Bank of Israel deputy governor confirms digital shekel pilot is underway

The Bank of Israel has reportedly already issued a central bank digital currency through a pilot test of a digital shekel.

According to a Monday report from the Jerusalem Post, Bank of Israel deputy governor, Andrew Abir, said the financial institution had started to conduct a pilot program for a digital shekel. Speaking at a conference of the Fair Value Forum of IDC Herzliya, Abir added that he was not optimistic about the bank issuing a central bank digital currency, or CBDC, despite the fact he confirmed a pilot test was underway.

“I had previously estimated that the chance of having a CBDC within five years is 20%,” said Abir. “My estimate has increased a bit in the last year, mainly because other countries are advancing with it too, but still there is less than a 50% chance.”

The Bank of Israel has made no formal announcement on its website regarding the issuance of a digital shekel at the time of publication. Last month, the financial institution said it was preparing an action plan to explore the benefits of a CBDC on the Israeli economy, adding it would be prepared to do so should the benefits “outweigh the costs and potential risks.”

Related: Israel’s central bank floats possible digital shekel with new action plan

At the time, the central bank said it may consider issuing a CBDC if such meets the needs of the future digital economy and provides more efficient cross-border payments. Bank of Israel also hopes to reduce the use of cash and ensure the public can make payments with “a certain level of privacy.”

“The option for a CBDC is still being examined, and when we made our statement last month, it was not to say what we are doing, but rather to share what we do not know and receive feedback from the public,” said the deputy governor. He added that the country’s banks “will still have an important part in the entire payment system” following any potential rollout of a digital shekel.

Despite his seeming willingness to eventually integrate a CBDC in the country’s economy, Abir criticized Bitcoin (BTC) as a means of paymen:

“What we are talking about is a payment system. Bitcoin is not a payment system, and it is not a currency. In the best situation, it is a financial asset, and in the worst case, it is a pyramid scam.”

Israel’s central bank begin exploring the introduction of a CBDC four years ago with the establishment of an interdepartmental group tasked with exploring the matter. In 2018, the team recommended against the Bank of Israel issuing a digital currency, saying “no advanced economy has yet issued digital currency for broad use.”

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