The Other Side of the Digital Coin: Central Bank Digital Currencies and Sanctions

As the economic benefits of central bank digital currencies emerge, so does one of their major downsides: an opportunity to avoid sanctions imposed by governments.

Almost every day it seems a new form of digital money emerges, often touted as the next hot idea. But with so many governments indicating interest in these developments, central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) might actually be a technology to change the world.


A CBDC is a digital form of currency issued by central banks, which often have a monopoly over the issuance of currency within their own state’s territory. As a currency it is different from traditional reserves or settlement accounts, which are the established way for central banks to issue their ‘physical’ currencies. Although evidently inspired by cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, CBDCs are more like cash. While Bitcoin and Ethereum prices fluctuate wildly and could lose their value entirely, CBDCs are backed by a government, and are legal tender in the country in which they are issued. Thus, it is easiest to conceptualise them as digital banknotes, despite being inspired by decentralised cryptocurrencies. And although not an absolute necessity, many CBDCs are based on distributed ledger technology – decentralised databases managed by multiple participants or nodes – which is the technological infrastructure underpinning blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

CBDC models do vary by jurisdiction, and can be broadly grouped into two main types: wholesale and retail/general purpose. It is worth noting that most countries discussed are creating retail CBDCs (those widely available and targeted at payments between individuals and businesses).

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