Central Bank Digital Currencies Could Fuel Bank Runs, BIS Says

A central bank-issued digital currency (CBDC) could fuel faster bank runs during periods of financial stability, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) said Monday.

The institution – considered by some to be the “central banks’ central bank” – argued those looking to develop and launch a wholly digital currency should “carefully weigh” the implications of doing so, especially as they relate to monetary policy and overall stability. In sum, the BIS noted that a currency of that nature “might be useful for payments but more work is needed to assess the full potential.”

“A general purpose CBDC could give rise to higher instability of commercial bank deposit funding. Even if designed primarily with payment purposes in mind, in periods of stress a flight towards the central bank may occur on a fast and large scale, challenging commercial banks and the central bank to manage such situations,” the BIS stated at the outset.

Later on, the report’s authors revisited the subject, outlining a hypothetical situation in which banks – even stronger ones – could face issues during a bank run thanks to the ease at which a depositor could move their funds by way of the digital currency.

The report explains:

“Depending on the context, the shift in deposits could be large in times of stress. A crucial element in such system-wide shifts is the stronger sensitivity of depositors to the actions of others. The more other depositors run from weaker banks, the greater the incentive to run oneself. If CBDC were available, the incentives to run could be sharper and more pervasive than today, as the CBDC would be the favoured destination, especially if deposits were not insured in the first place or deposit insurance was (made more) limited. Whereas weaker banks could experience a run, even stronger banks could face withdrawals in the presence of CBDC.”

“It would be difficult to stem runs under such conditions, even when providing large lender of last resort facilities,” the report adds.

The BIS has taken a somewhat middle-of-the-road view toward distributed ledger applications, expressing a belief through past reports that the technology is promising yet is unlikely to be used widely by banking institutions in the near-term. By contrast, its senior leaders have sharply criticized cryptocurrencies in the past.

Whether such concerns forestall any central bank-issued currency of this kind remains to be seen. As it stands, a number of institutions have looked at the idea of using some cryptocurrency elements as part of their digital money projects. Last week, Yao Qian, who heads up the People’s Bank of China’s research in this area, argued that some characteristics should be incorporated.

Piggy bank image via Shutterstock

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