The three winning teams of the ‘Global Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Challenge’ have been named during the Singapore FinTech Festival.
The competition, organised by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), sought to identify and develop retail CBDC solutions (also known as ‘general purpose’ CBDCs) that ‘increase payment efficiencies, improve financial inclusion and support the broader digitalisation drive in the economy’.
US-headquartered blockchain firm ConsenSys and Visa’s ‘CBDCgo – digital currency, seamless acceptance’ solution; French firm Criteo, London-based cloud computing firm Secretarium and Intel’s ‘Atomic CBDC Solution’; and Germany-headquartered Giesecke+Devrient (G+D) advance52’s ‘Filia’ were named as the three winners, chosen from 15 finalists.
‘CBDCgo’ provides integration and co-existence with existing systems, along with security and accessibility: users can spend their CBDC without changing their payment or acceptance network.
The ‘Atomic CBDC Solution’ is a digital currency platform safeguarded by hardware-based security. It supports anonymity and privacy for small transactions and offers traceability for large transactions for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) purposes.
‘G+D Filia’, meanwhile, enables participation in the digital economy without a smartphone or a bank account. The token-based solution, which Bank of Ghana is trialling, does not record account balances or transaction metadata on a blockchain, but only the validity of a particular token together with its denomination.
Feeding into ‘Project Orchid’
The competition, which ran for five months, was organised in partnership with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, Asian Development Bank, United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), United Nations High Commission for Refugees, (UNHCR) United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Those entering the competition were invited to address 12 problem statements covering topics such as inclusivity, interoperability and programmability – important topics for central banks as they explore the opportunities and obstacles entailed by CBDC. MAS stipulated, for example, that proposed solutions must be accessible to a ‘full spectrum of users’, including lower-income households and people who struggle with technology.
The competition attracted more than 300 submissions from more than 50 countries (more than half from Asia), with the trio of winners seen to have best addressed the challenge’s policy objectives. The 15 finalists pitched their solutions to an international panel of judges.
The contest was held as an increasing number of central banks start experimenting with retail CBDCs – albeit most of those doing so have yet to commit to launching a CBDC. MAS itself announced earlier this week that it is to build the infrastructure and ‘technical competencies’ for a CBDC – an initiative dubbed ‘Project Orchid’ – despite its managing director, Ravi Menon, saying there is ‘no strong case’ for the imminent launch of a digital Singapore dollar.
Project Orchid sees MAS take a step ahead of many similar authorities, which have typically convened research groups – and indeed are typically stepping up their technical explorations – but not committed to actually building any technology. Menon said earlier this week that Project Orchid would “build on the rich findings” from the CBDC competition.
Cash for winners – and fast-track grant applications for all
The three winning teams each received a cash prize of S$50,000 (about £27,600) while all 15 finalists will be fast-tracked in applications for grant funding of up to S$200,000 under a MAS Financial Sector Technology and Innovation (FSTI) Proof-of-Concept Scheme that provides funding for experimentation, development and dissemination of nascent innovative fintech projects.
All 15 finalists have also been given access to the API Exchange (APIX)’s Digital Currency Sandbox to further help with prototyping their digital currency solution. APIX is a not-for-profit entity formed by MAS, the International Finance Corporation and the ASEAN Bankers Association with the aim of supporting financial innovation and inclusion globally.
The judges competition’s judges were: Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub head Benoît Cœuré; Bank Indonesia assistant governor / head of payment system policy department Filianingsih Hendarta; Central Bank of Brazil general counsel’s office chief of staff Dr Marcelo Madureira Prates; Central Bank of Kenya governor Dr Patrick Njoroge; Harvard University’s Professor Kenneth Rogoff; the International Monetary Fund’s Tobias Adrian; Reserve Bank of India (RBI)’s chief general manager for payments and settlements Shri P. Vasudevan; and World Bank global director for finance, competitiveness and innovation Jean Denis Pesme.
*** The winners of this year’s ‘Global FinTech Hackcelerator’ – this year themed ‘Harnessing Technology to Power Green Finance’ with the aim of highlighting fintech’s ability to accelerate the development of ‘green finance’ – have also been announced during the Singapore festival. The three victors were: France’s Descartes Insurance Asia (solution name: ‘Descartes’ Parametric Insurance’); Singapore’s RootAnt Global and Global Initiatives Communications (solution name: ‘BANCO’); and Germany’s YOUKI (solution name: ‘WATTIFY’).
‘Singapore preps CBDC tech despite “no strong case” for digital currency’ – our news story (9 November 2021) on MAS’s announcement that it is to build the infrastructure and ‘technical competencies’ for a CBDC
‘Singapore authority announces CBDC competition finalists’ – our news story (1 September 2021) on the 15 finalists being named
‘Fintech hackathons turn attention to green finance‘ – our news story (11 May 2021) on the launch of the ‘Global FinTech Hackcelerator’ competition