Switzerland To Explore Stablecoins, Wholesale CBDC In New Tokenised Settlement Tests

April 17, 2023
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The Swiss central bank has confirmed that it will use stablecoins and wholesale central bank digital currency (CBDC) to test tokenised settlement models, in an attempt to study both public- and privately-issued tokenised money.

The Swiss central bank has confirmed that it will use stablecoins and wholesale central bank digital currency (CBDC) to test tokenised settlement models, in an attempt to study both public- and privately-issued tokenised money.

Speaking at a Swiss National Bank (SNB) event, board members Andréa Maechler and Thomas Moser said the latest round of tests will build on its earlier studies of wholesale CBDC under Project Helvetia.

Launched in 2020, Project Helevtia saw the SNB partner with major commercial banks, local interbank platform SIX Digital Exchange (SDX) and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS).

“Building on the insights gained, we intend in particular to further explore the operational basis that would enable the SNB to issue wholesale CBDC for settlement purposes if necessary in the future,” said Maechler and Moser.

“As part of the project, we will issue real wholesale CBDC on SDX for a limited time and test selected transactions with market participants.”

Maechler and Moser said the SNB is currently studying three models of settlement that could feature in a payments system that uses tokenised money.

Wholesale CBDC, issued by the SNB directly to a distributed ledger shared by commercial banks, is one of those models.

Maechler and Moser said the SNB will report its findings in “due course”, but also said that the SNB has yet to make a decision on whether to proceed with a full launch of wholesale CBDC.

“At this point, let us make it clear that this work is not intended as a declaration of the SNB’s intent to issue wholesale CBDC, or indeed to offer another settlement model,” they said.

“Rather, the point is to act prudently and proactively so that we can continue to fulfil our mandate in the future.”

Make stablecoins stable again

In addition to wholesale CBDC, the SNB said it will test the settlement of privately-issued stablecoins using distributed ledger technology (DLT).

As envisioned by the SNB, these private stablecoins would be issued by commercial banks and backed one-to-one by sight deposits at the SNB.

According to Maechler and Moser, regulated stablecoins that meet these criteria would be protected under bankruptcy law.

This would remove the risk of a “run” on the underlying collateral, which was the same process that led to the collapse of the TerraUSD stablecoin.

“We aim to examine ways in which private token money can be legally structured in such a way that, in the event of the bankruptcy of the token issuer, it would have a risk profile comparable to that of central bank money,” they said.

Mixing CBDC with RTGS

Another settlement model that has already been studied by the SNB, but is still under consideration, involves synchronising Switzerland's real-time gross settlement (RTGS) system with a distributed ledger.

In this model, a link to the RTGS system would synchronise the settlement of tokenised securities with the settlement of payments.

“Such synchronisation was shown to be technically feasible, but this model has significant disadvantages compared to integrated settlement, as DLT functionalities were limited,” said Maechler and Moser.

“As part of the project, we are currently examining whether these disadvantages can be minimised by adjusting the SIC system or the link itself.”

Swiss Payments Vision

The SNB is proceeding with wholesale CBDC and stablecoin tests under the banner of its Swiss Payments Vision.

Maechler and Moser said the vision aims to “harness the potential” of digitalisation and new technologies, while at the same time “maintaining security and confidence” in the payment system.

“This vision conceives the future of cashless payments in Switzerland as an efficient, reliable and secure ecosystem that is also fast and interoperable in terms of new payment solutions and new technologies, and across national borders,” they said.

In addition to examining how central bank money could be made available in a regulated token ecosystem, the SNB said it is moving towards instant settlement for retail payments around the clock.

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