BIS report finds uneven progress, differing motivations in African CBDC adoption

Mobile money has been a strong competitor to central bank digital currency (CBDC) in Africa, but many of the continent’s central bankers have greater faith CBDC, according to a Bank for International Settlements (BIS) report published Nov. 24. African central bankers also saw greater utility in CBDC for implementing monetary policy than bankers in other parts of the world, according to the BIS.

Nineteen African central banks responded to the survey that served as a basis for the report, and all of them stated that they were actively interested in CBDC. Only Nigeria has issued a retail CBDC, the eNaira, meant for public use, while Ghana has a retail CBDC project in the pilot stage, and South Africa is currently running a project for a wholesale CBDC, meant for institutional use.

Provision of cash was listed by African central bankers as a major motivation for the introduction of a CBDC for 48% of respondents. A CBDC would save money on the printing, transportation and storage of banknotes and coins, they said. Financial inclusion was mentioned by all respondents. Less than half the adult African population was banked in 2021.

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Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for two-thirds of the world’s money transfers by volume and more than half of all users. The entry of CBDC into this field could improve competition and lower costs, the report notes. A CBDC would “support new digital technologies and their integration with the broader economy.”

Issuing and operating a CBDC is a daunting task:

“Here African central banks highlight aspects very similar to other EMEs [emerging market economies …]: network resilience, the cost, availability and combinability of technologies, and their scalability and functionalities. The operational cost of such a complex system is high.”

That was combined with cybersecurity concerns and the risk of low adoption in the minds of several of the central bankers. Bank disintermediation also ranked among the concerns, although bankers expected CBDCs to help implement monetary policy. Cost of remittances was a big concern for design.