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Bank of England Governor Mark Carney unveiled new initiatives on Thursday to help modernize and steer the central bank toward a new digital economy.
At his annual Mansion House speech, Carney announced measures including how to address inefficiencies in small business funding, allowing for more widespread use of cloud technology, and incorporating big data into regulatory technology.
One key area of focus is that of that of payments systems. The BOE noted that the proportion of online sales has been going up while the use of cash has been "declining from two-thirds to one quarter" over the past decade — both necessitating new demands on finance and transactions.
In his speech, the Governor said the "UK is still a long way behind countries such as Sweden, where users can make direct, free and real time bank-to-bank payments in-store and online with a text or a scan of a QR code."
In recognition of the growing importance of payments firms, the BOE announced it will be the first central bank with plans to open up access to its balance sheet to new payment providers including firms and users of payment services. This would help "improve the transmission of monetary policy and increase competition."
A year ago, the BOE became the first G-7 central bank to open up access to its Real time Gross Settlement system to non-banks.
In a nod to Facebook, Carney said the central bank is keeping an "open mind but not an open door" to the company's stablecoin Libra, highlighting that the new coin would improve both financial inclusion and lower the costs of cross border payments.
"Libra, if it achieves its ambitions, would be systemically important," the governor said, but he cautioned that the new coin would have to meet the highest standards of prudential regulation and consumer protection, as well as adhere to anti-money laundering standards.
Last week, G-20 finance ministers agreed that the regulation of cryptocurrencies required a global coordinated effort.
Carney has been highlighting the risks climate change poses to financial risks since 2015.
In his speech, the governor spelled out the BOE's initiatives to support the transition to a carbon-neutral economy — which refers to the goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions.
He announced that the central bank will begin stress-testing the UK financial system for resilience against different climate risks including the transition and fiscal costs involved in moving to a carbon-neutral emission economy.
The design of the stress test will start later this year and will aim to be completed by 2021. This would make the Bank of England the second bank in the world to incorporate climate change into its financial stability tests after the Bank of Netherlands.
The BOE also committed to reducing its carbon footprint by almost two-thirds by 2030.