BASEL, SWITZERLAND – Notorious Nazi war-machine funder and nexus of the central banking universe, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), is getting into the digital token business with the launch of Project Genesis, auguring the imminent deployment of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC). In a press release issued this Tuesday, the global lending institution described the project as an “investigation” into the creation of a “prototype digital infrastructure that enables green investments” using blockchain technology to help the world to meet its “environmental and sustainability goals”.
The Hong Kong branch of the BIS’ Innovation Hub Centre, in concert with that country’s central bank, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), will coordinate efforts with six partner companies to “streamline the bond insurance process” using “blockchain and smart contracts, combined with the internet-of-things”, according to HKMA Deputy Chief Executive, Edmond Lau.
Lau, an MIT graduate and former Google software developer, will work directly with the companies to develop both permissioned and “public permissionless blockchain infrastructure[s]” to track the environmental impact of the projects underlying so-called “green” bonds and other impact bonds in real-time. “Our vision is that you can download an app to your phone, and invest any amount into safe government bonds, which will develop a green project,” says Bénédicte Nolens, head of BIS Innovation Hub Hong Kong Centre.
Established in 2019, the Hub lists its “current focus areas” as CBDC, supervisory technology (suptech) and regulatory technology (regtech). In addition to Hong Kong and its Basel headquarters, the Hub has “multidisciplinary teams” in London, Stockholm and Singapore, as well as a “strategic partnership” with the New York Fed.
Benoît Cœuré, a former executive board member of the European Central Bank (ECB), was appointed as global head of the Innovation Hub upon its creation and is on record about his conviction that blockchain “will be involved” in any final iteration of CBDC. BIS General Manager Agustín Carstens, whose recent praise of CBDC’s potential for total control of currency flows drew harsh criticism, celebrated Cœuré coming “on board to advance the important mission of the Hub, which is to harness innovation to improve the functioning of the international financial system”.
Cœuré and the BIS have been aggressively promoting CBDC since, at least, 2018. In a speech given that year in Geneva, Switzerland called “The future of central bank money”, Cœuré outlines the challenges of central banks issuing a “new liability – their own digital currency – to the general public”. Since central banks already have a monopoly on the issuance of money, the only question Cœuré deems as legitimate is the question of “how”.
Building the Blockchain Stock Market
With Project Genesis, the Hub’s “mission” gains critical momentum. Touted as its “first green finance project”, exploring the asset management and Fintech firms participating in this momentous experiment reveals that working out the challenges posed by switching from our present-day account-based currency paradigm to tokenized money is happening concurrently to the roll out of blockchain technology across the financial sector.
On the permissioned blockchain side (blockchains that include identity verification and limits on network access), Project Genesis will work with Digital Asset (Switzerland) and German-based GFT Technologies Hong Kong. Digital Asset’s co-founder and CEO, Yuval Rooz, stepped into the chief executive role in 2019 after former J.P. Morgan star executive and “Britain’s cryptocurrency queen“, Blythe Masters, resigned from post after three years and took several of the company’s top executives with her. Masters, nevertheless remains a shareholder and sits on the company’s board of directors.
Masters, who is credited with inventing the infamous credit default swaps, went on to join Motive Partners, a Fintech private equity firm run by the former Deputy CEO of the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), Peter Hiom, who resigned from Australia’s primary stock index in May to “focus on blockchain“. At ASX, Hiom led a partnership with Digital Asset to develop a distributed digital ledger technology replacement for ASX’s Clearing House Electronic Subregister System (CHESS).
Masters’ departure from Digital Asset reflected the rapid pace of implementation of blockchain technology in the stock markets. Motive Partners quickly formed an alliance with Apollo Global Management, just as the revelations of long-time Apollo CEO Leon Black’s intimate ties to Jeffrey Epstein were sending shock waves through the financial world. By the summer of 2021, a San Francisco-based company Masters had been advising on the development of a blockchain-based stock exchange since her days at Digital Asset, would secure a partnership with Apollo to bring that concept to fruition in a move that could see the asset management firm’s considerable credit holdings (in excess of $323 billion) put on the blockchain.
Contrary to the opinion of staunch cryptocurrency advocates, CBDC is unlikely to lead to the elimination of Bitcoin or any other crypto asset. Instead, the system will ultimately subsume all cryptocurrencies under the new tokenized central banking model by developing strict conversion protocols or other methods of transferring between one crypto denomination into another. Such is the task of the permissionless blockchain side of Project Genesis.
The real-time verified data for Project Genesis’ public permissionless blockchain deployments will be handled by Allinfra, a Fintech company focusing on renewable certificates and emissions credits that operates out of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), Hong Kong’s financial center, which is technically beyond the legal reach of China’s central authorities.
Leveraging the Ethereum-based smart contract technology for the permissionless experiment will be the so-called Liberty Consortium – a partnership between British multinational bank, Standard Charter and British multi-jurisdictional law firm operating from the Cayman Islands, Maples Group. Together, they will tackle the payments space through Standard Charter’s “innovation arm” SC Ventures, which is based in Singapore.
Standard Charter has been leading the way for the adoption of blockchain technology in the commercial banking sector and beyond since the establishment of SC Ventures in 2018. The bank’s strong presence across Europe and Asia has facilitated important partnerships with Siemens Financial Services and Huawei to pilot blockchain-based projects that are laying the groundwork for the payments infrastructure and technology pipelines necessary for consumer-side aspects of impact investing.
In June, SC Ventures rolled out a “wealth, health and lifestyle platform” called “Autumn” with asset management firm Franklin Templeton “designed to support customers as they prepare for older age”, that will use wearable technology and health apps to “provide insights into how a user’s lifestyle choices will likely impact their retirement plans”. The asset management firm will, in turn, deliver “curated financial literacy content” through a single dashboard that will contain banking, investment, insurance and healthcare data.
SC Ventures is also partnering with other financial institutions to develop institutional-grade custody solutions for cryptocurrencies. The same month the Autumn app was announced, Chicago-based financial services company Northern Trust – itself a pioneer in the blockchain space – and SC Ventures launched Zodia Custody to give their institutional investors access to the top cryptocurrency exchanges. Only weeks earlier, the Singapore-based subsidiary of the British bank established a digital asset brokerage end exchange platform for clients in the UK and Europe together with Asia’s leading digital asset company, BC Group.
Set up to process World War I reparations to be paid by Germany, as stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles, the Bank for International Settlements instead became “an ATM for the Third Reich” and functioned as a prime vehicle for the rearmament of Germany, with funds that emanated everywhere from Czechoslovakia to Wall Street. The sordid history of the “central bank to central banks” has been told by others better than I can summarize here.
In the 1930s, the intentions of the BIS were perceived as noble as the idea of saving the environment seems today. Like personal human traumas, that replay themselves until we are able to learn from them, this psycho-historical wound is before us again. If we don’t learn from the past now, we might not get another chance.