Digital yuan being dumped in favor of cash

While Beijing is trying to popularize its digital yuan, only a few seem to be ready to use it.

As Chinese government employees, especially those in state-owned enterprises and governmental organizations, become early adopters of receiving their salaries in digital yuan, a divide emerges in their perceptions of the currency despite Beijing’s efforts to promote its use.

Sammy Lin, an account manager at a state-owned bank in Suzhou, told the South China Morning Post in an interview that although she receives her salary in digital yuan through the e-CNY app, she, like many others, prefers not to keep her money in the app due to concerns over the absence of interest and limited usability.

“I prefer not to keep the money in the e-CNY app, because there’s no interest if I leave it there.”

Sammy Lin

The report notes that the digital yuan’s traceable nature raises worries about personal financial data being exposed, prompting some to convert the digital currency into cash instead.

Addressing these concerns, Ye Dongyan, a researcher at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, said Beijing should achieve a delicate balance between privacy and security in the promotion of the digital yuan.

“Paper currency is used anonymously, but the digital yuan is different. The boundaries between information tracking and information security protection need more deliberation.”

Ye Dongyan

While the currency offers controllable anonymity for smaller transactions, larger transactions require identification to prevent illicit activities such as money laundering.

Despite government assurances about the high level of privacy protection, some still remain skeptical. Albert Wang, a municipal government employee in Suzhou, notes the limitations of the digital yuan compared to established online payment platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay, saying his wife “withdraws it [digital yuan] upon receipt because she can’t deposit the money or buy financial products with the e-CNY wallet.”

China’s digital yuan has been a front-runner in the sphere of central bank digital currencies, especially among major economies. With a transaction volume hitting 1.8 trillion yuan (approximately $250 billion), its adoption and development seem to be triggering other economies to dive into the digitization race.

Global banking institutions have had limited involvement in the digital yuan ecosystem to date, but Beijing seems focused on gradual expansion. In 2023, French bank BNP Paribas began integrating the digital yuan into its services, connecting corporate clients’ wallets to their bank accounts. Later on, multinational banking giant Standard Chartered also began offering exchange services for the digital yuan.

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