LONDON — Britain is the latest country to join a global race toward central bank digital currencies.
“We’re launching a new taskforce between the Treasury and the Bank of England to coordinate exploratory work on a potential central bank digital currency,” U.K. Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said at a fintech industry conference on Monday.
In a separate statement, the Bank of England said such a currency would be a “new form of digital money issued by the Bank of England and for use by households and businesses” that exists alongside cash and bank deposits rather than replacing them.
The U.K. government hasn’t yet decided whether to introduce a digital version of the British pound, but said it would explore the “objectives, use cases, opportunities and risks” involved if it were to proceed. The Bank of England will also set up a unit within the institution dedicated to exploring a central bank digital currency.
It comes as several central banks race to figure out their own strategies for central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs. The rise of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has given new impetus to such initiatives, as well as the broader trend of declining cash usage.
Bitcoin surged to a record high of $64,829 last week ahead of the highly-anticipated debut from cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase. But the world’s most popular digital coin sank sharply over the weekend due to fears around regulation.
A spike in the value of meme-inspired token dogecoin, meanwhile, has led to concerns of a potential bubble in the cryptocurrency market. As of Monday, bitcoin was trading at about $56,740, up 3% in the last 24 hours.
Another factor driving central banks’ work on CBDCs is private stablecoin projects such as the Facebook-backed Diem Association and a controversial token known as tether. Such currencies attempt to peg their market value to some external reference, such as the U.S. dollar, to avoid volatile price swings that are common in most cryptocurrencies.
China appears to be charging ahead of other major countries on CBDCs. The People’s Bank of China has been carrying out a number of tests with the digital currency in major cities and a top official said Sunday that the central bank could trial the digital yuan with foreign visitors at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.