The Saudi Central Bank, better known as SAMA, has appointed Mohsen AlZahrani, former Managing Director of Financial Services at Accenture KSA as Virtual Assets and CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency) program Lead. AlZahrani recently announced this on his LinkedIn profile.

This is a significant announcement given that KSA Central Bank has been working on its CBDC project since it announced its Aber project with UAE back in 2019. At the time both The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) and the United Arab Emirates Central Bank (UAECB) clarified in a joint statement that one of the objectives of launching the common digital currency project ” Aber” is for use in financial settlements between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and UAE through Blockchains and Distributed Ledgers technologies.

 It was known that IBM was one of the vendors working on the project.

In addition six commercial banks, three from UAE and three from KSA participated in the joint digital currency project “Aber”. The banks were AL Rajhi, Alinma ,Riyadh Bank, FAB , Emirates NBD , Dubai Islamic bank.

 In 2020 both Central Banks released their final report on Aber Pilot. As per the report Aber project identified further areas that need to be explored in the future if the approach of a single digital currency is to be implemented. The key amongst these was the need to understand impacts to the monetary policy of participating states and to address, in particular, the means by which interest is calculated and disbursed to the commercial banks in each jurisdiction and how this can be applied with a single digital currency.

The report also noted that in terms of future work, there were many directions that could evolve. Firstly, it could provide the basis for a backup to domestic and regional RTGS; providing a more distributed and potentially resilient alternative to the centralized systems that are implemented or being implemented today. Secondly, by offering DLT-based payments rails,  the possibility to expand to Delivery versus Payment (DvP) scenarios such as using the Aber network as a means of settlement for other forms of transaction, such as the sale of bonds or other dematerialized assets. Thirdly, there was the possibility of extending it geographically to include regional or other international central banks or linking heterogeneous networks together.

In 2021 Saudi’s Central Bank in a statement to Iqtissadiah news entity stated that were making efforts to support innovation by looking at various technologies including CBDCs mostly built on DLT and Blockchain platforms.

Then in 2022 Price Water house Coopers published their 2022 Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Index and stablecoin overview. In the PWC report when showcasing the progress of Central Banks in terms of wholesale CBDC front, both the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) were among the top 10 globally.

As conclusion the recent appointment showcases the commitment the Central Bank of Saudi Arabia has towards not only CBDC but virtual currencies as well. We will just have to wait and see!

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