South Korean central bank charts out future course of payment systems, CBDC

The BOK 2022 Payment and Settlement Systems Report is a forward-looking document with ambitious plans for financial technology in the country.

The South Korean central bank (BOK) has published its 2022 Payment and Settlement Systems Report. Oversight of the systems was carried out successfully, the report said, and it is getting ready for a future with central bank digital currency (CBDC) and is discussing stablecoin regulation broadly.

The BOK-Wire+ fast payment system will be upgraded to real-time gross settlement (RTGS) and has adopted the ISO 20022 standard, which is expected to be implemented in 2028, the report said. The bank will also increase oversight of “Big Tech” payment services and build up its capabilities to respond to “IT operational risk.”

The BOK continued its preparations for the potential introduction of a CBDC, which included investigating the use of smart contracts, offline payments with near-field communications and cross-border payments. The bank connected 14 banks and the Korea Financial Telecommunications and Clearings Institute (KFTCI) with its simulated CBDC system for the second half of the year to verify its functioning.

“In line with these international trends, future Korean regulations for cryptoassets could also include a separate set of rules for stablecoins.

More stringent rules must be applied to issuers of stablecoins and related service providers regarding entry regulations, such as… pic.twitter.com/czbhJAvqaY

— Joshua Rosenberg (@_jrosenberg) July 19, 2023

The system handled 2,000 transactions per second. That figure is higher than most domestic payment systems, the report noted, but it slowed down as it reached capacity, so further improvements are needed.

The bank tried using a zero-knowledge proof protocol to clear CBDC transactions to improve their privacy. That allowed it to hide the wallet addresses and payment amount of the transaction, but it slowed the processing speed markedly and the security implications of a zkCBDC have not been investigated. It said it may consider homomorphic encryption as well.

Related: CBDCs should protect privacy, not be a surveillance tool: Former CFTC chair

The BOK will step up CBDC research, with plans to look at CBDC-based tokenized deposits and expanding the scope of the research with the banks and KFTCI. It said:

“A key focus of the BOK’s research will be identifying a CBDC operating model with minimally adverse impacts on the stability of the financial system and on the effectiveness of monetary policy.”

The report noted “concrete” progress toward crypto asset regulation in the country with the introduction of the Framework Act on Digital Assets Act, but the regulatory framework is still too incomplete for it to allow payments in cryptocurrencies. The bank is also engaged in discussions about stablecoin, it stated repeatedly.

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