Digital currency

Digital currency (digital money, electronic money or electronic currency) is a balance or a record stored in a distributed database on the Internet, in an electronic computer database, within digital files or within a stored-value card. Examples of digital currencies include cryptocurrencies, virtual currencies, central bank digital currencies and e-Cash.

Digital currencies exhibit properties similar to other currencies, but do not have a physical form of banknotes and coins. Not having a physical form, they allow for nearly instantaneous transactions. Usually not issued by a governmental body, virtual currencies are not considered a legal tender and they enable ownership transfer across governmental borders.

These types of currencies may be used to buy physical goods and services, but may also be restricted to certain communities such as for use inside an online game. One type of digital currency is often traded for another digital currency using arbitrage strategies and techniques.

Digital money can either be centralized, where there is a central point of control over the money supply, or decentralized, where the control over the money supply can come from various sources.

Digital Currency is a term that refers to as a specific electronic currency type with specific properties. Digital Currency is also a term used to include the meta-group of sub-types of digital currency, the specific meaning can only be determined within the specific legal or contextual case. Legally and technically, there already are a myriad of legal definitions of digital currency and the many digital currency sub-types. Combining different possible properties, there exists an extensive number of implementations creating many and numerous sub-types of Digital Currency. Many governmental jurisdictions have implemented their own unique definition for digital currency, virtual currency, cryptocurrency, e-money, network money, e-cash, and other types of digital currency. Within any specific government jurisdiction, different agencies and regulators define different and often conflicting meanings for the different types of digital currency based on the specific properties of a specific currency type or sub-type.

Digital versus virtual currency:

A virtual currency has been defined in 2012 by the European Central Bank as "a type of unregulated, digital money, which is issued and usually controlled by its developers, and used and accepted among the members of a specific virtual community". The US Department of Treasury in 2013 defined it more tersely as "a medium of exchange that operates like a currency in some environments, but does not have all the attributes of real currency". The US Department of Treasury also stated that, "Virtual currency does not have legal-tender status in any jurisdiction."

According to the European Central Bank's 2015 "Virtual currency schemes – a further analysis" report, virtual currency is a digital representation of value, not issued by a central bank, credit institution or e-money institution, which, in some circumstances, can be used as an alternative to money. In the previous report of October 2012, the virtual currency was defined as a type of unregulated, digital money, which is issued and usually controlled by its developers, and used and accepted among the members of a specific virtual community.

According to the Bank for International Settlements' November 2015 "Digital currencies" report, it is an asset represented in digital form and having some monetary characteristics. Digital currency can be denominated to a sovereign currency and issued by the issuer responsible to redeem digital money for cash. In that case, digital currency represents electronic money (e-money). Digital currency denominated in its own units of value or with decentralized or automatic issuance will be considered as a virtual currency. As such, bitcoin is a digital currency but also a type of virtual currency. Bitcoin and its alternatives are based on cryptographic algorithms, so these kinds of virtual currencies are also called cryptocurrencies.

Digital versus cryptocurrency:

Cryptocurrency is a sub-type of digital currency and a digital asset that relies on cryptography to chain together digital signatures of asset transfers, peer-to-peer networking and decentralization. In some cases a proof-of-work or proof-of-stake scheme is used to create and manage the currency. Cryptocurrencies can allow electronic money systems to be decentralized. When implemented with a blockchain, the digital ledger system or record keeping system uses cryptography to edit separate shards of database entries that are distributed across many separate servers. The first and most popular system is bitcoin, a peer-to-peer electronic monetary system based on cryptography.


Digital versus traditional currency:

Most of the traditional money supply is bank money held on computers. They are considered digital currency in some cases. One could argue that our increasingly cashless society means that all currencies are becoming digital currencies, but they are not presented to us as such

Types of systems
 

Mobile digital wallets:

A number of electronic money systems use contactless payment transfer in order to facilitate easy payment and give the payee more confidence in not letting go of their electronic wallet during the transaction.

In 1994 Mondex and National Westminster Bank provided an "electronic purse" to residents of Swindon
In about 2005 Telefónica and BBVA Bank launched a payment system in Spain called Mobipay which used simple short message service facilities of feature phones intended for pay-as-you-go services including taxis and pre-pay phone recharges via a BBVA current bank account debit.
In January 2010, Venmo launched as a mobile payment system through SMS, which transformed into a social app where friends can pay each other for minor expenses like a cup of coffee, rent and pay a share of the restaurant bill when one has forgotten their wallet. It is popular with college students, but has some security issues. It can be linked to a bank account, credit/debit card or have a loaded value to limit the amount of loss in case of a security breach. Credit cards and non-major debit cards incur a 3% processing fee.
On 19 September 2011, Google Wallet released in the United States to make it easy to carry all one's credit/debit cards on a phone.
In 2012 Ireland's O2 (owned by Telefónica) launched Easytrip to pay road tolls which were charged to the mobile phone account or prepay credit.
The UK's O2 invented O2 Wallet at about the same time. The wallet can be charged with regular bank accounts or cards and discharged by participating retailers using a technique known as 'money messages'. The service closed in 2014.
On 9 September 2014, Apple Pay was announced at the iPhone 6 event. In October 2014 it was released as an update to work on iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. It is very similar to Google Wallet, but for Apple devices only

Decentralized systems:

Digital Currency has been implemented in some cases as a decentralized system of any combination of currency issuance, ownership record, ownership transfer authorization and validation, and currency storage.

Per the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), "These schemes do not distinguish between users based on location, and therefore allow value to be transferred between users across borders. Moreover, the speed of a transaction is not conditional on the location of the payer and payee

Adoption by governments

As of 2016, over 24 countries are investing in distributed ledger technologies (DLT) with $1.4bn in investments. In addition, over 90 central banks are engaged in DLT discussions, including implications of a central bank issued digital currency.

Hong Kong's Octopus card system: Launched in 1997 as an electronic purse for public transportation, is the most successful and mature implementation of contactless smart cards used for mass transit payments. After only 5 years, 25 percent of Octopus card transactions are unrelated to transit, and accepted by more than 160 merchants.
London Transport’s Oyster card system: Oyster is a plastic smartcard which can hold pay-as-you-go credit, Travelcards and Bus & Tram season tickets. An Oyster card can be used to travel on bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London.
Japan's FeliCa: A contactless RFID smart card, used in a variety of ways such as in ticketing systems for public transportation, e-money, and residence door keys.
The Netherlands' Chipknip: As an electronic cash system used in the Netherlands, all ATM cards issued by the Dutch banks had value that could be loaded via Chipknip loading stations. For people without a bank, pre-paid Chipknip cards could be purchased at various locations in the Netherlands. As of 1 January 2015, payment can no longer be made with Chipknip.
Belgium's Proton: An electronic purse application for debit cards in Belgium. Introduced in February 1995, as a means to replace cash for small transactions. The system was retired on 31 December 2014.
In March 2018, the Marshall Islands became the first country to issue their own cryptocurrency and certify it as legal tender; the currency is called the "sovereign".

Canada

The Bank of Canada have explored the possibility of creating a version of its currency on the blockchain.

The Bank of Canada teamed up with the nation’s five largest banks – and the blockchain consulting firm R3 – for what was known as Project Jasper. In a simulation run in 2016, the central bank issued CAD-Coins onto a blockchain similar Ethereum. The banks used the CAD-Coins to exchange money the way they do at the end of each day to settle their master accounts.

China

A deputy governor at the central bank of China, Fan Yifei, wrote that "the conditions are ripe for digital currencies, which can reduce operating costs, increase efficiency and enable a wide range of new applications".According to Fan Yifei, the best way to take advantage of the situation is for central banks to take the lead, both in supervising private digital currencies and in developing digital legal tender of their own.

In December 2020, the People's Bank of China distributed 20 million digital yuan to the residents of Suzhou through a lottery in a program to further develop a government-backed digital currency. Recipients of the digital yuan could spend the currency on both offline and online purchases, expanding on a previous trial by including online store purchasing and a method of payment without requiring an internet connection. Around 20,000 were reported by e-commerce company JD.com in the first 24 hours of the trial. Opposed to other online payment platforms such as Alipay or WeChat Pay, the digital yuan does not have transaction fees.

Denmark

The Danish government proposed getting rid of the obligation for selected retailers to accept payment in cash, moving the country closer to a "cashless" economy. The Danish Chamber of Commerce is backing the move. Nearly a third of the Danish population uses MobilePay, a smartphone application for transferring money.

Ecuador

A law passed by the National Assembly of Ecuador gives the government permission to make payments in electronic currency and proposes the creation of a national digital currency. "Electronic money will stimulate the economy; it will be possible to attract more Ecuadorian citizens, especially those who do not have checking or savings accounts and credit cards alone. The electronic currency will be backed by the assets of the Central Bank of Ecuador", the National Assembly said in a statement. In December 2015, Sistema de Dinero Electrónico ("electronic money system") was launched, making Ecuador the first country with a state-run electronic payment system.

Netherlands

The Dutch central bank is experimenting with a blockchain-based virtual currency called "DNBCoin".

India

Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is an instant real-time payment system developed by National Payments Corporation of India facilitating inter-bank transactions. The interface is regulated by the Reserve Bank of India and works by instantly transferring funds between two bank accounts on a mobile platform. UPI is built over Immediate Payment Service for transferring funds. Being a digital payment system it is available 24*7 and across public holidays. Unlike traditional mobile wallets, which takes a specified amount of money from user and stores it in its own accounts, UPI withdraws and deposits funds directly from the bank account whenever a transaction is requested. It uses Virtual Payment Address (a unique ID provided by the bank), Account Number with IFS Code, Mobile Number with MMID (Mobile Money Identifier), Aadhaar Number, or a one-time use Virtual ID. An UPI-PIN (UPI Personal Identification number that one creates on the UPI app of the bank) is required to confirm each payment.

Russia

Government-controlled Sberbank of Russia owns Yandex.Money – electronic payment service and digital currency of the same name.

Sweden

Sweden is in the process of replacing all of its physical banknotes, and most of its coins by mid-2017. However, the new banknotes and coins of the Swedish krona will probably be circulating at about half the 2007 peak of 12,494 kronor per capita. The Riksbank is planning to begin discussions of an electronic currency issued by the central bank to which "is not to replace cash, but to act as complement to it". Deputy Governor Cecilia Skingsley states that cash will continue to spiral out of use in Sweden, and while it is currently fairly easy to get cash in Sweden, it is often very difficult to deposit it into bank accounts, especially in rural areas. No decision has been currently made about the decision to create "e-krona". In her speech, Skingsley states: "The first question is whether e-krona should be booked in accounts or whether the ekrona should be some form of a digitally transferable unit that does not need an underlying account structure, roughly like cash." Skingsley also states: "Another important question is whether the Riksbank should issue e-krona directly to the general public or go via the banks, as we do now with banknotes and coins." Other questions will be addressed like interest rates, should they be positive, negative, or zero?

Switzerland

In 2016, a city government first accepted digital currency in payment of city fees. Zug, Switzerland, added bitcoin as a means of paying small amounts, up to CHF 200, in a test and an attempt to advance Zug as a region that is advancing future technologies. In order to reduce risk, Zug immediately converts any bitcoin received into the Swiss currency. Swiss Federal Railways, government-owned railway company of Switzerland, sells bitcoins at its ticket machines.

UK

The Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government advised his Prime Minister and Parliament to consider using a blockchain-based digital currency.

The chief economist of Bank of England, the central bank of the United Kingdom, proposed abolition of paper currency. The Bank has also taken an interest in blockchain. In 2016 it has embarked on a multi-year research programme to explore the implications of a central bank issued digital currency. The Bank of England has produced several research papers on the topic. One suggests that the economic benefits of issuing a digital currency on a distributed ledger could add as much as 3 percent to a country's economic output. The Bank said that it wanted the next version of the bank’s basic software infrastructure to be compatible with distributed ledgers
 

 

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