ICLE Issue Brief

Central Banks and Real-Time Payments: Lessons from Brazil’s Pix

Introduction

Real-time payments (RTP) are an increasingly popular means by which individuals can send credits from one account to another. Many banks have established internal RTP systems and, in some countries, these have been extended to other banks through private consortia such as The Clearing House in the United States. Such consortia enable someone with an account at Chase, for example, to send money to someone with an account at Wells Fargo, and vice versa, using their RTP apps.[1]

In other countries, central banks have inhibited the establishment of private RTP networks and have developed their own systems. One such example is Brazil, where the Banco Central do Brasil (“BCB”) has operated the Pix instant-payment system since 2020.

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the Basel-based organization that sets regulatory standards for central banks, recently published a paper examining Pix that was co-authored by two researchers from the BCB and three from the BIS.[2] This brief offers some initial thoughts on that BIS paper and on the Pix system more generally.

We begin with a discussion of the economics of payment networks, with an emphasis on the optimal distribution of costs and benefits. Section II addresses cost transparency and apportionment in payment systems run by central banks. Section III critiques several mistaken notions regarding the role of rewards in payment-card networks. Section IV illustrates the conflicts of interest that can arise when a governmental entity such as a central bank competes with the private sector. Section V discusses the inter-related problems of data breaches, inadequate know-your-customer procedures among some Pix-implementing entities, and the phenomenon of “lightning kidnappings.” Section VI compares the operational rules governing the BCB with international good governance. Section VII concludes with a discussion of the wider lessons for governments considering the implementation of RTP systems.

Read the full issue brief here.

[1] RTP Network Participating Financial Institutions, The Clearing House, https://www.theclearinghouse.org/payment-systems/rtp/rtp-participating-financial-institutions (last visited May 18, 2022).

[2] Angelo Duarte et al., Central Banks, the Monetary System and Public Payment Infrastructures: Lessons from Brazil’s Pix, BIS Bulletin no. 52 (Mar. 23, 2022), at 1.