The central bank also said it had made no decision yet about whether to issue its own central bank digital currency, or CBDC, a prospect dubbed ‘Britcoin’ by finance minister Rishi Sunak when he asked the BoE to look into this in April.
“The prospect of stablecoins as a means of payment and the emerging propositions of CBDC have generated a host of issues,” BoE Governor Andrew Bailey said. “It is essential that we ask the difficult and pertinent questions when it comes to the future of these new forms of digital money.”
Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies designed to have a stable value relative to traditional currencies or to a commodity such as gold, to avoid the volatility that makes bitcoin and other digital tokens impractical for commerce.
If digital currencies become big enough to have an impact on financial stability, they would require greater regulation than at present, the BoE said.
“Stablecoins used as money should meet equivalent standards as those provided by commercial bank money, otherwise known as bank deposits,” the BoE said.
The BoE is among major central banks across the world revving up work on issuing digital cash, a move aimed at fending off potential threats to traditional money and to make payments systems smoother.
The People’s Bank of China is leading the charge, with the U.S. Federal Reserve last month saying it would quicken its work on a digital dollar.
As part of Monday’s discussion paper, the BoE modelled a scenario under which a fifth of money currently held as retail deposits with British banks instead was held in new forms of digital currency.
“As a result of this potential outflow, commercial banks would have to adapt their balance sheets in response to maintain their current liquidity ratio,” the BoE said. “An increase in banks’ funding costs is assumed to increase rates on new bank lending, while some borrowers may find it cheaper to seek credit opportunities in the non-bank financial sector.”
However, the BoE concluded the overall impact on lending rates and credit provision was likely to be “relatively modest”.