The European Central Bank (ECB) has concluded its search for private-sector support to develop potential user interfaces for the digital euro by appointing a quintet of companies to build prototypes.
Global Government Fintech reported earlier this year that the ECB had published a ‘call for expression[s] of interest for digital euro front-end prototyping’ as it engages with the private sector during its two-year ‘investigation phase’ into a potential central bank digital currency (CBDC) for the 19-member eurozone.
The Frankfurt-headquartered authority announced today (16 September) that it has concluded the process with the selection of five companies from a total of 54 applications.
Working with the ECB’s in-house CBDC team, the companies will each focus on one specific digital euro use case: CaixaBank is to focus on peer-to-peer online payments; Worldline will look at peer-to-peer offline payments; the EPI (European Payments Initiative) company will look at point-of-sale payments initiated by the payer; Nexi takes point-of-sale payments initiated by the payee; and Amazon will focus on e-commerce payments.
The aim is to test how well technology behind a potential digital euro integrates with prototypes developed by companies. Specifically, simulated transactions will be initiated using the prototypes developed by the five companies and processed through the interface and back-end infrastructure of the Eurosystem. The Eurosystem comprises the ECB and the central banks of the 19 European Union (EU) member states that use the euro.
‘Important element’ in investigation phase
The prototyping exercise is described in today’s announcement as an ‘important element’ in the digital euro’s investigation phase. It is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2023 when the ECB will also publish its findings.
The companies will not be remunerated by the ECB for their efforts, according to the original notice calling for expressions of interest. Today’s announcement, meanwhile, states that ‘there are no plans to re-use the prototypes in subsequent phases of the digital euro project’.
The authority is also being informed on CBDC by a ‘Market Advisory Group’ (MAG), which meets at least quarterly and comprises 30 private-sector retail payments specialists. Representatives of CaixaBank, Worldline, EPI and Nexi are in the MAG (but not Amazon). Representatives from Eurosystem national central banks, as well as the European Commission, are also participating.
Other moves by the ECB to engage private-sector support have included a tender for digital euro-related design and business model consultancy, worth a total value of EUR20m (about £17.6m) and which carried a 25 March deadline for applications.
The ECB has also commissioned research (including focus groups) on ‘the current payment habits of citizens of euro area countries and specifically their attitudes towards digital payment methods’ (128 pages of findings were published in March). ECB executive board member Fabio Panetta said earlier this year that the authority plans to conduct further focus groups “towards the end of the year”.
‘Digital euro use case’ presentation
The announcement of the companies’ selection comes nine days after the ECB’s digital euro programme manager, Evelien Witlox, presented a project update at a half-day event organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) – a consultative body of the European Union (EU).
In a slide-augmented presentation on 7 September, Witlox said that payments ‘to and by’ governments, as well as person-to-person and consumer-to-business payments, were the three use-cases that officials have “singled out” for the “first release” of a potential digital euro.
One presentation slide titled ‘Digital euro use cases’ also displayed ‘business-initiated payments’ (for example, payments to another firm or wages) and ‘machine-initiated’ payments (for example, fully automated payments initiated by a device) alongside the three priority use cases. The fact these two cases were not highlighted does not mean “they are not being considered at all” but simply that a decision had been made to focus first on government, person-to-person and consumer-to-business payments, Witlox told the audience.
During the event Witlox also discussed the ECB’s digital euro project timeline, with September 2023 referenced as when the ECB’s Governing Council would “decide to possibly launch a realisation phase”.
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‘Government payments among three priority use cases for digital euro: ECB’ – our report (7 September 2022) from the half-day event organised by the EESC
‘Fifteen recommendations offered for digital euro as ‘investigation phase’ nears half way’ – our news story (24 Aug 2022) on a paper by the Digital Euro Association (DEA)
‘Digital currency design must be alert to users’ needs: Austrian CBDC paper’ – our news story (16 August 2022) on the ‘What can CBDC designers learn from asking potential users? Results from a survey of Austrian residents’ working paper published by Oesterreichische Nationalbank (OeNB)
‘ECB consults experts over ‘privacy-enhancing’ digital euro tech’ – our news story (20 July 2022) on the ECB inviting external experts to participate in a short series of deliberations on data privacy-related challenges involved in designing a digital euro
‘Digital euro prep enters prototype territory’ – our news story (3 May 2022) on the ECB’s call for expressions of interest
‘ECB kicks off €20m tender for digital euro architects’ – our news story (2 March 2022) on an ECB tender process for design and business model consultancy
‘D€: unanswered questions (and quirks) amid Europe’s CBDC “nitty-gritty”’ – our analysis (20 September 2021) of eurozone central banks’ digital currency explorations
‘Digital euro tech investigations would take two years: ECB’s Panetta’ – our news story (15 April 2021) on a Fabio Panetta appearance before the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee (on 14 April 2021)