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Bank of Russia eyes direct support line for retail CBDC users

Bank of Russia eyes direct support line for retail CBDC users

As Russia marches toward a central bank digital currency (CBDC) launch date, the country’s banking regulator is keen to roll out customer support for end users.

The Bank of Russia is preparing for a direct support line for retail users rather than limiting its interactions with commercial banks, a local news outlet reports. Plans for customer support features were contained in the central bank’s request for proposals from local technology firms.

Information for the proposed support feature is thin, underscored by the signing of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) by interested parties. However, analysts submit that the offering will be in the form of a “multi-channel digital complex” with telephone recording functionalities and storage features.

It appears that the incoming support feature will be extended to online support on the central bank’s website or via email. The Bank of Russia describes the move as “the first line of customer support” in its plans to roll out a CBDC, with several analysts backing the move.

By wading in to provide customer support to end users, commercial banks participating in the pilot can save a fortune in costs, allowing resources to be plowed toward innovative use cases.

Another point in favor of the planned rollout of a central bank support feature is the unfettered access to information concerning the launch of a digital ruble. Central bank officials will have real-time data to tweak their CBDC policies to achieve maximum adoption or solve other technical issues.

However, the plans for a support feature for end users have whipped up criticisms in certain quarters. Critics say that by entering into the turf of commercial banks, there are fears that lenders may be rendered obsolete in the long run amid concerns of bank disintermediation.

Since mid-2023, the Bank of Russia has been experimenting with the digital ruble, proceeding with 13 commercial banks. A tentative launch date is pegged at 2025, with one Bank of Russia report hinting that the pilot “will continue at least until the end of 2024.”

Concerns trail digital ruble

Apart from the risk to commercial banks, there are fears that the digital ruble may be used as a government surveillance tool against citizens to crack down on dissent.

Others are predicting the Russian government’s “forced” approach to increase CBDC adoption rates, a claim that central bank officials have repeatedly debunked. Russia-based economist Alexander Razuvaev argues that the first signs of impositions can be gleaned with pensioners set to bear the full brunt.

“Gradually, pensions will be replaced with digital rubles. In the near future, this is most likely inevitable,” said Razuvaev. “Little by little, pensioners are being driven into the trap of the Central Bank and are being encouraged to switch to a new type of money.”