Industry experts from around the world gathered in Toronto to discuss the future of money: is it digital, is it instant? The consensus: yes, but not always.
From real-time payment systems to contactless transactions to central bank digital currencies, money is going digital and instant. Representatives from BNY Mellon, Lloyds, NatWest, the Indian government and Buna shared their experiences and predictions on the subject.
Sarah Saigol from Lloyds noted that while instant payments are now pretty ubiquitous in the UK for the retail market, the same can not be said for corporate payments. The Faster Payments System only recently increased its transaction limit to £1 million and many corporates still use, and are happy to use, the slower BACS service.
As for cross-border corporate payments, Saigol questioned how much desire there is for a real-time option, when 98% already go through within 24 hours. This, she argued, is particularly true now that there are tools such as Swift gpi, providing firms with strong visibility into payments.
Mark Brant from NatWest concurred but said that in retail payments things are different. Relating a conversation with a colleague working in remittances, Brant says that the person told him that they do “chickens” – they help someone send a few dollars to their mother in another country so that they can buy chickens so that there is food on the table. In this case, instant can be vital.
Andrew Haskell from BNY Mellon cautioned against putting too much focus on CBDCs, arguing that while they do show promise, they are still a nascent instrument. There should be more focus, instead, on improving current options and working on the 19 building blocks for better cross-border payments outlined by the G20.
Sameer Shukla from the government of India predicted that wholesale CBDCs will take some time to gather momentum but was more optimistic for a retail version. While India’s UPI has proven extremely effective at promoting digital payments, a retail CBDC could still have a place for cross-border transactions.
Brant was sceptical of the benefits of a UK CBDC and warned against the rush to ditch cash. He cited his mother-in-law, who has dementia, as an example of someone for whom cash is vital.
Faisal Al Hijawi provided a perspective from Buna, a cross-order payments system backed by several Arab central banks. For him, interoperability is the key to real-time cross-border payments and the group is working with the likes of India and Egypt to widen its reach.
BNY Mellon’s Haskell identified three phases in the migration to real-time cross-border: National systems like FedNow, regional ones like Buna, and finally real inter-regional systems. However, he noted, we are still in the early stages and there is not yet any concerted top-down push.