Research from Bitcoin and crypto hardware wallet company Trezor has revealed widespread concern among the UK public over the government’s plans for a central bank digital currency (CBDC).
With Whitehall’s consultation on a CBDC closing today, Trezor’s research found:
- 73% of people were concerned about UK authorities being able to control access to their funds
- 67% were concerned about the ability to impose time conditions on spending
- 59% think it likely that UK authorities would use a digital pound to block specific individuals from using money
Given the potential significance of a ‘digital pound’ or ‘Britcoin’, Trezor chiefs say they wanted to gauge the level of public understanding, and to assess attitudes to putting the powerful and unprecedented capabilities of a CBDC into the hands of the UK Government and financial authorities.
Trezor claims that, irrespective of a digital currency, there is a distinct lack of confidence in the ability of UK authorities to effectively manage the pound and safeguard the value of savings. Forty-two percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with UK authorities’ management of the pound while almost half (47%) lacked confidence in the ability of UK authorities’ ability to protect savings over the next three years.
When it came to questions over the digital pound, only 55% of people said they had heard of it. Among this group, almost half (49%) had little or no knowledge about it
CBDCs offer the prospect of programmable, trackable money that it is possible to control access to and impose conditions on — for instance, by setting time limits on when money has to be spent. There is a danger that CBDCs could restrict personal financial autonomy, claims Trezor.
The report also found 73% of people were concerned about ruling authorities being able to control access to their funds; two-thirds (67%) concerned about the ability to impose time conditions; 62% about controls on which goods and services can be bought; and 59% about the ability to cut off specific individuals from the UK’s financial services.
59% of respondents thought it likely that UK authorities would block individuals from using digital money if they could (compared to 13% who think it unlikely). Almost half (46%) do not trust UK authorities to use the powers and abilities of CBDCs responsibly, against 28% that do.
Josef Tětek, Bitcoin Analyst at Trezor, said the research sounded an alarm bell for the UK.
“It’s clear that the vast majority of people are not comfortable with financial authorities having the kind of powers that a CBDC could grant them,” he said.
“Once this technology and the infrastructure are in place, they become open to abuse. Before the UK, or any other country for that matter, goes too far down the path to roll-out, we need a comprehensive, society-wide debate with ordinary people being made aware of the long-term implications of what the introduction of programmable, trackable, government-controlled money could mean.”
He added: “The digital pound is a solution in search of a problem — the public is already well served by convenient digital payment options. CBDCs are a tool that benefits only politicians and central bankers. The fact that China is at the vanguard of CBDC adoption says a lot about the utility of CBDCs for state surveillance and control. The civil unrest caused by the introduction of the eNaira in Nigeria should give governments everywhere pause for thought.”
Tětek also fears the deployment of the digital pound could prompt a rush to alternative assets, with more than a third of those surveyed (36%) saying they would be likely to consider moving at least part of their savings into other holdings with stocks and shares the most popular choice (selected by 43%) followed by gold (35%) and Bitcoin/crypto (34%). Nearly half (47%) of 18-24 year-olds said they would opt for crypto.
“We should guard against governments and central banks seeking too much control over how we use our money,” Tětek concluded.
“In our view, Bitcoin is the perfect defence against such encroachment because it cannot be manipulated and is truly neutral, as money should be.”