COVID-19 Accelerated Digital Payments Growth and Fintech Regulatory Innovation: Study

A joint study by the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance (CCAF) and the World Bank has revealed that COVID-19 greatly accelerated Fintech regulatory innovation developments. Dubbed Global COVID-19 Fintech Regulatory Rapid Assessment Study’, the report was released on Oct 28 as part of an effort to empirically equip regulators and central banks in the digital currency era. Notably, the study highlights that increased digital payments activity did not result in a similar spike in crypto exchange use; however, these platforms also grew by smaller percentages.

The study’s results are based on responses from 118 central banks and financial regulators in 114 jurisdictions, from both developed and developing economies. Generally, there have been increased efforts to further accelerate the current regulatory innovations and introduce new initiatives to further support the burgeoning sector. According to the study, 72% of the sample has increased or debuted digital ecosystem initiatives, while 58% have already pivoted on RegTech/SupTech focused policies. Innovation offices are also on the rise, with 56% of the respondents noting progress.

Despite the bullish outlook in digital payments adoption, the study found that developed and developing economies faired differently. As per the findings, emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) made more progress in accelerating or introducing Fintech initiatives. Most notably, EMDEs initiatives to support digital ecosystems have been focused on remittances and payments; some respondents reported waiving fees and altering transactional thresholds to mitigate the pandemic’s effects.

Crypto Exchanges Lag Behind

Although not as much as the digital payments arena that was already in place for most economies, the nascent crypto sector grew. As per stats from the study, digital payments are reported to have grown by around 60%, while activity on crypto exchanges only managed to gain 3%. Interestingly, there was a clear difference in the crypto exchange growth for developed and developing markets. The former grew by 6% while the latter saw an increase of 2% in crypto exchange usage.

Prevailing Challenges in Fintech Integration

At the core of regulators’ decision-making process is the risks associated with volatile Fintech environments, especially in upcoming markets like crypto. This study’s respondents identified cybersecurity as the top threat of digital ecosystems, followed by operational risks, consumer protection, and fraudulent activity. The report reads,

“In particular, 90 percent of surveyed regulators from advanced economies see cybersecurity as one of the top three increasing risks associated with FinTech activities.”

As for oversight, it appears that most central banks and regulators are comfortable with adopting and being resilient to innovations. Nonetheless, the respondents highlighted some shortcomings; they include the performance of core regulatory functions, access to reliable data, restriction to essential tech or information, and cooperation with local domestic agencies.

A Prospectus Future with CBDCs

This study has painted out the current status of digital payment networks globally and coincides with an increased interest in CBDC research and development. Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) are now a hot topic with the latest insights from the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) in a collaborative report with 7 major central banks.

Developed economies have currently leaped research, while some like China has gone further and launched a pilot for its prospectus digital yuan. This initiative has been in place for some months and is a reference for most ongoing projects in the space. In 2021, South Korea and Japan are also set to pioneer their CBDC tests to prepare for the virtual currency shift.

Well, UK’s Minister for Africa at the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office, James Duddridge, is optimistic that the study will complement the current approaches to Fintech policies,

 “I trust that this report will inform and inspire countries around the world, help support their FinTech regulatory strategies, and encourage greater collaboration across jurisdictions.”

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Author: Edwin Munyui

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