of six countries with advanced CBDC pilots, and three broad themes emerged.
First, objectives and needs for CBDC may vary across jurisdictions.
In some countries, CBDC is all about financial inclusion—consider, for example, island nations where a digital means of payment is needed given the cost and difficulty of getting cash to citizens spread across many islands. In other places, CBDC is about enhancing resilience—becoming an essential backup if private sector solutions fail. And in other countries with dominant private sector service providers, CBDC is also about promoting market competition.
Thus, central banks should tailor the design of CBDCs to meet their specific objectives and needs, reflecting country circumstances. There is no “one size fits all” approach.
Second, financial stability and privacy considerations are paramount for the design of CBDCs.
Central banks are committed to minimizing the impact of CBDC on financial stability, including the risk of banking disintermediation. The countries we studied offer CBDCs that are not interest-bearing—which makes CBDC useful, but not as attractive for savings as traditional bank deposits. We also saw limits on holdings across active CBDC projects—again, to prevent sudden outflows of bank deposits into CBDC.
Separately, privacy issues need to be considered carefully. One of the core features of cash is the relative privacy of cash transactions, and to be attractive, CBDCs also need to offer some privacy. But too much privacy can facilitate illicit financial flows. One way to balance these concerns is via a “tiered wallet” CBDC design, which would offer greater anonymity at lower levels of CBDC holdings. Such a design may also help promote financial inclusion, since customer onboarding and documentation requirements could be kept simpler at lower thresholds.
So, it’s vital that policymakers get the mix right between protecting privacy, promoting financial inclusion, and ensuring financial integrity.
Third, introducing a CBDC is a complex process requiring appropriate resources and capacity. Areas for further efforts may include new legal frameworks, new regulation, and public-private partnerships to ensure successful adoption, or the building of additional features.
This conference provides an opportunity to share country experiences and understanding about what might work and what pitfalls to avoid in regulating crypto assets and designing CDBCs. International coordination and collaboration remain vital in these rapidly evolving areas.
The IMF is playing its part in international efforts to develop appropriate policies, regulations, and standards, and we are gearing up to provide capacity development support to our members.
I wish you all a successful conference, and I look forward to the next twenty years of AFRITAC East’s journey!
IMF Communications Department
Phone: +1 202 623-7100Email: MEDIA@IMF.org