Australia's central bank sceptical on digital A$, but that could change

FILE PHOTO: A worker is reflected in a wall of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) head office in central Sydney, Australia, March 1, 2016. REUTERS/David Gray

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The head of Australia's central bank still sees no strong case for a retail digital currency in the country, though he conceded one could emerge as technology and public preferences are changing rapidly.

In a speech on the payments system on Thursday, Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor Philip Lowe also said regulators were reviewing the treatment of crypto-assets, and cautioned investors to be wary of the risks when buying.

This comes as the government is launching the biggest overhaul of Australia's A$650 billion-a-day ($466 billion) payments industry in a quarter of a century.

Lowe said the growth of digital wallets could allow the exchange of tokens or digital forms of money which could be backed by the RBA.

"This would be a form of retail central bank digital currency (CBDC) – or an eAUD," said Lowe. "To date, though, we have not seen a strong public policy case to move in this direction, especially given Australia's efficient, fast and convenient electronic payments system."

Lowe said a case could emerge as technology evolves and there would be advantages in any digital payment tokens being backed by the central bank.

"A lesson from history is that privately issued and backed money all too often ends in financial instability and losses for consumers," he added.

If private digital tokens, or stablecoins, were to develop they would need to be backed by high-quality assets and meet high standards for safety and security, he said.

He was sceptical about the need for a cryptocurrency not linked directly to the Australian dollar or backed by a particular entity or assets, partly because of their volatility. ($1 = 1.3943 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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