Virtual Currencies and Beyond: Initial Considerations
INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND
New technologies—supported by advances in encryption and network computing—are driving transformational change in the global economy, including in how goods, services and assets are exchanged. An important development in this process has been the emergence of virtual currencies (VCs). VC schemes are private sector systems that, in many cases, facilitate peer-to-peer exchange bypassing traditional central clearinghouses. VCs and their associated technologies (notably distributed ledgers based on blockchains) are rapidly evolving, and the future landscape is difficult to predict.
VCs offer many potential benefits, including greater speed and efficiency in making payments and transfers—particularly across borders––and ultimately promoting financial inclusion. The distributed ledger technology underlying some VC schemes—an innovative decentralized means of keeping track of transactions in a large network––offers potential benefits that go far beyond VCs themselves.
At the same time, VCs pose considerable risks as potential vehicles for money laundering, terrorist financing, tax evasion and fraud. While risks to the conduct of monetary policy seem less likely to arise at this stage given the very small scale of VCs, risks to financial stability may eventually emerge as the new technologies become more widely used.
The development of effective regulatory responses to VCs is still at an early stage. VCs are difficult to regulate as they cut across the responsibilities of different agencies at the national level, and operate on a global scale. Many are opaque and operate outside of the conventional financial system, making it difficult to monitor their operations.
Regulators have begun to address these challenges, with a variety of approaches across countries.
Responses have included clarifying the applicability of existing legislation to VCs, issuing warnings to consumers, imposing licensing requirements on certain VC market participants, prohibiting financial institutions from dealing in VCs, completely banning the use of VCs, and prosecuting violators. These approaches represent an initial policy response to the challenges that VCs pose, but further development is needed. In particular, national authorities will need to calibrate regulation in a manner that appropriately addresses the risks without stifling innovation.
More could be done at the international level to facilitate the process of developing and refining policies at the national level. International bodies are playing an important role in identifying and discussing the risks posed by VCs and possible regulatory responses, and they should continue to do so. As experience is gained, international standards and best practices could be considered to provide guidance on the most appropriate regulatory responses in different fields, thereby promoting harmonization across jurisdictions. Such standards could also set out frameworks for cross-country cooperation and coordination in areas such as information sharing and the investigation and prosecution of cross-border offenses.