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New York Fed and MAS explore potential for wholesale CBDCs in cross-border payments

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s New York Innovation Center (NYIC) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) have published a research report detailing the results of the joint Project Cedar Phase II x Ubin+ (Cedar x Ubin+) experiment. This experiment examined whether distributed ledger technology (DLT) could improve the efficiency of cross-border wholesale payments and settlements involving multiple currencies. 

The technical research experiment built on previous phases of the NYIC’s Project Cedar research and the MAS’ Ubin+ initiative. It examined a cross-border multi-currency use case in which vehicle currencies are used as a bridge to exchange currency pairs that are not widely traded. 

Specifically, Cedar x Ubin+ explored the ability of DLT to establish connectivity across heterogeneous simulated currency ledgers, reduce settlement risk, and decrease settlement time. The experiment was conducted in a test environment, and the hypothetical payments were settled using simulated wholesale central bank digital currencies. 

“Cross-border payments are a major railway for facilitating the functioning of the global economy,” said Michelle Neal, Head of the Markets Group at the New York Fed. “Our research collaboration with the MAS reveals key opportunities for central bank innovation to play an important role in easing wholesale payment flows globally and improving settlement outcomes.

Addressing common pain points

The Cedar x Ubin+ experiment demonstrated that DLT could support cross-border multi-currency payments and settlement enhancements. The findings addressed three key pain points related to network interoperability and autonomy, settlement, and speed:

  • Interoperability and autonomy: The Cedar x Ubin + experiment interlinked the distinct central bank currency ledgers, providing flexibility in the design and operation of each ledger to the respective central bank. This enabled payments to be safely executed across multiple ledgers without the need for a central clearing authority or the establishment of a shared central network.
  • Atomic settlement: The simulated payments were settled atomically, meaning transactions were only settled if all legs in the cross-currency payment chains were executed successfully. This improved the certainty of settlement, addressing existing pain points such as counterparty risks.
  • Near real-time settlement: Each simulated payment scenario achieved an end-to-end settlement in under thirty seconds on average. This enabled participants to be notified of a payment’s success in seconds.

The study revealed research areas for future experimentation and analysis, including the viability of the network solution to manage transaction volumes at scale, with potentially an increase in payments settled per second and the involvement of additional currencies supported by their corresponding central bank ledgers.

Project Cedar is a multi-phase technical research effort evaluating financial technology solutions' potential applications to improve cross-border wholesale payments' efficiency. Phase I of Project Cedar found that wholesale payments supported by DLT could improve the speed and safety of cross-border transactions. 

Project Cedar aims to contribute to a broad and transparent dialogue about innovation in the financial sector. The Cedar x Ubin+ report is not intended to advance any specific policy outcome, nor to signal that the Federal Reserve or the MAS will make any imminent decisions about the appropriateness of issuing a CBDC or any other product or service, nor indicate how one would necessarily be designed. 

While DLT was explored as a potential solution in Cedar x Ubin+, alternative technical designs may also provide viable solutions. The Federal Reserve System has made no decisions as to optimal technical design. 

Ubin+ is MAS’ initiative focused on wholesale digital currency connectivity with international partners to improve the efficiency in cross-border foreign exchange settlement and successful interlinking with diverse DLT and non-DLT financial networks in the future. Its focus includes the study of business models and governance structures for cross-border foreign exchange settlement, the development of technical standards and infrastructure for cross-border connectivity, interoperability and atomic settlement, and the establishment of policy guidelines for digital currency infrastructure connectivity across borders.

“The Cedar x Ubin+ experiment envisages a future digital currency landscape where central banks can enable interoperability of wholesale CBDCs to facilitate more efficient cross-border payment flows including for less liquid currencies, without requiring a common infrastructure,” noted Leong Sing Chiong, Deputy Managing Director (Markets & Development) at MAS.

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