Stablecoin, retail CBDC sandboxes are on South African payments roadmap

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The South African Reserve Bank has released a digital payments roadmap toward the goals of its Vision 2025, published six years ago.

Adoption of digital payment technologies in the country has been “sluggish,” the report said. It looked at ways to catch up to the vision, including plans for cryptocurrency and central bank digital currency (CBDC).

South Africa’s financial services sector, especially banking, is well-developed. Despite advances in digital payment technology, South Africans with lower and middle living standards remain disproportionately dependent on cash, the report found. User costs, low financial literacy, limited accessibility and lack of trust hinder progress, however.

The roadmap looked at high-level plans to increase accessibility of financial technology, modernize payment infrastructure and remove barriers to use. The scope of the plans is strictly domestic.

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In South Africa, crypto assets are not legal tender, but are not banned. Local online and brick-and-mortar retailer Pick n Pay accepts payment in Bitcoin at over 1,600 locations, for example. The SARB is looking to international best practices for regulation and open to greater use of distributed ledger technology:

“In the interim [before regulations are in place], the SARB is open to allowing eligible stablecoins used for domestic payments to be tested in the regulatory sandbox.”

The SARB said the sandbox would have a two-year timeline. Cryptocurrency is being integrated into the South African financial system through the licensing of exchanges as well.

CBDC will get similar treatment. The SARB launched a study of retail CBDC in 2021. CBDC has the potential for greater cost effectiveness and real-time online and offline peer-to-peer digital payments. The roadmap suggested continuing exploration of both retail and wholesale CBDC for two years.

Source: SA Reserve Bank

Tokenization faces regulatory barriers in South Africa. The SARB noted the benefits of tokenization, especially its enhanced security. However:

“Existing regulations may not be specific or enabling for tokenised use cases, which may result in unregulated or the underregulation of payment activities that introduce risks in the payment ecosystem.”

Meanwhile, the SARB is monitoring the growth of the technology, it said.

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