The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the country’s central bank, is finalizing the rollout of the retail digital rupee pilot, the Economic Times of India (ETI) reported on Nov. 19.
The RBI initiated the wholesale central bank digital currency (CBDC) pilot on Nov. 1 to test its usage in settling transactions in government securities. At the time, the RBI had said that the retail digital rupee pilot would be launched within a month.
According to the ETI report, the digital rupee is meant to complement, rather than replace, existing payment methods. Additionally, the report noted that the retail CBDC had been designed to be interoperable with current payment systems, citing sources familiar with the matter.
The report noted that the CBDC platform will be hosted by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and will be similar to the NPCI’s unified payments interface (UPI) system.
UPI has emerged as a popular payment method in India, enabling users to instantly transfer funds directly to and from bank accounts through a UPI address. The UPI addresses, similar to email addresses, are linked to the bank accounts.
An anonymous source with knowledge of the project told ETI:
“Just like we have a common library for UPI, the technology for CBDC is similar to that and it is being hosted by NPCI, it will be interoperable with the current payment platforms.
The e‑rupee will be stored in a wallet, the denominations will be available as per the customer’s request, just like you request cash from an ATM. Banks are launching this only in select cities.”
The RBI wants each bank participating in the pilot to test the retail CBDC among 10,000 to 50,000 users, per the ETI report. The banks participating in the retail CBDC pilot include State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, ICICI Bank, Union Bank of India, HDFC Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Yes Bank, and IDFC First Bank. According to the report, the CBDC project will eventually be extended to the entire banking system.
The banks participating in the CBDC trial have partnered with last-mile payment service providers, including PayNearby and Bankit, to enable users to pay merchants with the digital rupee.
The retail CBDC will be provided as a standalone product in the initial phase. However, the digital rupee will eventually be integrated with existing mobile and internet banking services.
Merchants and customers selected to participate in the pilot will be required to download a wallet application, which will be used to store the e‑rupee, as per the report. In addition, users will need to request specific denominations of the e‑rupee from their banks, which will be transferred to their CBDC wallet.