Is FedNow a CBDC?
Comment of the Day

April 17 2023

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Is FedNow a CBDC?

This article from the CATO Institute may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

What is FedNow?
FedNow is an instant payments system—a sort of update to Fedwire and the Automated Clearinghouse (ACH). Individuals will not have direct access to FedNow, but they will have access to faster payments so long as their bank or credit union opts into the FedNow network. Although creating FedNow was not necessary to achieve faster payments, one big difference with FedNow will be that payments will no longer be held up on weekends, holidays, or after traditional business hours.
FedNow is Not a CBDC
Astute eyes will likely recognize that FedNow does vaguely resemble a wholesale CBDC. Where a wholesale CBDC would be restricted to financial institutions for use during interbank settlement, FedNow would also be restricted to financial institutions. The difference, however, lies in their design. Where a CBDC is a currency, FedNow is a payment rail. If we think of dollars and cents as water, then FedNow is the plumbing that gets those dollars and cents where they need to go. In contrast, a CBDC would involve replacing the water itself in this analogy.

Under the current system, interbank settlement is performed on the Federal Reserve’s payment rails, thus ultimately affecting retail banking customers’ settlement times. It’s for this reason that Federal Reserve Governor Michelle Bowman said, “My expectation is that FedNow addresses the issues that some have raised about the need for a CBDC.” This statement should not be misunderstood to say that FedNow will take CBDCs off the table, but it does show that the Federal Reserve itself sees FedNow and CBDCs as distinctly different.

Eoin Treacy's view

There are many ways the Fed could speed up payments and transactions across the economy. Afterall, the USA is still somewhere cheques are commonplace. However, I think the reason they chose to use the FedNow protocol is to blunt the thrust of the digital currency movement. 

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