Federal Reserve Launches Digital Dollar Initiative Days After Leading Cryptocurrency Firm Goes Under
WASHINGTON - JANUARY 22: The Federal Reserve building is seen January 22, 2008 in Washington, DC. The Fed cut its benchmark interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point after two days of tumult in international markets due to fear of a recession in the United States. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York began a simulated digital currency initiative on Tuesday alongside multiple major banks as the cryptocurrency sector descends into chaos.

The digital dollar simulation, which is slated to last for 12 weeks, will “experiment with the concept of a regulated liability network,” a concept for a financial market infrastructure that would facilitate “digital asset transactions that connect deposits held at regulated financial institutions using distributed ledger technology,” according to a press release from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Analysts will test the “feasibility of payments between financial institutions” using tokenized assets.

Among other financial institutions, Citi, Mastercard, BNY Mellon, and Wells Fargo will partake in the simulation, which will determine whether the project is feasible for broader rollout and lead to technical design insights.

The simulation comes as policymakers weigh the merit of a central bank digital currency, which would preserve the international role of the dollar while mitigating pitfalls intrinsic to cryptocurrencies, such as liquidity risk and credit risk, according to a paper from the Federal Reserve. A digital dollar could be privacy-protected, intermediated through digital wallets offered by the private sector, and transferable between customers of different intermediaries. Identity verification from banks would also discourage money laundering.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said last summer that his “mind is open” to a digital dollar, noting that he was “legitimately undecided” on whether the “benefits outweigh the costs” of central bank digital currencies. “We would want very broad support in society and in Congress,” he told lawmakers. “It’s a very, very important initiative, and I do think we should ideally get authorization.”

The central bank is also testing an instant payment service designed to remove merchants’ need to wait one to three days before payments are finished depositing, as well as the need for workers to wait days before receiving paychecks. Retailers currently pay an average interchange fee of $0.23 when consumers use debit cards, according to data from the Federal Reserve, which the new platform could significantly undercut.

The digital dollar test occurs days after cryptocurrency company FTX suddenly declared bankruptcy following a liquidity crisis, leading to instability among other exchange platforms. Sam Bankman-Fried, the company’s founder, had allegedly used his trading firm, Alameda Research, to make investments using FTX clients’ funds, while executives underestimated the amount FTX needed to keep in reserves should customers want to remove their funds.

The implosion of FTX has prompted officials to renew calls for regulations upon the cryptocurrency sector, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) labeling the phenomenon a “wake up call for Congress and financial regulators to hold this industry and its executives accountable.” Joseph Bankman, the father of Sam Bankman-Fried and a law professor at Stanford University, has helped the lawmaker draft financial regulations.

“Too much of the crypto industry is smoke and mirrors,” Warren contended. “It’s time for stronger rules and stronger enforcement to protect ordinary people.”

Bankman-Fried, however, was among the largest campaign contributors during the most recent midterm election cycle, spending $39 million during the recent midterm elections primarily to benefit Democratic candidates, according to data from Open Secrets. FTX Co-CEO Ryan Salame meanwhile donated heavily to right-leaning organizations, according to more data from Open Secrets, including a $12 million contribution toward American Dream Federal Action.

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