This is the first of a two-part interview series with Jennifer B. Lassiter.
Jennifer B. Lassiter is the Executive Director of The Digital Dollar Project (DDP) and also serves on the World Economic Forum’s Digital Currency Governance Consortium and the Progressive Policy Institute’s Mosaic Economic Project. In her current role, she convenes private sector thought leaders to explore the future of money and advance U.S. CBDC exploration through pilots, stakeholder meetings, roundtables and discussion forums.
Pushpendra Mehta, Executive Writer, CTMfile.com, interviewed Jennifer B. Lassiter, Executive Director of The Digital Dollar Project (DDP).
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Jennifer, please tell me more about the Digital Dollar Project (DDP) and DDP's Technical Sandbox Program that evaluates the technological, business and policy aspects of implementing a U.S. CBDC.
The Digital Dollar Project (DDP) is a non-profit organization devoted to catalyzing research and exploration of the potential advantages and challenges of a U.S. central bank digital currency (CBDC), or "digital dollar." We work to incorporate the perspectives of diverse stakeholders across the private sector, academia, and policy thought leaders to better inform national policy considerations for a potential U.S. CBDC. The DDP outlined a champion model with eight tenants for a digital dollar in an initial whitepaper in 2021. Over the last year and a half, we have focused on challenging these tenets by launching a series of exploratory pilots. The pilots are designed to educate the public, market participants, and policymakers on the implications of applying a U.S. CBDC to a range of real-world use cases.
In 2023, the DDP will continue exploration through various workstreams, including the DDP Technical Sandbox Program. The DDP Sandbox Program was created to help close the gap between varying degrees of understanding regarding technical optionality in the future design of money. The faster we bring stakeholders to the same starting point (knowledge base), the more meaningful and broadened the scope of impact will be for DDP experimentation. The DDP Technical Sandbox Program will serve as a tech-neutral testbed for DDP participants to gain hands-on experimentation with emerging technologies and, as a community, work to better understand real-life applications and potential implications of a U.S. CBDC on day-to-day business strategies and operations.
It is reported that each cohort of the DDP Technical Sandbox Program will consist of two phases: an education phase and a pilot phase. Can you please explain the two phases in more detail?
As mentioned before, DDP's Technical Sandbox Program was developed to create a safe, neutral technical environment for DDP participants to have hands-on, use-case-specific experiences with potential infrastructure solutions that could facilitate the future movement of digital currency. To meet DDP participants where they are in terms of time and resource commitment, we broke the program into two phases: education and testing. Participation in one phase does not obligate participation in the other, and a phased approach allows each entity to participate in the pieces that are currently most meaningful (for them).
The first is the education phase, in which industry participants, all with varying degrees of CBDC and technology knowledge, convene and learn about different technology approaches and architectures offered by participating vendors. In our first cohort, we had four vendors share various models of their sandbox, from DLT to non-DLT platforms. From this overview step, DDP participants can sign up to be onboarded to one or all of the vendors' sandboxes. Once onboarded, the participants engage in a series of curated workshops, ranging from use case discovery to architecture design requirements. It is an opportunity for vendors and DDP participants to work together and learn where challenges and benefits could lie in applying these solutions and how technology could keep innovating to meet previously unidentified needs.
At this stage, DDP participants can cease participation in the cohort or continue and join a design thinking session in preparation for phase two, where participants and a technology provider partner to scope a U.S. CBDC use-case-specific hypothesis for testing, otherwise referred to as a pilot. The pilots enable DDP to explore and answer critical questions about the impact of a potential U.S. digital dollar resulting in real-world findings and empirical data. This data anchors broader conversations on the future of money and serves to inform and educate the government and private sector on considerations of a potential U.S. CBDC.
Why has the inaugural cohort of the Sandbox program chosen to focus initially on cross-border payments? Is it because CBDCs are expected to revolutionize cross-border payments, or do you have any other reasons for doing so?
The DDP Technical Sandbox Program is designed to run 3-4 times a year, with each cohort focused on different topic areas. Topic areas are identified and prioritized by the DDP participant community and can include digital identity, privacy, offline payments and yes, cross-border payments. We want to tackle the thorniest topics through the Sandbox program – by starting with knowledge-based level-setting!
Specific to why cross-border payments are the first cohort's focus, starting in 2020, DDP's white paper hypothesized that an intentionally designed U.S. CBDC could revolutionize cross-border payments, which have historically been slower, more complex, less transparent, and more expensive than domestic payments. Further, we challenged that a tokenized digital dollar could introduce efficiencies such as automatic settlement, trade oversight transparency, risk management, and interoperability.
With that background in mind, in this first cohort, we set out to test different technological considerations and designs to see if a digital dollar could serve as a platform for innovative private-sector systems managing cross-border transactions. For example, international payments cannot currently be conducted digitally in U.S. central bank money, so we ask how a U.S. CBDC could allow more direct monetary relations to be established. Could a tokenized dollar reduce risks or address time delays caused by today's correspondent banking model? How could a digital dollar enhance competition in international payments and advance financial market integration? While we don’t have all the answers yet, we hypothesize that a digital dollar could allow digital payments in central bank money to be made for remittances and large-value payments, including the possibility of conducting offshore securities settlements. So yes, we are excited to focus on this topic, especially because of its potential for a wide scope of impact on the broader financial ecosystem!
Interoperability and international cooperation are the key drivers that will connect multiple global CBDCs and power cross-border transactions. Are you considering interoperability in the design of the U.S. CBDC? If so, what are some key design principles and outcomes for interoperability that would make for a successful CBDC deployment?
Absolutely, interoperability is vital when it comes to designing any payment mechanism, especially for a tool as powerful and multifaceted as the U.S. dollar, which provides liquidity across all markets. An intentionally designed and interoperable U.S. CBDC could prevent market fragmentation, increase payment provider competition, and secure the dollar's international position.
But what does interoperable mean? We have started to see the debate unfold within the government through various Federal Reserve papers, experiments, and Executive agency reports released this year. Through these discussions and global explorations of CBDCs, the need for defining interoperability through international standard setting is clear. We believe that it is essential for the U.S. to lead in these discussions, as U.S. CBDC could be the translation layer between multiple CBDC networks and technology platforms, creating a shared language domestically and globally. This transferability across traditional and DLT-based networks could streamline transaction data sharing across many use cases and codify democratic values of freedom, economic stability, and individual privacy. It is important to note that the U.S. can lead global standard-setting discussions without committing to issuing a U.S. CBDC, and DDP is encouraged to see the Federal Reserve beginning to step into these conversations.
The DDP is focused on collaborating with corporations, regulators, government agencies, and academics globally to advance technology standards and other layered facets such as identity frameworks and consumer protections. We are excited to focus the first half of 2023 on defining and actualizing interoperability through privacy roundtables and technical workshops with our policy partners.
About The Digital Dollar Project (DDP)
A non-profit organization, The Digital Dollar Project, was created to encourage research and public discussion on the potential advantages and challenges of a U.S. CBDC — or a "digital dollar." The DDP will identify options for a CBDC solution to help enhance monetary policy effectiveness and financial stability; provide needed scalability, security and privacy in retail, wholesale and international payments; and integrate with existing financial infrastructures, including U.S. Federal Reserve-initiated projects. Visit https://digitaldollarproject.org/.
To read the second part of this interview series with Jennifer B. Lassiter, click here: Interview (Part 2): Jennifer B. Lassiter, Executive Director of the Digital Dollar Project (DDP)
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