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CBDCs could boost financial inclusion, ease cross-border payments in the Middle East, IMF says CBDCs could boost financial inclusion, ease cross-border payments in the Middle East, IMF says

CBDCs could boost financial inclusion, ease cross-border payments in the Middle East, IMF says

The global financial regulator warned that the digital currencies could pose challenges to financial stability.

CBDCs could boost financial inclusion, ease cross-border payments in the Middle East, IMF says

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Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) could enhance financial inclusion in the Middle East and improve cross-border payments, according to a survey by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The regulator pointed out that about two-thirds of Middle Eastern countries are exploring these national digital currencies, with 19 still in the research phase. However, some countries, such as Bahrain, Georgia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, have moved to the proof-of-concept stage. At the same time, Kazakhstan has had two pilot programs for its digital currency.

Potential benefits

The IMF emphasized the importance of a seamless cross-border payment system for a region with many oil exporters.

According to the regulator, cross-border payments in the Middle East often face challenges such as different data formats and varying operating and compliance rules. However, CBDCs can help resolve these issues while reducing the transaction costs attached to the traditional financial system.

Notably, some countries in the region have already introduced cross-border payment platforms, but CBDCs are expected to advance financial services further.

Besides the cross-border potential use of these currencies, CBDCs can also enhance financial inclusion within the region. The regulator stated:

“CBDCs can advance financial inclusion by fostering competition in the payments market and allowing for transactions to be settled more directly and with less intermediation, in turn lowering the cost of financial services and making them more accessible.”

IMF noted that central banks, through their CBDCs, can also help keep transaction costs cheaper because they aren’t concerned with making a profit. It added:

“The resulting increased competition in the payments market from a CBDC could also encourage upgrading technology platforms and the efficiency of payment services, helping financial services reach more people.”

Barriers

The IMF cautioned that various challenges could significantly hinder the potential benefits of a CBDC. These challenges include low digital and financial literacy levels, lack of identification, distrust in financial institutions, and low wealth.

Moreover, the IMF noted that CBDCs might affect the financial stability of the issuing country. This concern arises because approximately 83% of bank funding in the region comes from deposits, which CBDCs would directly compete with.

It explained:

“Deposits make up a large share of bank funding in the region, about 83 percent. Because a CBDC may compete with bank deposits, it could weigh on bank profits and lending and have implications for financial stability.”

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