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What Does Digital Money Mean for Emerging Market and Developing Economies?

Physical cash and commercial bank money are dominant vehicles for retail payments around the world, including in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs). Yet payments in EMDEs are marked by several key deficiencies – such as a lack of universal access to transaction accounts, widespread informality, limited competition and high costs, particularly for cross-border payments. New digital money proposals seek to address these deficiencies.

Proposals for global stablecoins have put a much-needed spotlight on deficiencies in financial inclusion and cross-border payments and remittances in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs). Yet stablecoin initiatives are no panacea. While they may achieve adoption in certain EMDEs, they may also pose particular development, macroeconomic and cross-border challenges for these countries and have not been tested at scale. Several EMDE authorities are weighing the potential costs and benefits of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). In this paper, the BIS argues that the distinction between token-based and account-based money matters less than the distinction between central bank and non-central bank money. Fast-moving fintech innovations that are built on or improve the existing financial plumbing may address many of the issues in EMDEs that both private stablecoins and CBDCs aim to tackle.

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