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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Payment systems: liquidity saving mechanisms in a distributed ledger environment (Project Stella phase 1)
- Securities settlement systems: delivery-versus-payment in a distributed ledger environment (Project Stella phase 2)
- Synchronised cross-border payments (Project Stella phase 3)
- Balancing confidentiality and auditability in a distributed ledger environment (Project Stella phase 4)
- Occasional paper: Distributed ledger technologies in securities post-trading
- In Focus – Distributed ledger technology, Issue 1
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.
- Crypto-Assets: Implications for financial stability, monetary policy, and payments and market infrastructures (ECB Occasional Paper Series No 223 / May 2019)
- Understanding the crypto-asset phenomenon, its risks and measurement issues (ECB Economic Bulletin, August 2019)
- MIP OnLine: Crypto-assets – trends and implications
- Explainer: What is bitcoin?
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.
- In search for stability in crypto-assets: are stablecoins the solution? (ECB Occasional Paper Series No 230 / August 2019)
- In Focus paper – Stablecoins – no coins, but are they stable? (In Focus paper, November 2019)
- Stablecoins: Implications for monetary policy, financial stability, market infrastructure, payments and banking supervision in the euro area (ECB Occasional Paper Series No 247 / September 2020)
- The expanding functions and uses of stablecoins (published as part of the Financial Stability Review, November 2021)
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
Privacy in central bank digital currency (In Focus paper, December 2019)
- Tiered CBDC and the financial system (ECB Working Paper Series No. 2351 / January 2020)
- Central bank digital currency in an open economy (ECB Working Paper Series No. 2488 / November 2020)
- A unified framework for CBDC design: remuneration, collateral haircuts and quantity constraints (ECB Working Paper Series No. 2578 / July 2021)
- Central Bank Digital Currency: functional scope, pricing and controls (ECB Occasional Paper Series No. 286 / December 2021)
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.