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digital daily: Breaking the Ice

Breaking the Ice: The Bank of International Settlements, or the BIS, is the central bank of central banks. They set the tone for global policy. In the digital ecosystem, the BIS is marching forward with experiments in automated financial infrastructure. Project Icebreaker brings together lessons from two precursor trials (mBridge and Mariana) into a system that enhances inter-regional capital flows by improving foreign exchange. Icebreaker leverages a core property of smart contracts: atomic transactions. Buys and sells are directly linked and must be processed at the same time; either both settle, or neither do. Synchronicity is a superpower because it eliminates settlement and counterparty credit risks from FX transactions. The system also addresses emerging design differences across retail CBDCs, which already causes angst. How will incompatible digital currencies travel to foreign lands? They don’t. Retail CBDCs never leave their own system. Instead, they are bought and sold at the best rate by market-makers as part of the same atomic transaction. BIS proposes a "hub" in the middle to handle transaction matching and addresses efficiency concerns. What if there is no liquidity for an FX pair? No problem. The system automatically determines the best indirect route through other currency pairs and provides price transparency on the multi-leg exchange. Attractive spreads signal market-maker liquidity to accumulate in a more direct route. Incentives drive efficiency. There is a long way to go before the BIS hub-and-spoke model can be operationalized. But it presents an innovative alternative to the current system leveraging lessons from decentralized finance. The point of breaking the ice is to start the conversation.