India’s digital currency usage plummets

The decline signifies a lack of organic demand, with most current transactions stemming from banks disbursing benefits to employees.

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According to insider sources, India’s digital currency, the e-rupee, has seen a sharp decline in usage, dropping to just one-tenth of its peak usage in December. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) launched the e-rupee in a pilot program in December 2022, aiming to provide a digital alternative to physical cash. By December 2023, the pilot had successfully reached a target of 1 million daily retail transactions, largely driven by user incentives and partial salary disbursements to bank employees via the e-rupee. However, daily transactions have plummeted to about 100,000 since the incentives waned.

The transaction drop highlights a need for more organic demand for the e-rupee. Sources involved in the project indicated that the remaining transactions are primarily due to banks continuing to disburse employee benefits through digital currency. At the end of each month, this practice temporarily boosts transaction numbers to between 250,000 and 300,000 per day. Despite the earlier push to test the system’s resilience at scale, the RBI is now focused on refining the technology and developing practical use cases for the e-rupee rather than expanding the pilot rapidly.

The challenge faced by the e-rupee is common. A survey by the Bank of International Settlements found that among 86 central banks, a third are piloting a central bank digital currency (CBDC). Even countries that have launched CBDCs, such as the Bahamas and Jamaica, have yet to experience much success. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City noted that consumer adoption of CBDCs requires more than just the technology itself; it needs to offer additional value compared to traditional cash. As the RBI continues developing the e-rupee, the focus will be on creating compelling use cases that encourage widespread adoption.