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Innovation in market infrastructure and payments

The ECB’s innovation efforts began before it launched the investigation into a digital euro. Waves of transformative financial technology (fintech) swept across the field of market infrastructure and payments. Our innovation efforts focused on understanding and assessing the latest wave. The ECB analysed and experimented with emerging technologies in three areas: financial market infrastructures, financial assets and the financial ecosystem. Find out more about these experiments on this page.

Financial market infrastructure

The ECB explored the potential of emerging technologies such as distributed ledger technology (DLT) and blockchain. However, the aim was not to replace existing central bank services with DLT solutions.

What is distributed ledger technology?

A distributed ledger is a record of information, or database, that is shared across a network. The best-known type of distributed ledger is called blockchain as it stores individual transactions in groups, or blocks, attached to each other in chronological order to create a chain. DLT has the potential to make certain financial processes more efficient, or even to transform them completely. The ECB ran two main initiatives that explored these new technologies.

  1. An EU-wide network with national central banks to foster innovation, collaboration and engagement with new technologies. Members of the network experimented with the latest financial technologies. Their work included a proof of concept for anonymity in central bank digital currencies.
  2. Project Stella – the ECB’s joint research project with the Bank of Japan. This project contributed experimental work and conceptual studies exploring the opportunities and challenges of DLT for financial market infrastructure.

Financial assets

The ECB explored phenomena such as crypto-assets and stablecoins, as well as questions surrounding the potential issuance of a central bank digital currency.

Podcast: Is it time for a digital euro?

Podcast: Innovation in payments

What are crypto-assets?

Crypto-assets are a new type of asset recorded in digital form and enabled by the use of cryptography. Unlike euro banknotes, crypto-assets do not represent a financial claim on, or a liability towards, any identifiable entity. Crypto-assets derive their novelty and specific risk profile, particularly their inherent high volatility, from the absence of an underlying fundamental value.

What are stablecoins?

Stablecoins are an attempt to remove the volatility problem posed by crypto-assets. Stablecoins are digital units of value that are not expressed in any of the forms of a currency. They rely on a set of stabilisation tools to minimise the fluctuations in their prices, expressed in a currency of reference.

What is a central bank digital currency?

A central bank digital currency (CBDC) is a digital form of central bank money that could be made available to institutions and the public. The ECB has launched an investigation into a digital euro.

Read more about our experimentation

Financial ecosystem

New technologies, changing business models and varying consumer needs impact the financial ecosystem. As novel trends emerge, the ECB engages with industry and academia to discuss the potential implications.

In response to the emerging trends, the Eurosystem has put in place a retail payment strategy. It focuses on the role of European fintech companies in the ecosystem. The strategy aims to meet five key objectives for payments: safety and efficiency, customer friendliness, European identity and governance, pan-European reach, and – in the long run – global reach. 

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