DLT Not Efficient Enough to Power CBDCs: BOE’s Cunliffe

Distributed ledger technology (DLT) is too clunky to be reliably used for a central bank digital currency, a senior Bank of England official told lawmakers Tuesday, pouring cold water on industry claims about the technology that underpins crypto.

Jon Cunliffe, the central bank’s Deputy Governor for Financial Stability, said it was now “more likely than not” that a digital version of the pound would be needed, as he was grilled by the House of Commons Treasury Committee over a recent consultation on the issue.

The bank is trying “to see how trends in the economy, in payments, in society, and in technology will play out” before taking any decision on whether to issue a central bank digital currency, Cunliffe said, referring to the prospect that payments could be much more deeply integrated into online functions.

But Cunliffe cast doubt on claims by lawmaker Anne Marie Morris that a CBDC – whether used as a substitute for retail cash or large-scale for transactions between financial institutions – could be based on the kind of innovations that underpin cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

“Distributed ledger technology suffers with some real challenges on scalability,” Cunliffe said, with any system needing to be secure and fast. “On the retail side of it, we put in 30,000 transactions per second as a base case, going to 100,000. I don't think you can find any distributed ledger technology that gets remotely close to that.”

“I'm not saying it can't,” he said. “But what a crypto firm or a new payment firm has demonstrated – a proof of concept – is a very different thing to scaling up to using economy-wide or cross-border.”

Even if payment innovations don’t always stand up to central bank scrutiny, Cunliffe said they could have other applications – such as to mediate the sale and registration of real estate.

“We're running projects with the BIS [Bank for International Settlements] Innovation Hub, about a synchronization agent that will be able to synchronize, not just with the financial sector, but within the Land Registry,” he said, referring to Project Meridian, which is looking to develop an intermediary platform that settles directly in central bank money.

The Land Registry is a U.K. government agency that records who owns real estate.

Tokenized assets can be used to make a “house purchase without having to have solicitors and escrow,” Cunliffe said. “There's a lot of experimentation going on.”

Read more: Digital Pound Holdings Could Be Limited to 10K, Central Bank Says

Camomile Shumba contributed reporting.