By Nigel Dobson*
Modern businesses are looking at the way the technology of funding is developing and saying ‘I want that’ – from stablecoin and tokenisation to other innovation across the decentralised finance sphere.
But these aren’t just trends treasurers are jumping on to stay relevant. This tech brings real, tangible benefits for modern companies already battling the high costs and disrupted supply chains of the post-COVID era. They want the speed, ease of use and innovation this technology brings. They want to be able to transact in digital assets.
At ANZ, we know this kind of finance will be an increasingly popular method for our institutional customers. We’ve been on the distributed ledger finance program for years, through our experience with blockchain-based Lygon technology, and have already shown our market-leading capability in that space.
For banks, the situation is clear: to keep pace, we must provide customers with these services or risk being left behind by non-traditional financial services providers. This is particularly critical for Australian banks as increasing numbers of overseas players eye the local market.
At ANZ, our customers have told us about their growing interest in a stablecoin – and a desire to see an Australian-dollar denominated digital asset. This would allow them to onboard funds from clients in a digital native currency and transact directly in line with customer demand.
Many of these transactions currently occur through offshore digital currencies like USD coin and that can be a convoluted process. Investors need to first take Australian dollars, use a third party to exchange that for digital coins - frequently USDC - and then execute the customer instructions around assets.
ANZ has now acted on that feedback and turned a significantly elongated process into a much simpler one – one that bypasses the whole bank account and fiat money process and goes straight onto a digital exchange from ANZ.
We’re now pleased to confirm we have made our first such transaction - one we were able to execute in about five minutes, end-to-end.
At ANZ, through partnerships, we’ve launched what we believe is the first Australian-bank-issued Australian-dollar stablecoin, A$DC, and made the first payment through a public, permission-less blockchain transaction, using Fireblocks’ technology.
In a live transaction for ANZ customer Victor Smorgon Group we delivered the stablecoin to Zerocap, a private wealth management firm for digital assets. $A30 million in A$DC was minted as part of the transaction - pegged to the Australian dollar - which was transferred between the two parties and redeemed into fiat currency.
ANZ is proud of this initial transaction and worked hard to see it come to life. We see this as an important step in helping our customers find a safe and fruitful gateway into the digital economy. As a bank, we’re excited to continue growing our capability and exploring how it can be applied with other customers across different industries in the future.
ANZ worked closely with leading providers in the digital asset domain including Chainalysis and OpenZeppelin on the deal.
The benefits to customers of Australia-dollar based stablecoins like A$DC are manyfold.
The simplicity of the A$DC process when compared with other digital currencies is key. The local nature of each of the parties - the customer, investor, and exchange - takes one or two steps out of the process compared with similar offshore-based systems, simply because it is a domestic coin. Before A$DC, businesses had to flip in and out of mostly US-dollar denominated coins, taking on costs and exchange-rate risk.
Another factor is trust. A$DC is from a regulated ADI (authorised deposit-taking institution) in Australia so customers can be certain of its security and legitimacy.
The smart contract associated with A$DC speaks to this. OpenZeppelin handled smart contract auditing on the Victor Smorgon Group transaction. As the coin is minted, a smart contract is then sent to OpenZeppelin for qualitative review, and the findings are published publicly. This adds a critical layer of transparency to the process.
From an ANZ perspective, this was a critical hygiene element of the transaction and an important part of ensuring our regulatory obligations are met, demonstrating we're dealing with the right kind of partners.
So, what does the A$DC mean for the future of finance in Australia? Will we see other banks enter the space or will the Reserve Bank of Australia even step into the space? Much of this will depend on ongoing customer demand.
At ANZ, we’ve noted growing interest in central-bank digital currencies, including from customers. Ultimately, it’s up to the RBA to determine, alongside the industry, what the use cases are that would be uniquely served by a CBDC, be that at a wholesale or retail level.
Much of the focus of CBDCs currently surrounds their application in the payments space, particularly at a retail level. At ANZ, with think A$DC will be programmable for our institutional customer needs. Therein lies the key difference.
At ANZ, we expect the digital-asset economy to accelerate. One of the foundational elements of that is a digital $A. But that doesn't mean an Australian bank-issued coin can't exist side by side with a CBDC. It’s clear they will have different purposes and fulfil different needs.
What’s also clear is ANZ’s customers – and all bank customers - want to be able to transact in digital assets. They want to be able to have confidence they can transact securely and be able to use those coins domestically.
At ANZ, we strongly believe A$DC is only the first digital asset we'll deal with. From this, we hope to see our services develop to enable transactions across a whole range of other digital assets.
A$DC is just the beginning.
*Nigel Dobson is Banking Services Lead at ANZ Institutional, Australia. This article previously ran on ANZ's BlueNotes website and is used with permission.