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Digital currencies on the up, role of CFO more important than ever

By Catherine Knowles, Tue 28 Dec 2021

By 2024, 20% of large organisations will use digital currencies for payments, stored value or collateral, according to the analyst firm Gartner.

The prediction has important implications for CFOs as they assess use cases and potential risks for digital currencies, which will be used more in business transactions and grow in overall economic significance in the years ahead, the analysts state.

Gartner IT practice distinguished vice president analyst Avivah Litan says, “Increasing mainstream acceptance of cryptocurrencies on traditional payment platforms and the rise of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) will push many large enterprises to incorporate digital currencies into their applications in the coming years.

"Digital currencies will be primarily used by these organisations for payment, a store of value and the ability to leverage high-yield investments available in decentralised finance (DeFi) applications.”

Gartner experts recommend that organisations first clarify specific use cases for digital currencies before evaluating appropriate IT stacks to incorporate them within the enterprise.

Each primary use case comes with a host of technological, regulatory, legal, and strategic considerations for both CFOs and applications leaders to assess, including selecting appropriate service providers and the ability to monitor and react to ongoing regulatory guidance.

Gartner Finance practice chief of research Alexander Bant says, “We have noticed an uptick in interest in digital currency and blockchain applications among CFOs since the start of the year.

"While volatility of cryptocurrencies remains a concern, anticipation of clearer regulatory guidance, and the advent of CBDCs, now offers CFOs more avenues to pressure-test use cases for digital currencies.”

Gartner’s prediction for wider adoption of digital currencies by 2024 is partly driven by the already healthy environment of service providers and off-the-shelf solutions available to large enterprises that have identified a specific use case for digital currencies.

Litan says, “Among the primary use cases for digital currencies that we have identified, there will be no need for most organisations to develop a customised blockchain application stack.

"Many large banks, payment platforms, institutional digital asset custodians and wallet providers have already done the heavy lifting in this area, which should provide large enterprises with a minimum of friction in deploying their own digital currency applications.”

Bant also pointed to additional factors that could make digital currency applications more palatable to CFOs in the next 12-24 months, including hedging against the highest inflation in more than 39 years, increased regulatory clarity, improvements in energy usage, and adoption by employees, consumers and suppliers.

He says, “There has always been theoretical appeal in the use of blockchain and digital currencies for CFOs as a means to lower costs, increase transaction processing speed, reach new global customers, move toward continuous accounting and auditing, and create an error-free and fraud-free environment.

"Now, with Congressional oversight starting to develop and the potential for more central banks to join China in launching a CBDC, we can see a path where the use of digital currencies will be potentially more predictable and stable in the future.”

Bant also noted that macroeconomic pressures related to ongoing high inflation, and its impact on fiat currencies, could push more CFOs to explore some digital currencies as a potential store of value for a portion of their reserves.

He says, “2022 is the year that we expect CFOs to rapidly up their knowledge on digital assets, currencies, and other blockchain applications.

"When the CEO and board start asking for the opinion of the CFO, they must have a point of view on the risks and points of differentiation for their organisation.

"We are starting to see some Fortune 500 companies map out scenarios for how they will respond if a country or supplier moved to doing business with only digital currency and what steps they would take as a result.”

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