According to the Bank of England, the prospect of a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) introduces both opportunities and challenges. At SCVO one particularly opportunity and challenge identified is for individuals who have previously remained detached from the digital landscape, despite efforts to motivate this section of the population by charity groups, local councils, and big tech to get online has been a consistent challenge with no clear solutions in site. The motivational aspect of supporting people to access the internet makes up one of SCVO’s five pillars for digital inclusion, and is a key feature of both our Place Based digital inclusion programme and digital inclusion sessions to third and public sector organisations.
The implications of CBDCs, present an intriguing aspect: in relation to motivational factors and the potential to accelerate the development of essential digital skills among those who were previously unmotivated to use a digital device. The potential rollout of a CBDC gains even more significance when considering the scenario of fiat money (paper-based tender) being entirely phased out of circulation. According to research from UK Finance “the number of payments made using physical cash increased by 7% last year, compared with 2021. It was the second most popular method of payment, but still only accounted for 14% of the overall total, having been dwarfed by card use”. So, with that being said, let’s explore how CBDCs could prompt reluctant individuals to engage in the digital space and acquire essential digital skills.
Shaping Digital Citizens: The Crucial Transition
CBDCs have the power to transform the way we perceive and interact with money. One notable consequence is that individuals who have been hesitant to embrace digital platforms will find themselves at an intriguing crossroads. With traditional fiat money potentially fading into the background, the need to navigate the digital realm for everyday transactions becomes more compelling. CBDCs have the potential to bring about positive changes in financial inclusion. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) “If CBDC data is shareable with banks, those without bank accounts can still build credit and access lower interest rate loans”. They could provide easier access to financial services, especially for those without traditional bank accounts. The elimination of intermediaries and reduced transaction costs might make basic financial services more accessible to a wider population.
Digital Literacy as a Bridge:
The transition to CBDCs may demand individuals to engage with digital platforms to access, manage, and utilize their currency. This necessity presents a unique opportunity to foster digital literacy skills. Digital literacy encompasses more than basic computer skills; it is about equipping individuals with the ability to confidently navigate online spaces, critically evaluate digital information, and safeguard their digital presence. To maximize the benefits of CBDCs for the digitally excluded, a comprehensive approach to accessibility is vital. Initiatives must be implemented to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their technological proficiency, can access and use CBDCs effectively.
Barriers that could hinder CBDC adoption among the digitally excluded and disengaged include reliable internet access, promoting digital literacy as part of lifelong learning for all and not just for the few. Collaborative efforts between governments, financial institutions, and community organizations are key to overcoming these hurdles, however, partnerships remain a challenge due to competing interests, capacity issues and commitments to such actions from leadership, particularly hieratical institutions with many moving parts such as governments and the financial sectors.
Balancing Technological Advancement with Inclusion:
As we move toward a digital future, it is imperative to strike a balance between technological advancement and the inclusivity of all citizens. CBDCs should not widen the digital divide but instead serve as a catalyst for bridging it. Governments and financial authorities must prioritize creating an inclusive ecosystem that ensures everyone can participate in the new digital economy.
If you scroll on Bank of England website you will come across a heading called a day in the life of a digital pound user, portraying he simplicity and ease of convenience of a CBDC in action, from waking up in the morning and checking the balance in your digital wallet, to paying for a cup of tea that morning, by late afternoon you have paid the electrician with payment conformation in real time, Ordering groceries early evening online and paying them using the digital pound and by late evening transferring funds from your bank account to your digital wallet. However, for the eagle eye among you, this is based on a huge number of assumptions such as access to Wi-Fi, digital devices for such transactions, the right type of digital ID’s and other documents to setup such a process, basic digital skills, cyber security issues and other potential harms?
The introduction of a Central Bank Digital Currency has the potential to reshape the financial landscape, but its impact on digitally excluded individuals must not be overlooked. While CBDCs offer the prospect of increased financial inclusion, efforts must be made to ensure that everyone, regardless of their technological prowess, can benefit. For those who have been reluctant to venture into the digital space, CBDCs could serve as a catalyst for change. The prospect of seamlessly conducting financial transactions could be a motivating factor, propelling individuals to acquire the skills necessary to thrive in the digital age. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and the necessity of managing digital currency could inspire individuals to overcome their reservations and develop digital competency.