Global banks mint digital coin for fast cross-border transfers

Major banks in Japan, the U.S. and Europe are developing a blockchain-based digital coin that can be used to instantly settle overseas money transfers instantly, lowering transaction costs by cutting out intermediaries.

The project will be run by Fnality International, a company recently established in London with about 50 million pounds ($63.1 million) in capital from 14 participating banks, including Japan’s MUFG Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.; UBS, Credit Suisse and Barclays of Europe; and U.S.-based State Street. The Japanese banks are believed to have contributed several hundred million yen each.

Fnality will set up accounts at participating central banks and issue “utility settlement coins,” or USCs, digital equivalents of major currencies that can be converted into their paired currencies on a one-to-one basis.

Currently, cross-border transfers must go through multiple steps involving third-party intermediaries as well as the foreign exchange market if different currencies are involved, adding fees and other costs to the process. USCs will eliminate the need to buy the destination currency in the market, allowing for orders to be processed immediately.

Transmissions that currently take a full day, or even longer, will be carried out much more quickly.

When a commercial bank deposits funds in a Fnality account, it will receive USCs of equivalent value. These will be backed by central banks, mitigating the risk of price fluctuations and providing a more stable method for interbank transfers.

The system will initially work with U.S. dollars, euros, pounds, yen and Canadian dollars. Fnality plans to step up negotiations with central banks and aims to issue the first USC by late 2020.

Like bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, USCs will use blockchain, record-keeping software that makes it difficult to falsify data on past transactions. But USCs will play a fundamentally different role from other digital currencies, as they are used only by financial institutions and are backed by central banks.