What If All Governments Agreed Digital Currencies Were Good?

Below, Finance Monthly takes a deeper look at the global response to cryptocurrencies.

Ralf Gladis, CEO of Computop, answers questions surrounding regulation and global consensus, with some interesting pointers on privacy and trade therein.

Cryptocurrencies are expected to reach a major turning point in 2019, but they still attract a great deal of controversy. There is no doubt that the digital currency market is growing, and fast, but support from the institutions that matter is far from consistent.

In November, Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF called for governments to consider offering their own cryptocurrencies to prevent fraud and money laundering. Governments, by contrast tend to err on the side of caution, with the vast majority sceptical of what they see as the ‘Wild West of crypto-assets‘ in which investors put themselves at unnecessary and heightened risk. In part this is because a core role of government is to prevent turmoil in central systems, however many have acknowledged that cryptocurrency has a momentum that cannot be ignored and that regulation could help to bring about a more sustainable and less volatile crypto environment.

The scenario is changing all the time, and it is worth considering what would actually happen if all governments agreed that digital currencies were good:

  1. Currency formats: If all governments loved crypto currencies they would probably not love the same currency, so if one country introduced Bitcoin and another Ethereum, we would then be faced with the difficulties of handling the exchange.
  2. Economic Policy: The value of money is a playground for politicians of all sides. Expanding the availability of money, for instance, leads to devaluation of a currency which is supposed to help export-orientated economies when selling goods and services abroad. Such policies can only work if a government has the sole power to expand or decrease the amount of money within its own economy. No central bank would be willing to give that power away. That’s why we would end up with many crypto currencies in different countries.
  3. Regulation: It‘s vital for a government to avoid money laundering, fraud and tax evasion. This is simply necessary to protect the country from financial crime and to comply with international rules. Therefore, a crypto currency would be regulated by each country’s central bank according to current local requirements for Anti Money Laundering (AML) and Know-Your-Customer (KYC).
  4. Cash: Despite the availability of crypto alternatives we wouldn’t get rid of cash quickly. With no experience of what a non-cash society means, there are huge risks simply because of a fascination with a new technology. What about people who are travelling abroad, or those who are unbanked?
  5. Privacy: A crypto currency can ensure privacy. However, it can also be designed to be open and very transparent. If crypto currency was THE new currency it would need to be transparent to regulators and criminal investigators. If the design were open to government access this could cause a privacy nightmare. Currently, payment data is distributed over many issuing and acquiring banks. Accessing this legally is not easy and requires a judge. A large transparent crypto currency database which is open to governments sounds like an invitation for misuse by government agencies that might mean well but would do ill anyway.
  6. Trade: B2C transactions require payment schemes that act as a mediator between merchants and consumers. Schemes like Visa and MasterCard have established a worldwide rule-set that balances the interests of merchants and consumers. What if a fraudster used a fake identity and the actual consumer required the merchant to pay back his money? What if a consumer sent back a few products and required a partial refund? And if the merchant failed to react? Many such exceptional but nonetheless possible scenarios are the reason why issuing and acquiring banks have to enforce the rules set by Visa and MasterCard. That also applies to other payment systems like American Express, Discover and PayPal who set and enforce their rules themselves directly with both consumers and merchants. B2C payment needs schemes. In that respect it doesn’t matter whether the currency is digital, physical or crypto.
  7. Ecology: Several central banks have already tested crypto currencies. The result was devastating. For large scale use crypto currency is much too slow and requires too much energy and storage consumption to be feasible.

It looks like there is still a lot of work to be done before crypto currency gets anywhere near to being acceptable to governments.

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