Benoît Cœuré, the outgoing executive board member of the European Central Bank, said that a digital currency could allow people to use central bank money even though the use of paper money declines over time.

The high-raked official expressed his thoughts around digital money at a joint conference held by the ECB and the National Bank of Belgium. He also revealed the plan of ECB to examine the potential effects of cryptocurrencies on the existing economic system.
A digital currency of this sort could take a variety of forms, the benefits, and costs of which the ECB and other central banks are currently investigating, being mindful of their broader consequences on financial intermediation,” Cœuré said.

Both the public and private sectors should come forward

However, he encouraged private companies to explore the field of digital money alongside the efforts of ECB and other public bodies. Cœuré said that the potential central bank initiatives should not crowd out private market-led solutions for speedy and reliable retail payments in the Eurozone. His statement is being considered particularly important because of his recent appointment as head of the newly established Innovation Hub at the Bank for International Settlements last month.

Supposed to be effective on Jan 1, 2020, he will supervise the institution’s effort to assist the central bank to explore various promising financial technologies including cryptocurrency. Reports from various news channels indicate that the ECB has already started a discussion about digital currencies. French central bank first deputy governor Denis Beau said recently that the Eurozone would consider creating a DLT-based settlement system for the euro and potentially a cryptocurrency to make payments between companies in the region easier.

Practically, the ECB is not so friendly towards cryptocurrency so far. They knocked out a proposed cryptocurrency from Estonia in September 2017, arguing the euro is the only valid money in the European area. On the contrary, many senior officials from the bank said in the past that they do not consider virtual currencies as a threat to the financial system and cryptocurrencies do not pose any risk on financial stability.

Cœuré said in the same tone that the bank does not oppose the development of cryptocurrencies, but simply does not consider it as a replacement for the euro.

ECB’s alternative cryptocurrency plan

ECB might be confidentially developing a plan to launch a central bank-backed digital currency if payments within Europe become too expensive or there is a decline in cash usage. The buzz around public crypto has become prominent after social media giant Facebook announced its private digital currency Libra, which scared out regulators who have since raised concerns and expected that Facebook’s project could go into the vein.

Facebook’s move called attention to the fragmented payment system in the European Union where U.S. card companies dominate online payments and no simple and common system has developed to reduce cost and faster transactions across the 28 countries of the bloc. A confidential document seen by Reuters says that if private companies fail to develop an innovative and efficient pan-European payment solution, the need for it could possibly be met by issuing a central bank cryptocurrency.

The draft is supposed to be discussed by EU finance ministers who are expected to give a joint statement welcoming the ECB’s move for digital currency. A public cryptocurrency may work as an alternative to Libra and other private company owned digital tokens and could reduce the cost of cross-border transactions, which is currently quite high.

Local and private currencies may also reduce the usage of cash, as consumers are likely to go for cheaper, faster and safer means for payments.

However, ECB does not consider that digital money as an immediate threat to cash because it is still the most popular means of payment worldwide. But the central bank would accelerate the process of developing a public cryptocurrency should any sign of decline in cash usage occurs.

Most experts believe that an ECB-backed token would change the financial system of the region dramatically. So its side effects should be carefully assessed and the benefits should be further analyzed, the document said.