features

近日,成都作为数字人民币(Digital Currency Electronic Payment, DCEP)试点城市,向公众发放了20万个DCEP红包,总金额达4000万元人民币,也成为了中国第四个进行相关试点的大型城市。根据商务部要求,DCEP还将陆续在南京、杭州、海南等28个省市,包括北京2022年冬奥会的各大场馆开放试点,“数字货币时代”或率先在中国降临。

人均200元的免费红包让不少中国老百姓第一次尝到了数字货币的甜头,但数字货币的概念其实并不算新鲜:早在2014年我国便启动了DCEP的研发工作。谈及DCEP的快速推广,中伦律师事务所合伙人樊晓娟律师指出了特殊背景,近两年来,“因疫情、国际形势变化以及人民币国际化的需要,数字人民币落地进程提速”。

中国在这个突然提速的过程中并不孤独:国际清算银行的最新调查显示,截至去年底,在受访的60多个国家的央行中,86%已经开始了数字货币的研究,且至少36家央行已发布数字货币工作进展。其中,10%的国家央行已上线数字货币试点项目。

德恒律师事务所高级律师刘扬也注意到了各国加速推进数字货币研究的现状,他指出,因此,DCEP在条件成熟时理应尽快投入应用,这“既符合实际需求,也有利于我们在世界范围内始终保持数字货币领先地位”,从而为中国在未来世界货币体系的竞争中占得先机。

监管现状

根据中国央行的相关定义,DCEP是由中国人民银行发行的数字形式的法定货币,由指定运营机构参与运营并向公众兑换,与纸钞和硬币等价,具有价值特征和法偿性。因此,刘扬律师告诉ALB,目前中国法律关于现金的相关规定对DCEP而言仍具有一定适用性。

虽然DCEP的本质属于“流通中现金”,换句话说,它与现金并无差异,但“我国目前与其相关的法律体系尚处于立法阶段,仍欠缺直接的法律依据。”樊晓娟律师补充道,“相信随着DCEP试验的不断推进和成熟,法律体系也将进一步明确和规范”。

2020年7月,最高人民法院和发改委联合发布的《关于为新时代加快完善社会主义市场经济体制提供司法服务和保障的意见》中第一次正式提到 “数字货币”。《意见》指出,中国将 “加强对数字货币、网络虚拟财产、数据等新型权益的保护”。该《意见》的发布使得数字货币首次被纳入司法保护范畴。

值得关注的是,同年10月,中国人民银行发布了《中国人民银行法(修订草案征求意见稿)》。“《草案》第十九条在现行《中国人民银行法》规定人民币单位的第十七条的基础上增加了第二款,‘人民币包括实物形式和数字形式’。”樊律师说,“这次修订若正式生效,将明确数字人民币属于人民币的法定形式,为数字人民币发行奠定了法律依据。”此外,该草案还重申,除DCEP外,广泛禁止生产和销售数字代币以替代人民币。

考虑到DCEP快速发展可能引发的法律风险,刘扬律师提醒道:“要真正处理好DCEP的高效便捷与个人信息数据泄露、强化货币监管与保护个人隐私、数字货币电子支付与人民币数据化、隐私数据安全与流动互通之间的矛盾,才能实现DCEP的‘初心’。”

引入竞争

DCEP未来将采取双层运营体系,这是指央行先把数字货币兑换给商业银行,再由这些商业银行兑换给公众。据刘扬律师介绍,该体系不会改变现有货币投放体系和二元账户结构,也就不会对商业银行存款货币形成竞争,因此DCEP的运营体系决定了它离不开商业银行的特性。

除中国银行、中国工商银行、中国农业银行及中国建设银行这四大国有商业银行将提供DCEP的相关服务外,由蚂蚁支持的网商银行及腾讯支持的微众银行也将加入DCEP试点推行。网商银行在一份声明中称,它作为DCEP研发参与机构之一,将按照中国央行总体安排稳步推进试点测试工作。

民营银行参与DCEP试点,与国有银行站在同一起跑线上,在樊律师看来,这表现了监管层对市场主体的平等对待,将给予民营银行参与新型人民币业务的机会,有助于建立公平有序的银行业竞争体系。与此同时,民营银行也将发挥它的“鲶鱼效应”,激励银行业的创新和服务质量的提高。

刘扬律师补充道,实力不凡的民营银行“在互联网科技巨头的扶持下,还能够在不同领域和视角强化对DCEP的试点和推广,对DCEP的全面发展无疑更有好处”。

features"网商银行、微众银行等已经形成了一定的市场规模,也已经在相当一部分用户中培养了无现金支付的使用习惯。民营银行的参与使得DCEP能够适应多元化支付习惯,从而有助于DCEP的推广,以及人民币从实物货币到数字货币的平稳有序过渡。”

—樊晓娟,中伦律师事务所

樊律师也赞同这一观点,因为“网商银行、微众银行等已经形成了一定的市场规模,也已经在相当一部分用户中培养了无现金支付的使用习惯。”她认为,“民营银行的参与使得DCEP能够适应多元化支付习惯,从而有助于DCEP的推广,以及人民币从实物货币到数字货币的平稳有序过渡。”

打破独占

在中国,移动支付无处不在,但最常用的方式几乎都由两大互联网巨头把控。DCEP试点的稳步推进,或将意味着中国正在遏制支付市场的二元垄断,在一定程度上影响现有支付形式的发展。

在樊律师看来,DCEP的推出对支付市场及金融科技企业的打击的确存在。就法律监管而言, “支付市场/金融科技近年来确实出现了无序竞争的现象,确保金融安全,防范金融风险,是金融监管的基本职责。”她说,“我国对金融科技的监管会遵循‘坚决打破垄断,纠正、查处不正当竞争行为,维护公平竞争市场秩序’的原则。”

刘扬律师告诉ALB,对用户而言,还有一个很现实的问题是:DCEP的现金属性决定了其无法产生利息,而支付宝和微信则可以为用户提供更多的理财方案。但从某种意义上来讲,刘律师认为DCEP所具备的特别优势比支付宝、微信支付等更为先进,因为其“无需账户、无需手续费、无需联网,就能够实现价值转移”。

樊律师也提出,DCEP的推出对于支付市场和金融企业的发展“会有更多想象空间”。 “DCEP推出前,由于缺乏法定数字货币,而比特币等‘虚拟货币’不属于法定货币,不允许作为货币在市场流通,一些创新业务在技术层面缺乏支付工具,合规层面缺乏法律支持。” 她表示,“在DCEP推出后或许将会有很多创新业务涌现,活跃金融市场,从而服务实体经济。”

机遇与挑战

谈及DCEP对金融科技企业的影响,刘扬律师指出,未来的竞争将会发生在由“支付通道”向“支付载体”的转变:不同于支付宝、微信支付等支付通道,DCEP的本质是载体,相当于“钱包”。

features“未来金融类科技企业的主要竞争赛道是‘钱包’领域,谁的‘钱包’做得好,用户愿意使用,就会拥有更多的流量。在这方面,金融科技类公司的现有生态也完全可以嫁接到DCEP领域中来,衍生品会越来越多,‘钱包’的受众也会越来越广。”

—刘扬,德恒律师事务所

 “未来金融类科技企业的主要竞争赛道是‘钱包’领域,谁的‘钱包’做得好,用户愿意使用,就会拥有更多的流量。在这方面,金融科技类公司的现有生态也完全可以嫁接到DCEP领域中来,衍生品会越来越多,‘钱包’的受众也会越来越广。”刘律师说。

除此之外,他还对DCEP的中心化属性进行了解读。他告诉ALB,DCEP所采用的 “可控匿名” 使得虚拟数字货币的交易将有迹可循。因此,在处理好用户隐私和数据安全的前提下,对交易的追踪或能实现对货币数据的全方位监管,从而 “有效遏制金融、涉税、涉汇类犯罪,同时也更有利于打击灰黑产业” 。

樊律师则对金融科技类企业跨境业务的合规提出了隐忧,由于该类企业“有相当一部分跨境业务,这要求他们不但要遵守国内的法律法规,还需密切关注国际规则变化,否则可能面临严重的处罚,甚至业务运营的禁止”。

刘律师也对此表示赞同,他认为,DCEP的发展将会倒逼金融科技类公司更加注重合规,使得 “一些真正想做事、能做事的公司沿着合规的路子逐渐发展壮大,而那些游走在灰色地带的伪金融类科技公司注定会被淘汰”。


Dawn of a Digital Currency Era

Chengdu, the fourth city to be a part of the pilot programme dubbed Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP), recently distributed 200,000 DCEP red packets to its residents, with the total handout coming to 40 million yuan. According to the Ministry of Commerce requirements, the pilot tests are expected to expand to other 28 provinces and cities including Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Hainan, as well as the venues for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. As a result, China may be the first country to embrace a “digital currency era.”

Chinese citizens recently received red packets containing an average of 200 yuan each, as part of a pilot to help them trial digital currency. The concept, however, is not new in China. Indeed, the country first explored the use of digital currency in 2014. However, COVID-19 brought about a renewed urgency. “Amid the pandemic and changes in the international political landscape, China has accelerated its pace in the launch of digital yuan, catering for the need to promote the internationalization of renminbi,” says Fan Xiaojuan, a partner of Zhong Lun Law Firm.

China is not the only country that is pushing this concept. A recent survey from Bank for International Settlement shows that, as of the end of 2020, 86 per cent of central banks globally had initiated efforts in exploring the use of digital currency, and at least 36 central banks have published reports on their progress. Further, 10 per cent of central banks have already launched digital currency pilot programs.

Liu Yang, a senior associate at DeHeng Law Offices, says however China’s DCEP push “adapts to the actual needs of people, and more importantly, it helps us maintain a leading edge compared to other countries in the area of digital currency,” thus providing a headstart going forward in the global competition. 

REGULATORY

According to the People’s Bank of China (PBoC), DCEP is the digital version of the yuan, China’s official currency, and as such only designated institutions are allowed to participate in its operations and exchange. Given that DCEP is a form of legal tender, Chinese laws governing cash may apply to DCEP to some extent.

DCEP, in essence, shares the same features as cash. But “the legal framework is yet to be built on DCEP, which is nowadays merely at law-making stage in China, and there is lack of legal foundation for its enforcement,” says Fan, adding: “We are confident that a clear-cut and sound legal system will be formed as pilot tests are rolled out in a larger scale.”

The term “digital currency” first appeared in an opinion jointly issued by the Supreme People’s Court and the National Development and Reform Commission promulgated in July 2020. The opinion states that China will “strengthen the protection of new rights and interests such as digital currencies, online virtual assets, and data,” and begins to provide digital currency with some judicial protection.

Of even greater concern is that in October of the same year, PBoC published the revised draft Law of the People’s Bank of China (currently soliciting public comment). “The draft stipulates in Article 19 of the previous law setting out ‘unit of renminbi’, that ‘renminbi includes both physical and digital forms,’” Fan says. “Such revisions, once being effectuated, will provide the legal basis for the issuance of DCEP, as the Draft expressly stipulates that DCEP is an alternative form of the legal currency.” Moreover, the draft reiterates that, other than DCEP, there is a wide prohibition on producing and selling digital tokens in replacement of renminbi.

Out of concerns that legal risks may arise from rapid developments of the DCEP, Liu advises that “only with efforts in striking a balance between efficiency with personal information protection, currency regulation with privacy protection can we serve the original intention at the time when DCEP was launched.”

COMPETITION

DCEP will operate as a two-tiered system, under which PBoC issues and distributes the digital currency to commercial banks, and afterwards it distributes the same to the public. This system, says Liu Yang, poses no threat to deposits placed with commercial banks as it brings no change in either the existing currency distribution system or in the dual-account structure. Considering how it operates, DCEP is inseparable from commercial banks. 

In addition to the four major state-owned commercial banks (i.e. Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the Agricultural Bank of China, and China Construction Bank), MYBank and WeBank will also be involved in the DCEP pilot tests. MYBank noted in a statement that as one of the institutions involved in researching and testing DCEP program, it would charge ahead with pilot tests in accordance with the scheduling arrangements of PBoC.

In Fan’s view, the fact that private banks have an equal start with state-owned banks for participating in DCEP pilot tests demonstrates that regulators are treating all market players equally by granting a chance for private banks to get involved in new types of business activities. By so doing, regulators are building a fair and orderly competition system within the bank sector. To make the most of such opportunities, private banks may bring catfish effect into full play, to stimulate innovations and improved service quality. 

Liu adds that private banks with extraordinary strengths “supported by fintech giants are also capable of intensive piloting and promotion of DCEP in multiple areas and from different perspectives, which is undoubtedly more helpful for DCEP rollout.”

features“MYBank and WeBank, with established market footprints, have built for a cashless payment landscape among their users. Getting private banks involved in DCEP makes the adaptation to a diversified payment ecosystem more viable, which helps charge ahead with DCEP program and guarantees a smooth and orderly transition of physical yuan to its digital form.”

—Fan Xiaojuan, Zhong Lun Law Firm

Fan shares the same view. “MYBank and WeBank, with established market footprints, have built for a cashless payment landscape among their users,” she says. “Getting private banks involved in DCEP makes the adaptation to a diversified payment ecosystem more viable, which helps charge ahead with DCEP program and guarantees a smooth and orderly transition of physical yuan to its digital form.”

BREAK THE DUOPOLY

China is now evolving into a cashless society, within which most payments are facilitated by the two fintech giants. The steady progress in DCEP pilot tests may be the first step China takes to curb the duopoly in the payment market, which may to some extent reshape the current ecosystem.

In Fan’s view, the launch of DCEP has indeed dealt a blow to the payment market as well as to the fintech firms. From legal and regulatory perspectives, “disorder competition did exist over the recent years in this industry. To tackle that, regulators shall perform their fundamental duties to ensure financial stability and prevent financial risks,” Fan says. “In the fintech supervision area, China will stand with an aim to maintaining fair market competitions.”

Liu tells ALB that DCEP also raises a practical concern to users. As DCEP is in essence cash in circulation, it does not generate interest, which is disadvantageous compared to Alipay and WeChat Pay, as the latter could render more diversified wealth management solutions. In some sense, however, strengths particular to DCEP are more sophisticated as opposed to Alipay and WeChat Pay, as DCEP “can be transmitted directly independent of bank accounts, cost-free and absent of internet connections.”

Fan also notes that the launch of DCEP avails “a larger room for imagination” to the development of the payment market and the financial sector. “Before DCEP is launched, China was in lack of legal digital currency, so innovations are therefore made impossible as they fall short of technical support (lack of payment tools) and legal foundations,” Fan says. “Innovations may increasingly emerge after DCEP is launched, which will revitalize the financial market and ultimately serve the real economy.”

CHALLENGES

Speaking of DCEP impact on the fintech firms, Liu believes the competition in future will occur in a shift from “payment channels” to “payment carriers:” Unlike Alipay and WeChat Pay, DCEP as a channel resides in “wallets.”

features"In the coming years, the racetrack for fintech firms will be ‘wallets’, and whichever firms rendering quality and user-friendly ‘wallet’ services will get more traffic. In this regard, the existing ecosystem of fintech firms may be fully shifted to the DCEP sphere. DCEP derivatives will emerge and thus grow the user base.”

—Liu Yang, DeHeng Law Offices 

“In the coming years, the racetrack for fintech firms will be ‘wallets’, and whichever firms rendering quality and user-friendly ‘wallet’ services will get more traffic. In this regard, the existing ecosystem of fintech firms may be fully shifted to the DCEP sphere. DCEP derivatives will emerge and thus grow the user base,” according to Liu. 

In addition, he gives an account of the centralized nature of DCEP. Liu tells ALB that DCEP utilizes “controllable anonymity,” making transactions of virtual digital currency trackable. As a consequence, as long as user privacy and data security are maintained, this may enable all transactions and data to be monitored, for purpose of “effectively curbing financial, tax and currency exchange crimes, and better combatting underground industries.”

Fan, however, raises her concerns about how these fintech firms can be compliant with the law in carrying out cross-border activities. As these firms are “significantly involved in cross-border transactions, in addition to strict compliance with domestic laws and regulations, they are also required to watch closely on changes in international rules, otherwise, they may face severe penalties, even ordered to wind up business operations.” 

Liu agrees. He believes that DCEP developments may force fintech firms to be more strictly compliant with applicable laws, and this would make “firms that are intended to and capable of making a difference to grow stronger, while those self-alleged fintech firms with abusive acts and practices are certain to be washed out of the market.”

 

To contact the editorial team, please email ALBEditor@thomsonreuters.com