Computer scientists have devised a digital crypto-currency in league with the Bank of England that could pose a devastating threat to large tranches of the financial industry, and profoundly change the management of monetary policy.
The proto-currency known as RSCoin has vastly greater scope than Bitcoin, used for peer-to-peer transactions by libertarians across the world, and beyond the control of any political authority.
The purpose would be turned upside down. RSCoin would be a tool of state control, allowing the central bank to keep a tight grip on the money supply and respond to crises. It would erode the exorbitant privilege of commercial banks of creating money out of thin air under a fractional reserve financial system.
“Whoever reacts too slowly to these developments is going to take it on the chin. They will lose their businesses,” said Dr George Danezis, who is working on the design at University College London.
“My advice is that companies should play very close attention to what is happening, because this will not go away,” he said. Layers of middlemen in payments systems face a creeping threat across the nexus of commerce, stockbroking, currency trading or derivatives. Many risk extinction over time.
“Deep in the markets there are dark pools buying and selling shares, and entities that facilitate that foreign exchange. There are Visa, Master, and PayPal. These are the sorts of guys that we are going to disrupt,” he said.
University College drafted the plan after being encouraged by the Bank of England last year to come up with a radical design for a secure digital currency. The Bank itself has an elite four-man unit grappling with the implications of crypto-currencies and blockchain technology.
Central banks at first saw Bitcoin as a rogue currency and a threat to monetary order, but they are starting to glimpse ways of turning the new technology to their advantage.
The findings of the University College team were delivered to the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium (NDSS) in San Diego, revealing for the first time what may be in store. Dr Danezis said a national pilot project could be up and running within eighteen months if a decision were made to launch such a scheme.