In an Australian-first, Southern Cross University, in collaboration with ANZ, has wrapped up a pilot using central bank digital currency (CBDC) known as eAUD.
The eight-week pilot tested CBDC when students paid for goods and services offline at on-campus vendors. It explored how a CBDC could address situations where online connectivity is absent, such as during major outages and in communities that lack the means to connect online.
Last year's natural disaster bolstered Southern Cross University's selection as a use case for digital currency.
“ANZ was delighted to work closely with our customers and key regulator on a research project of national significance – an exploration into a potentially whole new type of payment technology for Australians,” said Hari Janakiraman, Head of Industry and Innovation, Transaction Banking at ANZ.
“During the devastating Northern Rivers floods of 2022, Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus was the main evacuation centre and an emergency housing site for the broader community. This was all while ATMs and EFTPOS machines were down for weeks, and a cash-filled ATM had to be flown into Lismore to help residents pay for essential goods and services. Because of this experience, Offline Payments was a very tangible and powerful use case for our customer/Southern Cross University and their community.”
Ten Southern Cross students were given NFC-enabled smart cards, each pre-loaded with eAUD to spend at selected vendors at the University’s Gold Coast and Northern Rivers campuses.
Quick Brown Fox and SCU Gym and Pool (Northern Rivers campus) and SCU Health Clinic and Green Room Café (Gold Coast campus) came on board as participating vendors.
Ayodhya Wathuge, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Business, Law and Arts, said she was thrilled to be testing aspects of this innovative payment technology.
“It was very easy to use eAUD to buy goods and services. As seamless as paying using my bank card or mobile phone but with the certainty that if and when the internet is down then transactions are still possible,” Ayodhya said.
“I feel really good to participate in this great project exploring the future of money. I think eventually a central bank digital country will be very popular in Australia and other countries like Sri Lanka.”
Quick Brown Fox owners Tim and Nui Gordon said they were delighted.
"The main thing I noticed was the reliability. Because it works offline it isn't susceptible to the network errors that other card systems have trouble with," Mr Gordon said.
Nui added: “It was easy to use plus there were no bank fees.”
Chris McKeown, owner of The Green Room Café, was excited to take part in the pilot.
“The total just added up and at the end of the period we just cashed in and it was all seamless as well,” Mr McKeown said.
Richard Jones, University Director of Financial Services and project lead, said he was thrilled Southern Cross was selected as one of two participating universities along with RMIT.
“During the catastrophic floods of February and March last year, the NSW Northern Rivers region was without power for several days. This meant bank ATMs and vendors’ EFTPOS were unusable,” Mr Jones said.
“The aim of the pilot is to demonstrate how an organisation like a university can step in and provide immediate financial support through the disbursement of CBDC in emergency situations, like a flood, where students are unable to access funds online or traditional banking services.
“The pilot is an incredible partnership between the banking industry, local on-campus suppliers and both the professional and research arms of Southern Cross University,” Mr Jones added.
In conjunction with the pilot, Southern Cross University conducted a research study led by Professor Darshana Sedera, Professor of Information Systems in the Faculty of Business, Law and Arts, with colleagues in the Faculty of Science and Engineering.
“There is a very exciting research perspective in this CBDC project. CBDC is a brand-new concept so for us to be involved with the Reserve Bank of Australia, ANZ and the other partnership companies is truly exciting,” said Professor Sedera.
“We look at the technology platforms supporting CBDCs, the trust that customers and vendors have on this new technology, spending patterns and the overall satisfaction of using such a new product. We observe in our research how the technology acceptance and innovation adoption are a socio-technical process.”
Australian CBDC Pilot for Digital Finance Innovation
Learn more: read the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Digital Finance Cooperative Research Centre’s project report Australian CBDC Pilot for Digital Finance Innovation.
This research has been approved by the Human Ethics Committee at Southern Cross University, 2023/054.