Lieber Jens, liebe Kollegen von der Bundesbank, Es ist mir eine Freude heute vor Ihnen zu sprechen, wenn auch nur virtuell aus Basel und der Bank für Internationalen Zahlungsausgleich.
Now, if I may revert to English. I hope you are all safe and still in good spirits despite this latest surge in Covid-19. This has been the strangest year in my memory, but rather than dwell on that, I thought I would look to the bright future on the other side of this pandemic. Specifically, I want to talk about central bankers of the future. And that means yourselves – our bright future. I hope my reflections resonate and I very much look forward to your feedback and questions afterwards.
We are all central bankers here today but our profession is not the only thing we have in common. First, we have the same boss. Jens is your President and my Chairman of the Board. Second, we all appreciate the Bundesbank’s unwavering commitment to price stability. For me this is personal – as a child, I lived through high inflation in Mexico. When I was eight, I remember my father giving me a wad of cash for the bus home from school. At the end of the school day, when I tried to take the bus home, I was kicked off because my money fell short of the bus fare. Fares had gone up during the day, and I ended up walking. This experience brought home to me the dangers of financial instability and its impact on people’s lives. To this day, I probably carry a bit more cash than I really need. Third, we know that Bundesbank staff are among the best and brightest. Again, I know this personally. Not just from my many visits to Frankfurt but also from your colleagues who have joined the BIS over the years.
At the Bank for International Settlements, we are celebrating our 90th birthday this year. The BIS is a bit like Bellamy’s time traveller that Jens so fittingly referenced in a recent speech. We were founded in 1930, when many countries still adhered to the gold standard. But now we find ourselves about to enter the age of digital money. Only our purpose remains unchanged – as a forum where central bankers can meet to coordinate and promote global monetary and financial stability.
A time-travelling central banker
Jens’s speech got me wondering. What if a time-travelling central banker from yesteryear woke up today in a BIS meeting of central bankers? And – after somebody had explained to her why everyone was wearing a mask – what would she think of the topics being discussed? Especially, how amazed would she be at the way tech is driving big changes in finance and central banking? My guess is that she would pick out four or five major themes. Perhaps along these lines.
First, everyone wants to get hold of as much information as possible. And the more data you have, the better. In our modern market economy, the data are distributed around the world. As the costs of data storage have fallen, the global volume of data has surged. Trade-offs are everywhere. Consumers give out their data for a better or a free service, for example. But do they understand what they are giving up? Do we need to sacrifice privacy if we want more efficiency and innovation? Can we ensure privacy while making sure that policymakers get the information they need to ensure the integrity of the system?
Second, money can be – and is being – turned into pure information. Payments are being integrated with digital communications, and private companies are asking, “If it is so easy to send a TikTok video around the world, why isn’t it just as easy to send money?” This is bringing new challenges to how we think of money, and to the role of central banks.
Third, while private companies offer a dizzying array of payment options and financial services, issues of competition loom large. Regulators want banks and other companies to play fair, in other words keep a “level playing field”. But in a complex and globalised world with national regulators and regulatory structures built for traditional business models, how do we ensure this in practice?
And fourth, as we have become more dependent on digital technologies, we are also more vulnerable to their failure (“cyber risk”). While crime – and warfare – have bedevilled all ages, they have now moved to the digital realm. And the financial sector, which central banks supervise, is a particularly common target. Especially in 2020 as we are all working from home.
How the BIS is adapting to these changes
These are just…
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