The Asia Pacific region is at the forefront of central bank digital currency (CBDC) development. Most APAC countries are proactively exploring and experimenting with CBDCs. China, South Korea, India, and Thailand are proactively piloting retail CBDCs. Singapore and Malaysia are currently focusing on wholesale CBDCs and participating in some multicountry CBDC pilots. Australia and Japan have accelerated CBDC proofs of concept and pilots in the past two years (see Figure 1).
CBDCs are emerging and developing rapidly in APAC because:
APAC’s emerging markets need more financial inclusion. APAC has a large unbanked and underbanked population. While expanding traditional banking services is labor-intensive, costly, and subject to geographic limitations, a retail CBDC does not require a bank account to access it; consumers and businesses can use it like cash.
Cross-border commerce requires efficient cross-border payments to thrive. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is boosting cross-border trade and commerce among 15 APAC countries. Businesses and consumers alike need more efficient payments and better shopping and trading experiences. The region has been involved in some experimental CBDC-based cross-border payment networks, such as Project mBridge and Project Dunbar.
The region’s regulators need to manage the increasing risk of consumer crypto usage. The “crypto winter” of 2022 exposed systemic risks. For instance, the collapse of Asia-based crypto giants Terra erased billions of dollars in assets, and crypto is increasingly used to facilitate money laundering and fraud. These risks are spurring the region’s regulators to safeguard the payment system and protect consumers; this includes integrating CBDCs into crypto use cases such as payments and investments.
China’s early success is spurring on neighboring countries. To date, 360 million digital yuan transactions have been conducted, with a total value of more than RMB 100 billion. The success of the digital yuan has caused a ripple effect among China’s neighbors. Since 2020, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Australia, and India have all launched research, pilots, and proofs of concept on retail CBDCs, as shown above.
Although most APAC countries are proactively exploring and experimenting with CBDCs, their maturity varies. To evaluate the maturity of CBDCs in a given market, Forrester uses five key dimensions: policy motivation; operator ecosystem; technology ecosystem; regulatory and legal framework; and market readiness. Each of these dimensions plays a unique role in CBDC development and provides specific elements to assess maturity. Forrester clients can read our full report, The State Of Central Bank Digital Currencies In Asia Pacific, to learn more details of these five dimensions. Forrester clients can also schedule a guidance session or inquiry to discuss this in the context of your CBDC plan and strategy.