China has launched a smartphone app for payments and money transfers using the digital yuan as the country continues testing its central bank digital currency.
The e-CNY app became available on app distribution platforms for Android and iOS users in China on Tuesday.
The app is now available to users in 12 cities and regions, including Shenzhen, Suzhou, Chengdu and Shanghai, as well as the host cities for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, Beijing and Zhangjiakou. Once the app is granted permission to check the phone's location, eligible users in those places can sign up for an account and start using the app's digital wallet.
During sign-up, users will need to choose one of nine partner banks to link with their digital wallet. The partners are the country's "Big Six" state-owned commercial banks, including Bank of China and China Construction Bank; two online banks -- Tencent Holdings-backed WeBank and Ant Group-operated MYbank; and China Merchants Bank. Users do not need an existing account with any of the banks.
Digital-yuan wallet owners can transfer money between their bank accounts and wallets and to other e-CNY users. They can also make online and offline payments in ways similar to how they use Alipay and WeChat Pay, the dominant mobile payment systems in China.
Four types of digital-yuan wallets with varying balance and payment caps are available, each with different sign-up requirements. The type 4 wallet -- requiring only a cellphone number -- is the easiest to obtain but has the strictest balance and payment limits. Its maximum balance is 10,000 yuan ($1,573). A single payment cannot exceed 2,000 yuan, while daily payments cannot exceed 5,000 yuan and annual payments 50,000 yuan.
The balance and payment limits are raised with type 3, 2 and 1 wallets, with cumulatively stricter sign-up requirements for each -- namely, entering a Resident Identity Card number for type 3, linking an existing bank account for type 2, and visiting a bank in person for type 1.
This digital-yuan app was first unveiled in October 2020, when participants in one Shenzhen district's digital yuan pilot were given the ability to install it through a link sent directly to them.
People's Bank of China (PBOC) Gov. Yi Gang said in November that at the current stage, the use of digital yuan would focus on domestic retail payments.
The central bank has been developing the digital yuan since 2014, when it formed a task force to develop a virtual legal tender, official information shows. Mu Changchun, head of the PBOC's digital currency research institute, said in early November last year that 140 million individual and 10 million corporate digital-yuan wallets had been created, and transactions in the digital currency reached around 62 billion yuan. No date has been announced for a full rollout.
Mu has repeatedly stated that the digital yuan is a replacement for cash and is centrally controlled by the PBOC.
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