2 November 2017
The Reserve Bank of Australia could join the likes of Estonia and Lebanon in creating a cryptocurrency based on the Australian dollar, to reap the benefits of technology like the blockchain but with more stability than other well known currencies like Bitcoin.
The RBA has already been approached by interested startups to create this new digital currency, known as the “DAD” or Digital Australian Dollar.
In contrast with other cryptocurrencies a state-backed digital currency has the advantage of being backed by the government as in fiat currency, but at the same time has the technological advantages shared by other cryptocurrencies.
A digital Australian dollar could remove the role of middlemen and create a cheaper electronic currency system, while at the same time enabling the government to fully regulate the system.
It would also allow transactions to settle faster (several minutes to an hour) than the traditional banking system (several hours to several days), especially in a situation where an international payment is involved.
The difference between a digital Australian dollar and Bitcoin
We already use the Australian dollar in a digital form, for example paying via your smartphone. But banks are essential in this system, moving money on our behalf.
When using a cryptocurrency, you interact with a system like the blockchain, an online ledger that records transactions, directly. Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum are examples of cryptocurrency that use the blockchain in this way. These currencies are created by the community that use them and are accepted and trusted within the community.
However, since the community runs the system, the price of the cryptocurrency solely depends on the market mechanism. When the demand increases, the price increases, but when the demand decreases, the price also decreases. While it might create an opportunity for speculators to gain profit from trading, it also creates risk for the cryptocurrency holders.
In comparison to cryptocurrency, the digital Australian dollar might be well managed that the price volatility could be reduced significantly. The government holds the capability of increasing or decreasing the money supply in the system. This power can be used to stabilise the market supply of the new digital currency.
The blockchain technology also reduces the fee for every payment made. This is made possible by removing the role of banks or other intermediary parties charging fees for their services. However, a small transaction fee still needs to be introduced to protect the system from being flooded by adversaries with insignificant transactions.
The characteristics of cryptocurrency itself might limit its usage to daily transactions. As the pioneer of cryptocurrency, Bitcoin was created to become a payment system, but the users gain incentive by simply saving their cryptocurrency and not using them to purchase goods or services.
They believe the future price of the cryptocurrency is higher than the current price and thus does not make a good medium of exchange nor a store of value. There is no guarantee that the cryptocurrency will hold any value in the future. Since there is nothing to back up the value, users will lose their wealth when the community no longer acknowledges the value of cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrency might also jeopardise the local government’s effort of implementing regulations to minimise illegal activities. Perpetrators create cryptocurrency transactions easily without being detected by the government’s financial monitoring system.
The privacy features of cryptocurrency also make it hard for law enforcement agencies to determine the actors behind illegal activities. Although most governments in the world have enforced the coin exchange services to identify their users, the operation of the cryptocurrency is beyond their reach.
There are other state-backed digital currencies
The idea of creating a national cryptocurrency is not new. Estonia has explored ways to create Estcoin, following an initiative on the blockchain-based residency registration called e-Residency. Lebanon’s central bank has also started to examine the possibility of creating one.
Despite the efforts of those central banks, several questions must first be addressed before launching the real product to the public. The user’s financial data could be exposed since the blockchain will make all transactions created in the system transparent.
Consumer protection is also a concern since all transactions made in the blockchain are permanent without the possibility of being reversed. Without firm solutions to those problems, the digital Australian dollar will not satisfy all requirements to be the next groundbreaking innovation for the country’s financial system.
PhD Student, Monash University
Dimaz is undertaking his PhD research in IT's Cybersecurity Lab