Jul 22, 2021 - Economy

The 81 countries exploring central bank digital currencies

A map of countries exploring digital currencies
Reproduced from Atlantic Council; Map: Axios visuals

Central bank digital currency (CBDC) is probably not top of mind for most global consumers. But we may soon have no choice but to think about it — since 81 countries, representing over 90% of global GDP, are now exploring the development of one.

Why it matters: The U.S. lags much of the world. It could miss out on the opportunity to take a leadership role in an increasingly likely global transition to some form of digital currencies.

  • "If the U.S. doesn't help standard-set and provide guidance on issues like privacy and cybersecurity, we could be headed into a fractured digital currency ecosystem that threatens the smooth operation of international finance," Josh Lipsky, director of the Atlantic Council's GeoEconomics Center, tells Axios.

Driving the news: The Atlantic Council, a think tank that will testify at a July 27 Congressional hearing on CBDCs, gave Axios a first look at its new interactive map showing just how many world governments are now considering it.

The backstory: CBDCs are digital versions of existing currencies — legal tender issued, governed and backed by a central bank.

State of play: China is furthest along among major global powers, having launched its pilot digital yuan in April.

  • A total of 16 other countries are in the pilot phase or have launched, and another 15 countries have CBDCs in development.
  • The U.S. is one of 33 countries still in the research phase.

What's next: Fed chair Jerome Powell has said that the U.S. central bank won't issue a CBDC without Congressional approval.

  • In response, Congressional committees have stepped up their inquiries. Tuesday's hearing is before the House Financial Services Committee and will focus on national security implications.

The bottom line: The U.S. doesn't need to create a digital dollar immediately in order to have an impact on the development of digital currencies, Lipsky says.

  • But it should engage with groups like the G7 and G20 nations to set standards for security and privacy, he adds.
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