How Is Cambodia’s CBDC Bakong Bolstering the Riel’s Use?

The burgeoning realm of digital currencies is revolutionizing financial systems worldwide, and Cambodia is leading the charge in Southeast Asia with its innovative Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), named Bakong. Spearheaded by the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), Bakong emerged as a pioneering force in 2020 with a dual-currency backing system—uniquely pegged to both the Cambodian riel (KHR) and the US dollar. This digital foray is not merely an experiment in modern banking; it stands as a strategic move to elevate the domestic currency, the riel, on a playing field heavily dominated by the greenback. With over 80% of transactions in Cambodia conducted in US dollars, the introduction of Bakong signifies a methodical transition aimed at bolstering the use of the native currency.

Digging deeper into Cambodia’s economic fabric, the reliance on the US dollar is evident at most touchpoints of trade and business. However, Bakong has begun weaving a new narrative for the riel by enabling and facilitating digital transactions in the local currency. The progress is marked – the NBC reported digital transactions amounting to a staggering $20 billion in riel last year through Bakong, underscoring a remarkable uplift from previous periods.

The Catalyst for Domestic Currency Adoption

Amid the government’s endeavors to encourage the use of the local currency, Bakong shines as a beacon of digital innovation, propelling the riel into wider circulation. The elegance of this design allows for transactions in both KHR and USD, providing the essential stability and flexibility that a robust financial system requires. This dual support is more than a mere convenience—it’s a strategic tool promoting the riel’s use in everyday transactions. As a result, the NBC has witnessed a significant uptick in digital transfers in riel, culminating in transactions that reached around $70 billion as of 2023.

The CBDC isn’t just capturing domestic markets. Its wingspan is set to broaden, with plans to harness cross-border transactions that stretch to neighbors like Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, and even to China through the UnionPay network. But the horizon is yet to be fully embraced—as mid-2024 targets India, and explorations with Japan manifest a drive to harness technology for better transactional efficiency, security, and allure. This expansionist vision for Bakong isn’t just about spreading the riel’s usage; it’s about laying the groundwork for transforming the Cambodian economy through seamless and secure digital cross-border engagement.

A Global Digital Currency Movement

The digital currency landscape is undergoing a radical shift, with Cambodia at the forefront in Southeast Asia through its trailblazing Central Bank Digital Currency, Bakong. Pioneered by the National Bank of Cambodia in 2020, this innovative currency system is anchored to both the local riel and the US dollar. Bakong is shaping up as a tactical maneuver to enhance the riel’s presence in a market predominantly ruled by the dollar. Considering that over 80% of Cambodia’s trade is dollar-denominated, Bakong paves the way for a gradual yet determined shift toward greater use of the Cambodian currency.

Peering into Cambodia’s economic scene reveals a deep-seated dollar dependence that Bakong is now challenging. By catalyzing digital payments in riel, Bakong is rewriting the economic narrative. The initiative is bearing fruit, as reflected in the National Bank of Cambodia’s report, showing a record $20 billion in digital riel transactions via Bakong last year—a testament to the currency’s rising prominence.

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