James Wallis, Vice President of Central Bank Engagement at Ripple, recently shared his insights on the evolution of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) in an opinion piece published in CoinDesk earlier today. Wallis argues that the conversation surrounding CBDCs has evolved from a question of “if” to a matter of “when” they will become a part of the global financial landscape.
Prior to his current role at Ripple, Wallis served as the company’s Vice President of Global Sales Strategy & Operations from May 2019 until January 2021. Alongside his responsibilities at Ripple, Wallis founded 7e4 LLC in August 2018, a consultancy firm focused on offering strategic guidance and business advice, especially in the realms of blockchain, fintech, and Payments & Transaction Banking.
Prior to his tenure at Ripple, Wallis had a lengthy 17-year career at IBM. He was instrumental in launching IBM’s Blockchain business, overseeing its global sales and operations from January 2015 to July 2018. From January 2008 to June 2017, he also held the role of Vice President for the Global Payments Industry at IBM, where he was responsible for a multi-billion-dollar business segment within the payments sector. His various leadership roles at IBM further encompassed areas such as corporate development, software sales, and global sales operations.
Complexity in CBDC Development
Wallis emphasizes that creating a CBDC is a multifaceted endeavor that involves a delicate balance between policy considerations and technological requirements. If designed prudently, he believes that CBDCs can offer advantages such as increased resilience, better security, broader access, and reduced costs compared to traditional monetary forms.
The Three Core Pillars
According to Wallis, the success of a CBDC hinges on three main design pillars: technology, policy, and usability. Each of these pillars is underpinned by the importance of user privacy.
The first pillar, technology, is crucial for the transition of CBDCs from experimental concepts to practical applications. Wallis states that a CBDC must have a robust and secure technical infrastructure capable of supporting a large user base. Additionally, the technology should be scalable to handle an increasing volume of transactions. He also notes that a CBDC should be designed for interoperability to facilitate smooth cross-border transactions.
The second pillar, policy, involves the regulations and guidelines set by central banks and governments. Wallis points out that this is often the most time-consuming aspect to consider, given the unique regulatory frameworks of different countries. He adds that while public and institutional enthusiasm can drive adoption, there are situations where CBDCs might still be introduced despite initial skepticism. Policy objectives and political motivations can also play a significant role in the rollout of a CBDC.
The third and final pillar, usability, is essential for the long-term viability of a CBDC. Wallis argues that central banks must adopt a user-centric approach to ensure that the digital currency is easy and intuitive to use. He warns that without a frictionless user experience, the technological advancements may act as a barrier to widespread adoption. Driving early adoption will be one of the most important and challenging tasks that central banks will face, according to Wallis.
The Importance of Cross-Border Functionality
Wallis also stresses the need for CBDCs to have seamless cross-border functionality. He believes that without this feature, most CBDC projects could fall short of achieving their full potential.
Private Sector and Central Bank Collaboration
Wallis calls for collaboration between commercial banks, retailers, and central banks to adapt to the changing payments landscape. He specifically mentions that the payments industry will need to adapt its operations and infrastructure to accommodate CBDCs, ensuring the successful integration of these digital currencies into the broader financial ecosystem.