CBDC future: e-Rupee takes the lead in India’s cashless journey

E-rupee
RBI’s CBDC e-rupee marks a significant step towards a cashless economy in India, offering citizens the opportunity to transact digitally.

Amid the rising global enthusiasm for digital assets, the Reserve Bank of India has embarked on an ambitious endeavor to explore the potential of digital currency with e-Rupee. The RBI has unveiled its own e-currency and initiated a pilot programme for the wholesale segment of its central bank digital currency (CBDC). This initiative comes as a response to the growing popularity of cryptocurrencies and their impact on financial markets.

The pilot programme for the e-Rupee call money, which kicked off in the interbank call money market with the participation of nine banks, is the first step in this direction. Notably, the participating banks, consisting of both public and private sector banks, are not currently focusing on high transaction volumes, as the RBI is primarily testing the waters at this stage.

Call money, a short-term borrowing and lending mechanism among banks, allows institutions to earn interest through the call loan rate on surplus funds. This market plays a crucial role in maintaining liquidity balance for banks and other participants, with interest rates determined by market conditions.

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RBI testing waters for e-Rupee

Earlier announcements from the RBI indicated that it plans to introduce the wholesale version of its CBDC, known as the Digital Rupee-Wholesale, in the call money market by October. RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das had also mentioned that the central bank intends to explore additional use cases for the wholesale pilot of the CBDC.

It is important to note that this is not the RBI’s first venture into CBDC testing. The initial use case for CBDC was introduced in the government securities market in November of the previous year. The government has ambitious plans for CBDC, including asset tokenisation and repo transactions, with the goal of encompassing the entire wholesale segment. After completing these steps, a comprehensive pilot programme for the wholesale segment will be on the horizon.

In the earlier wholesale CBDC pilot for government securities, prominent banks such as the State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, Union Bank of India, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Yes Bank, IDFC First Bank, and HSBC participated. In the current phase, these banks remain part of the initiative, with the addition of the Federal Bank.

But what exactly is CBDC? CBDC-R, or the Central Bank Digital Currency for Retail, serves as an official cryptocurrency designed for retail users. It is issued in digital token form, mirroring the denominations of paper currency. Much like physical cash, the e-Rupee allows individuals and businesses to make and receive payments, essentially serving as an electronic representation of traditional currency. It targets retail transactions and is expected to gain acceptance among private sector entities, non-financial consumers, and businesses.

What sets CBDC apart from cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is the backing by the RBI, making it a safe and regulated form of payment and settlement. Unlike cryptocurrencies, CBDC is legal tender issued by a central bank in digital form, and it can be exchanged one-to-one with fiat currency. The introduction of the e-Rupee marks a significant step toward a cashless economy in India, offering citizens the opportunity to transact and make payments digitally.

Beyond its safety advantages over cryptocurrencies, CBDC also reduces operational costs associated with physical cash management while promoting financial inclusion, resilience, efficiency, and innovation in the payment ecosystem. The RBI envisions that the e-Rupee will enhance the settlement system’s efficiency, foster innovation in cross-border payments, and provide services to the public that are akin to those offered by other virtual currencies but without the associated risks.

The RBI believes that the digital rupee will not only boost India’s digital economy but also enhance financial inclusion while combating counterfeit money in the nation. However, there exists a policy conundrum in the implementation of this vision. This challenge is further exemplified by the skepticism surrounding the adoption of CBDC by retail consumers, despite the availability of a digital rupee application. Concerns related to privacy, tracking, and cybersecurity have contributed to this hesitancy, especially in a country that traditionally values tangible assets over digital ones.

Additionally, it is essential to consider the motivations behind users embracing CBDC, which, unlike traditional cash, can be traced by the RBI. Apprehensions about privacy and the government’s ability to protect user data in a landscape fraught with cybersecurity threats must be addressed.

The RBI has ambitious plans to promote CBDC usage through the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) platform, with a target of 1 million daily CBDC transactions by year-end. However, achieving this goal may prove challenging due to limited awareness of the e-Rupee and the relatively small number of banks participating in the pilot program.

As India ventures into the world of digital currency, it faces both exciting opportunities and complex challenges. The RBI must remain prepared to address these hurdles and navigate the evolving landscape of digital finance. While the road ahead may be challenging, the potential benefits of a digital rupee are worth the effort, offering a glimpse into the future of a more connected and efficient Indian economy.

India’s CBDC operates within a carefully crafted regulatory framework established by the Reserve Bank of India. The RBI, as the central bank of the country, plays a pivotal role in issuing, regulating, and overseeing the digital currency. To ensure the legal and secure operation of the CBDC, the RBI has introduced guidelines and regulations governing its use. These regulations encompass aspects such as issuance, circulation, and redemption of the digital rupee.

Additionally, the RBI has set forth guidelines for financial institutions and participants in the CBDC ecosystem, outlining their roles and responsibilities in the digital currency landscape. This regulatory clarity is essential for fostering trust and confidence among users and stakeholders and is indicative of the RBI’s commitment to ensuring the responsible use of CBDC.

One of the important aspects of India’s CBDC is its seamless integration with the existing financial infrastructure, particularly the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) platform. The UPI, which has gained widespread popularity for its efficiency and accessibility, plays a crucial role in enabling the use of the digital rupee for everyday transactions. Users can link their CBDC wallets to UPI applications, facilitating the easy transfer of funds between individuals and businesses. This ensures that the CBDC is not an isolated digital currency but a practical, accessible, and convenient means of payment within the broader financial ecosystem of India.

Recognising the importance of public awareness and education, the RBI and the government have launched extensive campaigns and educational initiatives to inform citizens about the benefits and usage of the e-Rupee. These efforts include awareness programme, digital literacy campaigns, and the distribution of informational materials. By engaging in such initiatives, the authorities aim to bridge the knowledge gap surrounding CBDC and build public confidence in the digital currency. These awareness efforts also underscore the commitment to ensuring that CBDC adoption is inclusive, catering to a wide spectrum of users, including those who may not be tech-savvy.

The RBI has taken proactive steps to protect the e-Rupee from cyber threats and fraud. Robust security protocols, encryption methods, and multi-factor authentication measures have been implemented to safeguard CBDC transactions and wallets. Additionally, the RBI closely collaborates with cybersecurity experts and agencies to continuously monitor and fortify the digital currency’s defences against potential attacks. By prioritizing security, the RBI aims to instill confidence in users and demonstrate its commitment to ensuring the safety of digital transactions in an increasingly digitalized financial landscape.

While the CBDC is already making strides in India’s financial system, the RBI has a comprehensive roadmap for its future development. This roadmap includes the exploration of additional use cases beyond the pilot phases, such as asset tokenisation and repo transactions. The goal is to encompass the entire wholesale segment, providing a versatile and dynamic digital currency ecosystem. These forward-looking plans emphasise the RBI’s commitment to continuous innovation and its vision for a digital future in India. As the CBDC matures and evolves, it is expected to play a pivotal role in driving financial inclusion, efficiency, and resilience across the country’s diverse economic landscape.