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Legally speaking, how many central banks can issue digital currency?

Summary:
IMF researchers have reviewed laws of 170 plus central banks and it seems only 40 central banks can issue digital currency: Countries are moving fast toward creating digital currencies. Or, so we hear from various surveys showing an increasing number of central banks making substantial progress towards having an official digital currency. But, in fact, close to 80 percent of the world’s central banks are either not allowed to issue a digital currency under their existing laws, or the legal framework is not clear. To help countries make this assessment, we reviewed the central bank laws of 174 IMF members in a new IMF staff paper, and found out that only about 40 are legally allowed to issue digital currencies. To legally qualify as currency, a means of payment must be considered as

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IMF researchers have reviewed laws of 170 plus central banks and it seems only 40 central banks can issue digital currency:

Countries are moving fast toward creating digital currencies. Or, so we hear from various surveys showing an increasing number of central banks making substantial progress towards having an official digital currency.

But, in fact, close to 80 percent of the world’s central banks are either not allowed to issue a digital currency under their existing laws, or the legal framework is not clear.

To help countries make this assessment, we reviewed the central bank laws of 174 IMF members in a new IMF staff paper, and found out that only about 40 are legally allowed to issue digital currencies.

To legally qualify as currency, a means of payment must be considered as such by the country’s laws and be denominated in its official monetary unit. A currency typically enjoys legal tender status, meaning debtors can pay their obligations by transferring it to creditors.

Therefore, legal tender status is usually only given to means of payment that can be easily received and used by the majority of the population. That is why banknotes and coins are the most common form of currency.

To use digital currencies, digital infrastructure—laptops, smartphones, connectivity—must first be in place. But governments cannot impose on their citizens to have it, so granting legal tender status to a central bank digital instrument might be challenging. Without the legal tender designation, achieving full currency status could be equally challenging. Still, many means of payments widely used in advanced economies are neither legal tender nor currency (e.g., commercial book money).

We often ignore the role of law in currency matters.

Amol Agrawal
I am currently pursuing my PhD in economics. I have work-ex of nearly 10 years with most of those years spent figuring economic research in Mumbai’s financial sector.

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