21 July 2023

Stablecoins: The New Frontier in Remittances and FX Liquidity

Discover the transformative potential of stablecoins in the financial landscape. Explore their technological foundation, impact on remittances, and influence on FX liquidity.

Stablecoins: The New Frontier in Remittances and FX Liquidity


    The Technological Foundation of Stablecoins
    The Impact of Stablecoins on Remittances
    Stablecoins and their Influence on FX Liquidity
    Navigating the Regulatory Landscape and Risks
    Key Takeaways

Cryptocurrencies have instigated a revolutionary shift in the global financial milieu. Among these digital marvels, Bitcoin has undoubtedly taken center stage as a groundbreaking innovation, charting a course toward a decentralized and "sound money" future.

While Bitcoin has been a dominant figure in the cryptocurrency landscape, the rise of stablecoins offers an intriguing development in this field. Stablecoins, blending elements of traditional finance with the dynamism of the cryptocurrency world, are reshaping established practices, notably in the spheres of remittances and foreign exchange (FX) liquidity.

The Technological Foundation of Stablecoins

Stablecoins operate by keeping a reserve of assets that underpin each token issued. To illustrate, a stablecoin tied to the US Dollar often upholds a reserve of equivalent dollars for every coin released. However, while the transparency of blockchain technology is a key attribute, it does not directly verify the existence of these reserves. Indeed, the connection between a stablecoin and its reserve of assets, such as T-bills, is not directly reflected on the blockchain, as these assets typically sit with a conventional custodian.

To ensure the credibility and trustworthiness of stablecoins, external audits play a crucial role. Auditing firms independently verify the adequacy of the reserves held by the stablecoin issuer, reinforcing the integrity and reliability of these digital assets. For instance, companies like Circle provide regular transparency reports, demonstrating the authenticity of their reserves through these audit processes. This establishes the essential trust in the value of each stablecoin issued.

While the principle of stablecoins indeed involves maintaining a reserve of assets that backs each issued token, there's a critical nuance to keep in mind. Only some stablecoin projects operate with the same level of transparency and accountability. As of now, a considerable number of stablecoin projects, unfortunately, refuse to provide proof of reserves.

This lack of transparency is concerning because users can't verify whether these projects genuinely hold sufficient reserves to back each stablecoin in circulation. This verification is necessary to claim that each token is fully backed to become credible, posing significant user risks.

Stablecoins can be broadly classified into three categories:

  1. Fiat-collateralized Stablecoins: These stablecoins are backed by fiat currency reserves, usually held by a centralized entity. Each stablecoin unit corresponds to a unit of the fiat currency held in reserve. A prime example of this is USD Coin (USDC).
  2. Crypto-collateralized Stablecoins: These are backed by other cryptocurrencies. Due to the volatility of cryptocurrencies, these stablecoins are usually over-collateralized to cushion against large price fluctuations. DAI is a notable example of this type.
  3. Algorithmic Stablecoins: These are not backed by any reserve but maintain their stability through supply-demand management algorithms.
  4. Asset-backed Stablecoins: Asset-backed stablecoins are backed by physical assets or commodities such as precious metals, real estate, or other tangible assets. The value of these stablecoins is tied to the value of the underlying asset or a basket of assets, providing stability and reducing volatility.

The Impact of Stablecoins on Remittances

The remittance sector, known for cross-border money transfers, has traditionally been plagued by high costs, slow transaction speeds, and complex processes. Stablecoins offer compelling solutions to these challenges:

1. Reduced Transaction Costs

Traditional remittance channels, characterized by a complex web of intermediaries, impose substantial transaction fees, making cross-border money transfers costly. Each intermediary in the transaction chain, from banks to currency exchange services, adds its own layer of fees, escalating the total cost of the remittance.

Stablecoins, however, operate on a decentralized model facilitated by blockchain technology, bypassing the need for multiple intermediaries. This direct peer-to-peer exchange substantially minimizes the costs associated with the transfer. By eliminating superfluous transaction fees, stablecoins make remittances more cost-effective, which is particularly crucial for those who depend on these transfers for their livelihoods.

2. Speed

The velocity of transactions is another dimension where stablecoins markedly outperform traditional remittance systems. International transactions routed through conventional banking channels can often take several days to settle due to the procedural complexities and time zone differences inherent in these systems.

With the right infrastructure, stablecoins can enable near-instantaneous transactions. With its continuous ledger updates, the peer-to-peer transaction model expedites the settlement process, delivering funds swiftly across geographical boundaries. This speed improves the user experience and mitigates the risk of price fluctuations during the transaction period.

3. Accessibility

One of the most compelling advantages of stablecoins is their accessibility. Traditional banking systems, with their stringent regulatory requirements and need for physical infrastructure, may exclude a considerable proportion of the population, particularly in developing countries. The unbanked and underbanked often struggle to access essential financial services, including remittances.

Stablecoins, in contrast, require little more than a smartphone and internet connectivity, significantly lowering the barriers to entry. This inclusive approach democratizes access to financial services, enabling those previously excluded to engage in global financial transactions. This broadened access could be transformative in remittances, enabling a larger portion of the population to receive funds directly, quickly, and cost-effectively.

4. Stability

Cryptocurrencies have often been criticized for their extreme price volatility, making them risky for remittances. The recipient may end up with significantly less value due to price fluctuations between the transaction initiation and receipt.

Stablecoins mitigate this risk by maintaining a relatively stable value, typically pegged to a reserve of stable assets or a specific fiat currency. This price stability shields users from the adverse effects of sudden price swings, making stablecoins a safer option for remittances. The recipients can be confident in the value they will receive, which is particularly vital in remittance transactions where preserving the transfer's value can be crucial for the recipients' financial stability.

Stablecoins and their Influence on FX Liquidity

FX liquidity refers to the ease of buying or selling a currency without causing significant price fluctuations. Stablecoins have the potential to augment FX liquidity in the following ways:

1. Round-the-clock Market Access

Stablecoins, by virtue of their decentralized and digital nature, offer unprecedented market access that transcends traditional FX markets' temporal restrictions. Traditional FX markets, tethered to the working hours of financial institutions, are susceptible to periodic illiquidity and price discontinuity as markets close and reopen.

In contrast, stablecoins are unconstrained by geographical boundaries or conventional working hours. This facilitates a 24/7 market environment, eliminating the temporal constraints that might otherwise inhibit liquidity.

The round-the-clock operation of stablecoin markets offers another advantage: it expands the potential participant pool. It paves the way for market participants across different time zones, who might have been previously excluded due to timing restrictions, to contribute to the liquidity. This can lead to a more robust and resilient FX market, which can better absorb large transactions without significant price distortions.

2. Enhanced Market Depth

Stablecoins, by their nature, are global financial instruments. Their accessibility and transferability, unhindered by national borders, attract a diverse and widespread user base. This global reach and ease of entry and exit foster a broad and deep market.

Market depth, a measure of the market's ability to sustain relatively large market orders without impacting the security price, can be significantly enhanced in such an environment. A larger pool of market participants means a larger supply and demand for currency, which can absorb large transactions without substantial price fluctuations. This increased market depth is key to augmenting the overall FX liquidity.

3. Price Stability

Stablecoins derive their name from their price stability, achieved by pegging their value to a basket of stable assets or currencies. This inherent stability is a significant departure from the extreme price volatility observed in conventional cryptocurrencies.

Stablecoins' price stability can contribute positively to FX liquidity. Volatility can deter some market participants due to the associated risk, particularly in large transactions. By reducing the potential for extreme price swings, stablecoins can attract more participants, from risk-averse individuals to large institutional investors. This increased participation and inherent stability can foster a more liquid and efficient FX market.

Navigating the Regulatory Landscape and Risks

As the influence of stablecoins expands, it's crucial to acknowledge the regulatory challenges and potential risks associated with these digital assets. Regulatory bodies worldwide are grappling with how to oversee stablecoins and other cryptocurrencies to protect consumers and maintain financial stability. Some common concerns include the reliability of the collateral backing stablecoins, the potential for market manipulation, and the risk of money laundering and other illegal activities.

Moreover, while blockchain technology's transparency is a significant advantage, it also raises privacy concerns. As stablecoin transactions can be traced, users may hesitate to adopt them due to potential privacy infringements.

Despite these challenges, the benefits offered by stablecoins make them a potentially transformative force in the financial landscape. As we navigate the evolving world of cryptocurrencies, understanding and harnessing the potential of stablecoins will be crucial for individuals, businesses, and governments worldwide.

In response to the increasing influence of stablecoins, the European Union's Markets in Cryptoassets (MiCA) Regulation and the UK's proposed framework will create systems for these assets. MiCA will also oversee stablecoins, promoting transparency and anti-money laundering, and is due to take effect between 2024 and 2025. Similarly, the UK plans to regulate stablecoins that reference fiat currencies under its payment services and electronic money regulations. Despite some details remaining unclear, these steps signify essential progress in mitigating risks and harnessing the transformative potential of stablecoins.

Key Takeaways

  1. Stablecoins' Unique Positioning: Stablecoins merge the advantages of traditional financial systems and cryptocurrencies, providing decentralization, security, speed, and stability. They stand distinct in the crypto landscape due to their price stability.
  2. Technological Foundation: Stablecoins operate on blockchain technology, promoting transparency, security, and efficiency. They maintain a reserve of assets to back each token, which is verifiable by anyone due to blockchain's transparency.
  3. Types of Stablecoins: Stablecoins can be fiat-collateralized (like USD Coin), crypto-collateralized (like DAI), or algorithmic, with stability maintained through supply-demand management algorithms.
  4. Impact on Remittances: Stablecoins can significantly transform the remittance sector by reducing transaction costs, speeding up transactions, improving accessibility, and providing a stable value transfer mechanism.
  5. Influence on FX Liquidity: Stablecoins can enhance FX liquidity by offering 24/7 market access, increasing market depth, and providing price stability.
  6. Regulatory Challenges and Risks: As stablecoins become more prevalent, they face regulatory scrutiny and potential risks, including the reliability of collateral, potential for market manipulation, money laundering risks, and privacy concerns.
  7. Transformative Potential: Despite challenges and risks, stablecoins hold transformative potential in the global financial landscape. Understanding and harnessing their potential will be vital for individuals, businesses, and governments.
Please be aware that: Cryptocurrencies are unregulated in the UK; Cryptocurrencies are not protected under Financial Ombudsman Service or Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS); Profits may be subject to capital gains tax; The value of investments can go down as well as up.

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