John Kiff, our guest on the latest New Money Review podcast, prefers what he calls the ‘edgy’ areas of finance—from over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives to fintech and cryptocurrency. He also wants to make sure the system functions as intended.
“I’ve been called ‘the plumber’: my interest is in how things work,” says Kiff.
For 25 years, Kiff was an employee of Canada’s central bank, where he helped manage his country’s foreign exchange reserves.
He then moved to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to focus on questions of global financial stability.
As our money turns digital and central banks experiment with new, mobile phone-based replacements for cash, there’s one area Kiff is now watching particularly closely.
“I focus very much on which central bank digital currency (CBDC) design features those central banks are playing around with. That’s where my interest lies.”
“I’ve been called ‘the plumber’”
In the podcast, Kiff argues the ongoing changes in the structure of the global financial system are important for all of us—and he suggests which developments we should be paying attention to.
Hidden network connections and financial crises
“The things that can blow up in your face are often unseen. We missed too much back in 2007. I’m trying to atone for past sins and look for those hidden connections in this [cryptoasset] market.”
“The things that can blow up in your face are often unseen”
Risks in DeFi
“Decentralised finance (DeFi) is definitely a concern to the financial stability and regulatory authorities to the extent that it is purposely designed to operate outside the regulatory sphere. But the major players—the likes of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs—are not involved yet. When they get involved and perhaps take advantage of leverage opportunities, that might put them in danger if something goes off the rails.”
“There are some useful things you can pull out of a smart contract in a CBDC: the distribution of stimulus payments, for example. Smart contracts in the stimulus payments could direct the users to only spend that money at certain places. You couldn’t park the payment in your bank account or use it to buy cryptoassets, for example.”
Interest rates on CBDC
“They could become a tool that enhances the implementation of monetary policy. So far no central banks I know of are talking openly about introducing a CBDC that’s remunerated in any way. But in the case of runaway demand for CBDC, you might want to have the option of calibrating the rate on CBDC to make it less attractive.”
Motivations for introducing CBDC
“Most developing economies are looking at CBDC to save money. They’re hoping they can reduce the amount of cash in circulation. And that goes hand-in-hand with the financial inclusion aspect of CBDC.”
“Most developing economies are looking at CBDC to save money”
Digital dollar substitutes—Tether and Diem
“So far, the main use cases for unregulated stablecoins like Tether seem to be inter-exchange and inter-platform flows. So many [crypto] platforms don’t have links to the traditional banking system. In Asia, Tether is also being used to bypass capital and exchange controls. But Facebook’s proposed stablecoin—Diem—would be orders of magnitude bigger than Tether. That’s why [regulators’] focus has been so far mainly on Diem. Overnight, it would be on people’s iPhones and Android phones. That’s what scares the authorities.”
“‘Same risks, same regulations’ should be what we’re aiming for”
Convergence of traditional finance and cryptocurrency
“We now see big firms like PayPal, Visa and Mastercard saying they’re embracing crypto rather than fighting it. I suspect we’re heading towards a meeting of minds. But it could still be that crypto and blockchain dramatically change the plumbing of the financial system.”
Improving payments and settlements systems
“Blockchain and distributed ledger technology can play a big role in lubricating the payments and settlement systems. But you need to get both the payment rails and the settlement rails operating on blockchain, which means you have to tokenise securities. There are lots of experiments going on in this area. There are gains to be made in terms of both efficiency and safety.”
A level regulatory playing field for traditional finance, crypto and fintech
“Right now, many firms operate outside the regulatory sphere. The challenge for global financial regulators will be in finding ways to bring everybody under the same umbrella. ‘Same risks, same regulations’ should be what we’re aiming for.”
From bitcoin to central banks, technology to politics, law to cybercrime and science to culture—the New Money Review podcast helps you stay abreast of the key trends in the rapidly changing world of money
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