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Global retailers adopt CBDCs and Bitcoin in signs that crypto may go mainstream

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(Kitco News) - While government regulators and financial institutions have dominated much of the crypto coverage in recent months, there are new signs that digital currencies are beginning to make their way from Wall Street to main streets around the world.

India’s CBDC gets a big boost

Reliance Retail, India’s single-largest retailer and part of the country’s Reliance conglomerate, announced on Thursday that it will begin accepting payments via the Indian government's e-rupee in all 17,000 of its stores.

"This historic initiative of pioneering the digital currency acceptance at our stores is in line with the company's strategic vision of offering the power of choice to Indian consumers," said V. Subramaniam, Director, Reliance Retail in a statement. "With more Indians willing to transact digitally, this initiative will help us provide yet another efficient and secure alternative payment method to customers at our stores."

Reliance Retail’s in-store support for the digital rupee is a collaboration with ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank and fintech firm Innoviti Technologies. Customers can use their choice of digital rupee app from either ICICI Bank or Kotak Mahindra Bank, and simply scan the QR code on the terminal and enter their passcode to authorize payment with e- rupees.

"E-rupee is a game-changer in the digital revolution unleashed in the country,” said Deepak Sharma, President and Chief Digital Officer of Kotak Mahindra Bank. “All customers having e-rupee wallets will now be able to enjoy an effortless, safe and instant way of digital transactions at Reliance Retail stores.”

Both the cashier and the customer receive instant confirmation of the successful transfer, and the technology also enables automatic reconciliation.

"Digital Rupee fulfills the need of consumers who still prefer the trust, safety and settlement finality of physical currency," said Rajeev Agrawal, Founder and CEO of Innoviti Technologies in a press release.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been pushing hard to get institutions and the broader public to adopt the e-rupee, its central bank digital currency (CBDC). The RBI has been running a pilot program for a wholesale e-rupee for banks and financial institutions since Nov. 1, and it launched the pilot program of the retail e-rupee for consumers on Dec. 1.

According to the RBI, “The [e-rupee] would offer features of physical cash like trust, safety and settlement finality,” and similar to cash, “it will not earn any interest and can be converted to other forms of money, like deposits with banks.”

The goal of the pilot is to “test the robustness of the entire process of digital rupee creation, distribution and retail usage in real time.” The RBI said the scope of the pilot will be expanded gradually to include more banks, users, and locations as it progresses.

South Africans buy groceries with Bitcoin

And South African grocery giant Pick n Pay announced on Wednesday that they are now accepting Bitcoin for payment in all 1,628 stores across the country. The move follows a three-month pilot program that began Nov. 1 where Bitcoin payment was tested in 39 stores, after the company tested the service in 10 Western Cape stores since June 2022.

"This new technology means we can provide an affordable service for high volume, low-value transactions that will promote financial inclusion in South Africa," said Pick n Pay CITO Chris Shortt in November. "We are constantly innovating and testing new technology so that we can add real value and choice for the customers we serve."

According to the 2022 Global Crypto Adoption Index from Chainalysis, South Africa ranks 30th in the world for cryptocurrency adoption by the broader population, and trails only Nigeria and Kenya among sub-Saharan African nations.

But burgeoning crypto adoption on the continent is not viewed as a positive development by everyone. The IMF published a report on Nov. 22 highlighting the destabilizing effects they believe crypto could have in the region.

“Africa is one of the fastest-growing crypto markets in the world, but remains the smallest, with crypto transactions peaking at $20 billion per month in mid-2021.”

The authors note that policymakers worry that cryptocurrencies “can be used to transfer funds illegally out of the region” and could also be used to get around rules designed to prevent capital outflows.

“Widespread use of crypto could also undermine the effectiveness of monetary policy, creating risks for financial and macroeconomic stability,” they wrote.

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