The Federal Reserve is continuing its research on the use of a central bank-issued digital currency (CBDC), but key officials are saying not to expect any Fed-issued digital dollars any time soon.
“That fundamental question of, ‘what are we trying to do with this’ is not clearly answered,” Fed Governor Randal Quarles said in a webinar on Tuesday.
The Fed is working with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to build and test a digital dollar in different hypothetical use cases. But whether or not the Fed ultimately adopts one is a separate question.
Although other central banks have communicated stronger interest in adopting digital versions of their currencies, Fed officials are cautioning that there are many risks associated with launching one.
One issue is privacy. If the Fed uses a blockchain to manage the distribution of digital dollars, users may have concerns about the central bank being able to access and track individual spending data.
Another issue is disrupting the banking system. If the Fed allowed users to pay for goods and services using a Fed-issued digital wallet, banks would be competing with the Fed itself for deposit funding. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said he is open to a “two-tier” system where the private sector manages the wallet, not the Fed.
There’s also the concern about whether or not the Fed has the legal authority to issue a digital dollar at all. Powell pledged that he would not launch one without explicit legislation from Congress authorizing the Fed to do so.
“You can expect us to move with great care and transparency in considering a CBDC,” Powell said on March 22.