World’s first Central Bank Digital Currency payment successful- MAS lead the way

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) have been piloting several Blockchain use cases over the past few years. Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) was one of the key focus areas of Project Ubin – MAS’ Blockchain initiative. In September 2018, I had published my post on Singapore and their efforts around Blockchain.

With the five phased approach to Project Ubin, we may soon see a state issued digital currency. That would not only put Singapore ahead of its Asian peers, it may be a Global first.

We now have a global first. Just over a week ago, MAS and the Central Bank of Canada made an announcement that a transaction between digital currencies of the two central banks was executed successfully. The trial was performed with the help of Accenture and J.P.Morgan.

As the Blockchain narrative developed over the years, one of the key buzzword was decentralisation and disintermediation. However, in the last two years, we have seen permissioned Blockchains gain popularity.

The three dimensions of the Blockchain Trilemma proposed by Vitalik Buterin were, Scalability, Security and Decentralisation. Designers of Blockchain systems have to choose between these three dimensions. The rise of permissioned Blockchain indicates that Decentralisation would be the first to be compromised amongst the three dimensions.

There are several reasons why a central bank would launch a digital currency. In the case of the Petro, the rationale was largely to stay clear of sanctions and raise capital to pay back some of their debt.

Reserve Bank of India on the other hand is exploring CBDC as it would be a low hanging fruit after the mass (forced) adoption of the nation’s identity system – Aadhaar. A good model would be to link a CBDC to Aadhaar verified wallets to create accountability and traceability of cash in the economy.

RBI was also spending 7 Billion Rupees ($100 Million) per year in just creating and managing the Rupee. There would be huge savings if they launched a CBDC.

Getting back to the SGP digital currency. Some key points to note are the following,

  • The exchange transaction happened between SGD and CAD.
  • The MAS network was built on the Quorum Blockchain and the Canadian network was on Corda.
  • The principle of Hash Time Locked Contracts (HTLC) was used to ensure an all-or-nothing guarantee. If one leg of the transaction fails to complete, the entire transaction is rolled back.
  • Interledger protocols can be used if parties were on different Blockchain networks.
  • Off-Chain transfer of hash were performed to initiate and complete the transactions.
  • The asset swap was performed using an intermediary, and a multi-currency support option was modelled in using this infrastructure.
Image Source

The picture above explains the HTLC framework used by this model. A report was published at the back of this initiative, describing several models that cross border settling systems could use.

The next wave of central bank blockchain projects can make further progress by bringing technology exploration together with policy questions about the future of cross-border payments

Sopnendu Mohanty, Chief Fintech Officer, MAS

The report also goes into the depths of the challenges in using HTLC and the potential alternatives being worked on by the Blockchain community. Like in most other Financial Services use cases of Blockchain, this transaction was also executed in a controlled environment.

CBDC are still in their infancy. This pilot could be followed up by collaboration across several central banks at the policy, governance, process and infrastructure levels. This would benefit the global economy at a scale never seen before. Let’s take stocks in a year. Watch this space.

Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Venture Capital investor at Green Shores Capital focusing on “Sustainable Deeptech Investments” and a podcast host.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

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