Podcast: Bank of Finland’s Aleksi Grym on a 1990s’ digital currency

Avant was launched to establish a new payments network but failed due to competition from ATMs
podcast aleksi Grym
Aleksi Grym, digitalisation adviser to the Bank of Finland
Ed Neale Scullion

Discussions around whether central banks should issue a digital asset of their own have become more urgent following Facebook’s Libra announcement

Speaking in Central Banking’s latest TechTalk episode, Alexi Grym – digitalisation adviser to the Bank of Finland – reveals central bank digital currencies are not a new phenomenon. In fact, they have been around since the 1990s; they were just not talked about.

In 1993, the Bank of Finland launched its Avant project, which in some ways preceded the attempts to create current central bank-issued digital currencies. “The thing with Finland is we are very good at technology but very bad at marketing,” he says.

Avant was essentially a digital version of a prepaid top-up card, with a chip that effectively stored ‘digital money’. At the time, Avant accounts could be refilled with up to 2000 markka (equivalent to €436 euro today). But it cost 2 marrka (then €0.34) to load or unload the digital “card”.

Avant was run by Toimiraha, a company owned by the Bank of Finland, which was later sold to a group of commercial banks. The idea behind the card, Gym explains, was to establish a single national electronic payment system. The commercial banks would bring their customer bases and their ATM networks.

 

The Bank of Finland expected Avant would take over from coins for small purchases. And while on paper Avant appeared to work, in practice consumers were unhappy about being charged to load the cards, especially given that ATM withdrawals were free.

The instrument was discontinued in 2003 as a result of costs, and the fact debit and credit card networks had become more efficient, Grym says. He notes that some of the technical issues Avant had can also be seen in currency central bank-issued digital currency projects being undertaken now.  

Index

00:00 Introduction

02:00 A digital asset taxonomy

06:10 Benefits of central bank digital currency

09:10 The right technology – does DLT have a future?

12:30 Cash vs CBDCs

16:10 What is the Bank of Finland’s preferred CBDC model?

19:00 The first ever CBDC: Avant

To hear the full podcast, listen in the player above, or download. Future podcasts in our CB On Air: Tech Talk series will be uploaded to centralbanking.com. CB On Air is also available via iTunes or podcast apps and from Google Podcasts (Android only).

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