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Public and Private Money Can Coexist in the Digital Age

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Public and Private Money Can Coexist in the Digital Age, SiliconNigeria

By Tobias Adrian and Tommaso Mancini-Griffoli

We value innovation and diversity—including in money. In the same day, we might pay by swiping a card, waving a phone, or clicking a mouse. Or we might hand over notes and coins, though in many countries increasingly less often.

Today’s world is characterized by a dual monetary system, involving privately-issued money—by banks of all types, telecom companies, or specialized payment providers—built upon a foundation of publicly-issued money—by central banks. While not perfect, this system offers significant advantages, including: innovation and product diversity, mostly provided by the private sector, and stability and efficiency, ensured by the public sector.

These objectives—innovation and diversity on the one hand, and stability and efficiency on the other—are related. More of one usually means less of the other. A tradeoff exists, and countries—central banks especially—have to navigate it. How much of the private sector to rely upon, versus how much to innovate themselves? Much depends on preferences, available technology, and the efficiency of regulation.

So it is natural, when a new technology emerges, to ask how today’s dual monetary system will evolve. If digitalized cash—called central bank digital currency—does emerge, will it displace privately-issued money, or allow it to flourish? The first is always possible, by way of more stringent regulation. We argue that the second remains possible, by extending the logic of today’s dual monetary system. Importantly, central banks should not face a choice between either offering central bank digital currency, or encouraging the private sector to provide its own digital variant. The two can coincide and complement each other, for example, to the extent central banks make certain design choices and refresh their regulatory frameworks.

Public-private coexistence

It may be puzzling to consider that privately- and publicly-issued monies have coexisted throughout history. Why hasn’t the more innovative, convenient, user-friendly, and adaptable private money taken over entirely?

The answer lies in a fundamental symbiotic relationship: the option to redeem private money into perfectly safe and liquid public money, be it notes and coins, or central bank reserves held by selected banks.

The private monies that can be redeemed at a fixed face value into central bank currency become a stable store of value. Ten dollars in a bank account can be exchanged into a ten-dollar bill accepted as legal tender to settle debts. The example may seem obvious, but it hides complex underpinnings: sound regulation and supervision, government backstops such as deposit insurance and lender last resort, as well as partial or full backing in central bank reserves.

Moreover, privately-issued money becomes an efficient means of payment to the extent it can be redeemed into central bank currency. Anne’s 10 dollars in Bank A can be transferred to Bob’s Bank B because they are redeemed into central bank currency in between—an asset both banks trust, hold, and can exchange. As a result, this privately-issued money becomes interoperable. And so it spurs competition—since Anne and Bob can hold money in different banks and still pay each other—and thus innovation and diversity of actual forms of money.

In short, the option of redemption into central bank currency is essential for stability, interoperability, innovation, and diversity of privately-issued money, be it a bank account or other. A system with just private money would be far too risky. And one with just central bank currency could miss out on important innovations. Each form of money builds on the other to deliver today’s dual money system—a balance that has served us well.

Central bank currency in the digital age will face pressures

And tomorrow, as we step squarely into the digital age, what will become of this system? Will the digital currencies issued by central banks be so enticing that they overshadow privately-issued money? Or will they still allow for private sector innovation? Much depends on each central bank’s ability and willingness to consistently and significantly innovate. Keeping pace with technological change, rapidly evolving user needs, and private sector innovation is no easy feat.

Central bank digital currencies are akin to both a smart-phone and its operating system. At a basic level, they are a settlement technology allowing money to be stored and transferred, much like bits sent between a phone’s processor, memory, and camera. At another level, they are a form of money, with specific functionality and appearance, much like an operating system.

Central banks would thus have to become more like Apple or Microsoft in order to keep central bank digital currencies on the frontier of technology and in the wallets of users as the predominant and preferred form of digital money.

Innovation in the digital age is orders of magnitude more complex and rapid than updating security features on paper notes. For instance, central bank digital currencies may initially be managed from a central database, though might migrate to distributed ledgers (synchronized registries held and updated automatically across a network) as technology matures, and one ledger may quickly yield to another following major advancements. Phones and operating systems too benefit from major new releases at least yearly.

In addition, user needs and expectations are likely to evolve much more quickly and unpredictably in the digital age. Information and assets may migrate to distributed ledgers, and require money on the same network to be monetized. Money may be transferred in entirely new ways, including automatically by chips imbedded in everyday products. These needs may require new features of money and thus frequent architectural redesigns, and diversity. Today’s, or even tomorrow’s, money is unlikely to meet the needs of the day after.

Pressures will come from the supply-side too. The private sector will continue innovating. New eMoney and stablecoin schemes will emerge. As demand for these products grows, regulators will strive to contain risks. And the question will inevitably arise: how will these forms of money interact with the digital currencies issued by central banks? Will they exist separately, or will some be integrated into a dual monetary system where the private and central bank offerings build on each other?

A partnership with the private sector remains possible

Keeping with the pace of change of technology, user needs, and private-sector competition will be challenging for central banks. However, they need not be alone in doing so.

First, a central bank digital currency may be designed to encourage the private sector to innovate on top of it, much like app designers bring enticing functionality to phones and their operating systems. By accessing an open set of commands (“application programming interfaces”), a thriving developer community could expand the usability of central bank digital currencies beyond offering plain e-wallet services. For instance, they could make it easy to automate payments, so that a shipment of goods is paid once received, or they could build a look-up function so money can be sent to a friend on the basis of her phone number alone. The trick will be vetting these add-on services so they are perfectly safe.

Second, some central banks may even allow other forms of digital money to co-exist—much like parallel operating systems—while leveraging the settlement functionality and stability of central bank digital currencies. This would open the door to faster innovation and product choice. For instance, one digital currency might compromise on settlement speed to allow users greater control over payment automation.

Would this new form of digital money be a stable store of value? Yes, if it were redeemable into central bank currency (digital or non-digital) at a fixed face value. This would be possible if it were fully backed by central bank currency.

And would this form of digital money be an efficient means of payment? Yes again, as settlement would be immediate on any given digital money network—just as it is between accounts of the same bank. And networks would be interoperable to the extent a payment from Anne’s digital money provider to Bob’s would be settled with a corresponding move of central bank currency, just as in today’s dual system.

This form of digital money (which we have called synthetic currency in the past) could well co-exist with central bank digital currency. It would require a licensing arrangement and set of regulations to fulfill public policy objectives including operational resilience, consumer protection, market conduct and contestability, data privacy, and even prudential stability. At the same time, financial integrity could be ensured via digital identities and complementary data policies. Partnering with central banks requires a high degree of regulatory compliance.

A system for the ages

If and when countries move ahead with central bank digital currencies, they should consider how to leverage the private sector. Today’s dual-monetary system can be extended to the digital age. Central bank currency—along with regulation, supervision, and oversight—will continue to be essential to anchor stability and efficiency of the payment system. And privately-issued money can supplement this foundation with innovation and diversity—perhaps even more so than today. Where central banks decide to end up on the continuum between private-sector and public-sector involvement in the provision of money will vary by country, and ultimately depend on preferences, technology, and the efficiency of regulation.

Tobias Adrian is the Financial Counsellor and Director of the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department.

Tommaso Mancini-Griffoli is a Deputy Division Chief in the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department.

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Digital Economy

Experts Call For Digital Scale-up Of African Creative Economies

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Experts Call For Digital Scale-up Of African Creative Economies, SiliconNigeria

Digital platforms in Africa should scale up to take advantage of the continent’s surging demand for creative content, said Africa Investment Forum Senior Director Chinelo Anohu, adding that the African Development Bank flagship entity is providing advisory services and investment support to creative players.

Anohu was speaking at a virtual “fireside chat” on Tuesday with Afreximbank President Benedict Oramah and Dean Garfield, Netflix’s Vice President of Public Policy. The Africa Soft Power Project organized the event, titled The New Face of African Collaboration. Omar Ben Yedder, Group Publisher & MD of IC Publications, moderated.

The dialogue was held against the backdrop of the recent coming into force of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). 2021 is also the African Union’s year of arts, culture and heritage. Discussions focused on the role of infrastructure and connectivity in advancing Africa’s creative industries, including film, textiles and design.

Oramah said that Afreximbank set up a $500 million fund in January 2020 to support Africa’s creative industries. The continent faces a challenge to effectively monetize its creative output. Once it does so, he said, innovation would follow.

The Africa Investment Forum, Anohu said, was working to promote content deals as well as digital infrastructure projects to advance creative industries, including support to smaller players. “At AIF 2019, we had a very interesting entrepreneur scheme which saw those that were not as big get the kind of funding they needed to get beyond getting a feasibility study done,” she said.

Support for intellectual property rights and equipping investors with the data they need to tackle negative perceptions about investing in Africa are key priorities for Africa Investment Forum, Anohu added.

Garfield agreed with Anohu that the AfCFTA would help address a number of the challenges to boosting Africa’s creative output, including uneven intellectual property protections, fragmented payment systems and inadequate human capacity in creative industries.

“Data is one of the African Development Bank’s strong points. They have a fantastic research division, and what we’re trying to do is mainstream that data culled from 55 countries and distill it in such a manner that the investors can easily access the information they need,” she said.

Netflix’s Garfield sounded an optimistic note about his company’s future trajectory in Africa, citing the continent’s youthful population and its rich storytelling tradition.

The Africa Investment Forum, championed by the African Development Bank and its founding and institutional partners, works to accelerate the closure of the continent’s investment gaps. The Forum currently has a growing portfolio of 118 deals valued at $114 billion.

The largest single foreign direct investment into Africa, the Mozambique Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Area 1 Project, to which the African Development Bank is contributing $400 million in financing, was structured at the Africa Investment Forum 2019 marketplace event.

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Digital Economy

Women Pivotal To Socio-economic Development And Bridging Digital Divide- Danbatta

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Women pivotal to socio-economic development and bridging digital divide- Danbatta, SiliconNigeria

The Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, has emphasized the important role played by women in the country’s socio-economic and political space while underscoring the need to empower them in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as an enabler for social change.

Danbatta stated this while delivering a goodwill message at a webinar organised by Zinari Communications Limited with the theme: “Mainstreaming Rural Women Enterprise Development into Digital Economy Initiative: The Opportunities, Strategies and Constraints,” which held on Tuesday, February 16, 2021.

According to Danbatta, who was represented by the Head, Online Media and Special Publication, NCC, Grace Ojougboh, there is no doubt that women have been historically central to socio-economic and political development of any nation and stressed the need  for nations to focus more on how ICT can be leveraged for increased empowerment for women.

He said: “There has been a general concern that unless the gender divide between men and women is specifically addressed, there is a risk that ICT may worsen existing inequalities between women and men which could create new forms of inequality.

“However, if the gender dimensions of ICT in terms of access and use, capacity-building opportunities, employment and potential for empowerment are explicitly identified and addressed, ICT can be a powerful catalyst for political, economic and social empowerment of women, and the promotion of gender equality.”

He advocated increased collaboration between public and private-sector stakeholders toward advancing gender equality and women empowerment, notably by encouraging young women and girls to pursue studies and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The EVC said the Commission will continue to play a front-seat role in driving the implementation of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy document (NDEPS), 2020-2030; the Nigeria National Broadband Plan (NNBP), 2020-2025 and similar policies aimed at increased connectivity to all the citizens to bridge gender digital disparity.

Danbatta said the Commission constantly provides the necessary infrastructure that will guarantee ubiquitous access to telecoms services through the implementation of these policies while listing other initiatives undertaken by the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), all aimed at boosting connectivity and provision of ICT tools among citizens, regardless of gender, across the length and breadth of Nigeria. He listed the initiatives to include the Community Resource centers (CRS), School Knowledge Centers (SKC), E-accessibility projects, among others.

“There is no doubt that these efforts will facilitate development of a vibrant digital ecosystem where rural women can play very important roles in our socio-economic and political space,” he added.

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Digital Economy

MTN Group drives future-fit workforce solution to match rapid digital change

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MTN Group drives future-fit workforce solution to match rapid digital change, SiliconNigeria

MTN Group has unveiled its a new Employee Value Proposition (EVP) entitled “Live Inspired” to drive agility, flexibility and future fit skills for its workforce.

Learning the lessons of the challenges brought about by COVID-19, MTN has adopted a refreshed, organisation-wide approach, which involves a move away from older, conventional ways of working and into the ‘new normal’ with confidence and optimism.

“For us, it’s really about the power of choice, we recognise that what our staff values is motivated by choices and flexibility. It is for this reason that our EVP is designed to cater to the various personas and preferences that inspires and helps people realize their true potential,” says Paul Norman, MTN Group Chief Human Resources Officer.

MTN has entrenched smart-working through principles such as anytime work, anywhere workplace and balanced work-life. Our programmes capitalize on the organic movement towards a digital-adopter mindset and flexi-workforce.

“As technology moves forward and our business converges, we need to do the same with our capabilities. Having the best talent is as important as having the best network,” Norman adds.

Talent convergence in line with the rapid pace of technological change is the way of the future, driving digital learning consumption growth indicating a natural shift towards upskilling and re-skilling. MTN’s digital aspirations is geared towards accelerating the creation of future capabilities, empowerment and agility at scale.

The EVP will support our reputation for innovation, customer-centricity and being a company that is driven by people who bring personal commitment and a range of skills and experience together for the benefit of our customers,” says Norman.

He says real growth is inspired by a purpose that advances individuals and impacts on organisations and communities. We aim to enable opportunities for individuals to be innovative, acquire skills and meaningfully impact on our customers.

MTN’s focus will be to create an inspiring environment for everyone to ‘activate one’s whole self’. This will be powered by genuine inclusion, respect for diversity, fair rewards, true recognition and personal flexibility to contribute most productively.

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