A former regulator is trying to connect private players with the government to spur development of a central bank-issued digital currency.
Former Commodities and Futures Trading Commission Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo told Yahoo Finance’s “On The Move” on Thursday that the Federal Reserve needs to issue a digital currency to catch up with the likes of the Chinese government.
A central bank digital currency could take on many forms, but in principle physical currency would be replaced by blockchain-linked digital units held in a mobile wallet. Merchants would have to plug into the central bank’s blockchain when transacting directly in the digital currency.
Giancarlo said that with the prevalence of online shopping, the U.S. should offer some digital payment option that isn’t a debit or credit card.
“When we talk about a digital dollar we’re talking about in the virtual world, to have that same immediacy of payment that we have in the analog human world,” Giancarlo told Yahoo Finance.
A survey earlier this year from the Bank of International Settlements noted that 80% of central banks are currently doing some work on their own digital currencies. About 10% of responding banks said they would likely issue something in the short-term. China is already testing its own version of a digital yuan.
Central banks have said a digital currency would make it easier to police possible money laundering. Some central banks have also noted the monetary implications of digital currencies, arguing that less hard cash in the economy would, in theory, give policymakers more control over the money supply.
Fed Governor Lael Brainard has expressed interest in issuing something in the United States, but has pointed to legal and operational problems. It is unclear if the Fed has the authority to actually create its own digital currency, and questions remain over the implications of a digital dollar within the context of its international use as a reserve currency.
Giancarlo’s Digital Dollar Project has teamed up with Accenture to encourage dialogue between public and private players to at least brainstorm possible solutions.
“A digital dollar is a complete change in architecture of the dollar,” Giancarlo said. “It’s going to take a lot of thought. There are going to be a lot of views on this.”
Giancarlo clarified that a digital dollar is agnostic to other initiatives in the cryptocurrency space.
He said bitcoin and innovations like Facebook’s Libra have their own “value propositions” and could co-exist alongside a central bank-issued currency.
Online communities have referred to Giancarlo as “Crypto Dad” since 2018, when he told Congress that his kids’ interest in cryptocurrencies made him a witness to the “cultural” significance of the technology.
Giancarlo says he believes the U.S. regulatory framework is out of touch with new innovations like cryptocurrencies.
He advocated for updated federal laws that would clarify cryptocurrencies’ standing in the financial regulatory framework.
“It’s going to change things dramatically and our laws need to evolve with that as they’ve done over the 90 years, now they need to evolve again,” Giancarlo said.
After deeming bitcoin a commodity, the CFTC has expanded its review of the cryptocurrency space. CFTC Chairman Heath Tarbert told Yahoo Finance in October that the commission deemed Ether a commodity as well, adding that Ether futures could be trading on U.S. markets soon.
Brian Cheung is a reporter covering the banking industry and the intersection of finance and policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter @bcheungz.