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I finally got up the nerve to take the exam. I studied off and on for too long. I studied the first time for about 6 months about 2 years ago then chickened out to take the exam and never registered for a test day. I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend you register for a test date. It changes the way you think about studying. submitted by
Life happens, I have a couple kids and a wife and in the middle of my second go at studying we bought a house so that delayed me even more, or so that's the excuse I gave myself. Everyone around me kept saying stop being a baby and just schedule an exam date. I fear failure so I kept psyching myself out. So I scheduled my exam date, literally 2 days after the price went up $100 so that was a bummer. My original test date was December 27th which means it would be with the new CAT format which scared me even more. I have been studying for the current linear exam and all of the practice tests I took were based on the current linear exam. Not sure if that will matter, but I liked the idea of having the option to flag stuff and review the test after you finish. So I paid 50 bucks and rescheduled the exam for today 12/13 so I could at least give the current format a shot and if I failed then I would take the new one. I paid for insurance as I called it through skillset.com. They have a 100% pass guarantee so I figured why not get a free retake and a refund if I suck at the first test. Skillset's questions are kinda weird sometimes because they are community written. I suggest getting to 100% ready and then go pro 2 weeks before you take you exam. You have to be pro status and 100% ready status in order to ensure your retest voucher and refund for the pro status. It's a nice just in case type thing or at least a little piece of mind knowing you wont have to drop another 700 bucks on this bad boy.
Enough with the life story and on to my method. I self studied and didn't go through any sort of any boot camp. The boot camps are ridiculously priced and I couldn't justify spending $3,500+ for a weeks worth of information shoved down my throat. It would have been like trying to drink water from a fire hydrant.
I am terrible at taking tests and have A.D.D so focusing is a real bummer when you have to answer 250 questions in one sitting. I didn't take any adderall because it makes my mouth dry and I didn't want to get up for water every 5 minutes during the exam.
Dang it... Side tracked.
Now for what I used for studying materials.
The "(ISC)2 Official Study Guide Seventh Edition" - That book is about as dry as my mouth after taking adderall. Insane amount of information but a solid reference dictionary. I read it cover to cover 1 time because focusing on the super detailed overly explained stuff was brutal. It's a great book to go to when you need to really dial in on a topic you don't quit grasp at least 75%. I rate this book a 7/10
I used the "Eric Conrad 11th hour" book like everyone else. The one I purchased was the 10 domain version because the current version wasn't available at the time of purchase. I read this cover to cover 1 time and then for the 2 days before my exam I read the chapters I wasn't super sharp on. I rate this book 10/10 due to the simple read and how condensed the information was. He just gives you the nitty gritty details and the fly by info you need to touch up on.
I used the Kelly Handerhan videos on cybrary.it. She is super awesome at giving you a solid amount of information on each domain and really digs in on the areas that may be testable. She doesn't go all Shon Harris on you with too much info. Don't get me wrong the Shon Harris MP3's were solid as well, but I found myself losing focus when I listened to her. The Kelly Handerhan videos were great and the MP3 version of the videos were awesome. Only complaint about the Kelly Handerhan videos is that it doesn't auto play to the next video so you cant just let them play through. The MP3's bummed me out a bit because there is a dude after each track of each domain that says stuff. It gets redundant if you listen for an hour long drive to and from work. But I shouldn't even complain a little bit because they are free and awesome. I rate them 10/10 due the simple meat and potatoes information. Good stuff.
I used the Official practice test book only to get the access to the test engine. To me the questions in this specific test engine were worded the closest to the actual exam. The actual exam asks more specific details in the questions but the wording and style of the questions in the test engine are the closest. The answers in the test engine are closest to the wording of the actual exam. I know some folks say they are nothing like the exam so your results may vary. I took every questions in that book at least 2 times. Then took a break from that test engine because I started to memorize the answers. I then switched over to the Transcender test engine (more on that in a minute) to get a different flavor of questions. I rate the official (ISC)2 test book a solid 8/10 only because some of the answer options are too easy to tell what the answer is. But it gets your brain use to the wording on the actual test.
I used the Transcender test engine for a bit and found these questions confusing too. My least favorite part of the test engine was the colors... Good god the colors hurt my eyes and were distracting. Would be nice is they chilled out on the ferocity of the blue and green and just went with a nice grey tone. I found these questions too wordy sometimes and some were confusing. As far as the layout of the test engine it is very similar to the actual exam layout so that was cool. I used that test engine to get in the habit of reading the answers first and breaking the answers down into what I thought were the 2 best answers before reading the actual question. That method is quite interesting and takes a bit of getting used to, but it was pretty helpful to see what the two closest related answers could be. The actual exam tries to play some tricks on you by having two answers that could be absolutely correct, but then there is one word in there that makes one answer more correct than the other. Makes you go a bit cross-eyed. I rate Transcender a 7/10 because the colors and words. Overall questions made you actually really think about the information and whether or not you knew the information.
I used a few iPhone apps just to study while spending some alone time on the throne. You know that rare personal quiet time you get when you have a wife and kids.
I perused through the sunflower pdf... Cool information for a quick glance at terms. 9/10 because it's a good reference and it's free and people spent their time on it and gave it away.
The thing that absolutely helped me the most was the "Simple CISSP" audio book on audible by Phil Martin. This guy really did keep it simple at broke down the terms just enough to not make them too vague. The breakdowns were perfect. The audio book is him reading his own book titled "Simple CISSP". It's 18 hours long I think. I listened to it once at normal speed and then re-listened to it a couple more times at 1.25 speed and then 1.5 speed just so I can hear the trigger words and breakdowns and the insane amount of acronym's that the CISSP has. The acronym's in the CISSP is bananas (que the Gwen Stefani song, sorry it happens every time I spell bananas) that was probably the most intimidating part of studying for it. Phil Martin talks a bit slow which is great on the first listen through, but speeding it up was pretty awesome. I listened on the way to work, when i worked around the house, on my way home from work and listened to it while I fell asleep at night. Talk about some crazy dreams about acronyms and CISSP adventures. I rate this audio book 1000/10 seriously I can't say enough about it. I really think it's what helped kick me over the fence with confidence. If you sign up for a trial on audible you get the audio book for free, but its worth every penny it's sold for.
Now on to the actual exam. Sorry for the really long post, but I'm still processing and brain dumping information to free up some space in my brain. My exam was quite interesting. Unfortunately I only got about 4.5 hrs of sleep the night before my exam due to the time I get off of work and the stuff that I have to do when i get home. I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY suggest against 4.5 hrs of sleep before a gnarly exam like the CISSP. Really slows you down. When i sat down at my testing desk I read the NDA, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't forget to click the yes I agree button within 5 minutes or you auto fail and don't get a refund or re-test date. You essentially just burned $700 in 5 minutes. I've read some horror stories from folks that did their brain dump during the NDA time period and didn't agree in time thus causing them to burn said $700. Your timer doesn't start until you click next to get to the 1st question so that is a perfect time to create your brain dump sheet. I spent a solid 15 minutes recreating the brain dump sheet I practiced making during my test prep time. I literally got 2 questions that allowed me the ability to reference said beautiful brain dump sheet. Sadly the first 50 questions seriously took me over 2 hrs to process in my brain. WAY WAY WAY too long to finish only 50 questions. My brain was still trying to process why I was awake and sitting in front of 250 questions next to someone who typed like they were angry at their keyboard or life in general (remember the testing center has other people taking different exams). When i was taking practice tests I was averaging 2.5 hrs finishing 250 questions so I knew it was time to take a break. I raised my hand like I was back in the first grade all over again asking the teacher if I could go potty. I then got palm scanned out to drink my 5 hour energy drink, eat my protein bar and wash it down with some delicious over priced Dasani bottled water and then take my potty break.
My initial plan was to take 50 questions at a time and at least stand up and stretch and give my eyes a break. That went right out the window after I realized how slow my brain was thinking. Like I said before I didn't take my adderral so that wake up and alert and focused stuff wasn't happening in my brain so that was a bummer. I'm sure I annoyed the folks sitting next to me because of my tapping and moving and stretching and standing up and yawning, but hey they should have put the headphones on or the earplugs in like I did to tune out all of the ambient noises. I can't stress enough how key the earplugs were, seriously a life saver after hearing the keyboard monster next to me. Seriously sounded like she was going to smash the keys through the desk.
Dang it side tracked again.... Last time I promise. The first 50 questions had me like whoa, is this really happening, I actual know the answers (I thought) or am I playing some hopeful trickery on myself. The questions were on what I focused on the most. But then came the next 75 questions and then my brain was like what the heck are you doing here this test is above your brain computing powers just raise your hand and go to the bathroom and leave like a ninja and never return to this beast of an exam. Then I tricked myself into treating it like a practice test to help reduce the stress, because at that moment I thought I was practicing for my retake of the test to then only stress myself out again because I then remembered the retake would be the new CAT exam format. I wanted to punch myself in the face a few times. But I pushed on and plugged through the next 125 questions. Some of the questions I got were not in any of the books or note-cards or anything I read or remember reading so that bummed me out because it made me think I didn't prepare in depth. The questions on my particular exam were random. I would suggest focusing A LOT of time on the SDLC, BCP/DRP, the ISO stuff, and CC stuff. I had a few OSI model questions a few crypto questions (speaking of crypto, how about that Bitcoin thing). I probably had more SDLC questions than anything. Remember you will most likely see 2 answers that would fit the question perfectly, but there will be a random word or 2 that make one answer better than the other. But in general just make sure you have a solid foundation of all of the domains, you may get a test that hammers hard on OSI or Cryptography or other stuffs.
You know how some of the posts you've read say that some of the successful folks only got a couple drag and drop questions, well I'm not one of those lucky folks. I no joke got 15 drag and drop questions and felt like the unluckiest dude at that very moment. I think my least favorite part of the exam is that stupid count down clock on the top right corner of the test screen. In my head it made a tick-tock sound like an old analog clock. It made me do math for how many questions I had left VS how much time I had left. I couldn't do any of the math I studied for, no ARO or SLE or EF just plain ol' math. I had to convert the minutes into hours and then I thought wait why do that. I looked at how many questions I had left and saw that I was gong to run out of time before I answered all of my questions (yes I know that is a bit sad given you have 6 hours to take the test). So I had to change my method to catch up to the clock. I had to refocus and spend less than a minute to answer each question to at least finish all of the questions and then starting answering them in less than 45 seconds to try to give myself a 20 minute buffer to go through my flagged stuff. I was able to achieve my 20 minute buffer until I hit the last 10 questions and then my buffer disappeared and panic again set in. I finished my 250th question with 5 minutes left to check out my flagged questions. I flagged about 15 questions and was only able to look at 5 of them. I changed 2 answers and had to hit submit. After you click the button saying you are done reviewing your questions you have to answer the are you positive you want to leave this screen at least 2 more times before you get to the submit button. I ended up finishing the test with a whopping 5 whole seconds left on the clock. I highly advise against baby sitting the clock, but at least keep an eye on your pace of answering questions.
Before I hit the submit button the exam proctor was standing behind me because I had take then entire 6 hours to finish the test. He then stated that I was the only person left from the group of folks that scheduled 8 am exam times. I was like thanks big guy. He was a super nice guy, ex marine who runs a dog rescue for pit bulls. He loves his pit bulls. After getting palm scanned out for the second to last time, the nice pit bull loving marine escorted me down what felt like a mile long and inch wide hallway to the front lobby and check out desk where I would receive my results. As I walked down the hallway I saw that there was only 1 sheet of paper and then proceeded to pre-celebrate in my head but then blurted out a Woo-Hoo. The proctor asked me why I was excited, so I explained to him if you get one sheet of paper after this test that means you passed and if you get two sheets of paper, then that means you failed and one paper will tell you that you didn't do awesome and the other sheet will let you know what you didn't do awesome at. He said I guess that's a good way of explaining it. I grabbed my sheet that said "Congratulation's you provisionally passed the CISSP exam and we will inform you in 2-5 business days after a possible further psychometric and forensic evaluation". I have no idea what that means, but I received one sheet of paper that said Congratulations on it so that's a solid feeling.
Now if you read this far, I'm sorry if you feel like I wasted your time. I am trying to brain dump my day. And I might have dumped all over the fantastic sub-reddit so I am sorry for that. This sub-reddit was extremely helpful and encouraging reading all of the success stories and tips and excitement of passing this exam. Only we can understand what this is like and what it takes to study for and sit through the test.
My final thoughts and tips would be: First and foremost get an amazing nights sleep the night before On your test date eat a great breakfast or solid lunch or you will start to get hangry at the test. I didn't have time to eat breakfast because of traffic. Now speaking of traffic, if you know there is a possibility for traffic on the way to your testing center leave earlier than you planned on leaving. I made it to the testing center 5 minutes before 8am. Took me an hour to go 20 miles (thank you lovely San Diego traffic) Take as many practice questions as possible and figure out your flow and just get use to answering 250 questions in one sitting Grab some snacks to eat when you take a break. I brought a 5 hour energy drink, tigers milk protein chocolate goodness thing and some delightful Dasani water. Schedule your exam date as soon as possible to give you a solid fire under your butt focus mantality PLEASE REMEMBER CLICK THE STINKING ACCEPT BUTTON ON THE NDA WITHIN 5 MINUTES Brain dump onto the dry erase thingy they give you. It will help free up some much needed and required thinking space Figure out a pace that helps you feel confident you will finish in time. I have yet to read anyone not finish the test, but have read people consuming the entire 6 hours like I did. I thought for sure I would finish with enough time left to go back home to take a little snoozer before having to go to work at 3pm. I was actually 30 minutes late to work because I took so long.
What to expect at the Pearson Vue Test Centers: Bring 2 forms of ID, if you're using a credit card or ATM card for the second form of ID make sure you sign the back or they will tell you its not a valid form of ID until you sign it. Be prepared to palm scan each palm twice so be sure you have clean hands or that sucks for the person that scans in after you. You will also have to take a picture, so if you're having a bad hair day or that freshly rolled out of bed look or that random embarrassing gnarly zit on your face that will be in the picture. If you don't care what you look like in the picture then you do you. I didn't care. I threw up the DMV picture smile and then sat down and waited my turn to sit in that special chair before you have to prove you're not a cheater. After you get out of that special chair you will have to empty your pockets, pat your shirt and body from neck to waste (don't lift up your shift, it makes the proctors uncomfortable). Then they make you pat your legs from waste to foot. My proctor dude made me lift my pant leg up so he could see if I was stashing any stuff in the top of my socks. If you wear glasses they make you take them off and set them on a sheet of paper that says "Place your glasses here" so they can inspect them. I think they are checking to see if you have that failed google glasses project stuffed in your glasses. If you look up after you sit down at your exam station you will notice a PTZ camera above you watching your every move.
All joking aside I do appreciate the thoroughness that Pearson Vue takes in ensuring that the security profession is protected by not allowing cheating.
If you've read this far, I apologize again for the lengthy story. Today was an adderall free day so A.D.D is on point.
My work experience is a NOC Engineer for the past 7 years. Focusing on being a data custodian, Access control stuff, Data Center baby sitter (or physical access control stuffs thrown in there). I do a lot of powershell scripting and python. Honestly if I can pass this exam then any one can pass this exam. If you read all the way to the bottom of this post you can for sure pass this exam.
I hope you enjoyed my lengthy story and the advice or study material info thrown in there. Hopefully this lengthy story was slightly entertaining and a nice metal break from studying or at the very least give your more confidence because someone like me passed this exam. This subreddit is a great place for tips and encouragement from reading the success stories of the folks who pass this exam. This exam is an accomplishment for sure Remember think like a manager and not a fix everything person.
Good luck to all you fine folks out there....
-Nick- Almost CISSP
I'd like to hear your thoughts on his lecture held today at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany.
Read the full transcript here or via pdf link. https://www.bis.org/speeches/sp180206.pdf
1/10 Money in the digital age: what role for central banks? Lecture by Agustín Carstens General Manager, Bank for International Settlements House of Finance, Goethe University Frankfurt, 6 February 2018
Introduction Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for that kind introduction, Jens. I am very happy to be here at this prestigious university and to be part of this impressive lecture series sponsored by Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe (SAFE), the Center for Financial Studies (CFS) and the Deutsche Bundesbank. I would also like to thank Professor Brigitte Haar for being such a generous host today. It is an honour to discuss money at an event organised by the Bundesbank, which has been a beacon of stability since its foundation some 60 years ago. As Jens can attest, being a central banker is a fascinating job. In fact, it is a privilege. During the last decade it has been anything but quiet in the central banking world. We have been confronted with extraordinary circumstances that have required extraordinary policy responses. In such an environment, it has been of the utmost importance to share experiences and lessons learnt among central banks, creating a body of knowledge that will be there for the future. One of the reasons that central bank Governors from all over the world gather in Basel every two months is precisely to discuss issues at the front and centre of the policy debate. Following the Great Financial Crisis, many hours have been spent discussing the design and implications of, for example, unconventional monetary policies such as quantitative easing and negative interest rates. Lately, we have seen a bit of a shift, to issues at the very heart of central banking. This shift is driven by developments at the cutting edge of technology. While it has been bubbling under the surface for years, the meteoric rise of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has led us to revisit some fundamental questions that touch on the origin and raison d’être for central banks: • What is money? • What constitutes good money, and where do cryptocurrencies fit in? • And, finally, what role should central banks play? The thrust of my lecture will be that, at the end of the day, money is an indispensable social convention backed by an accountable institution within the State that enjoys public trust. Many things have served as money, but experience suggests that something widely accepted, reliably provided and stable in its command over goods and services works best. Experience has also shown that to be credible, money requires institutional backup, which is best provided by a central bank. While central banks’ actions and services will evolve with technological developments, the rise of cryptocurrencies only highlights the important role central banks have played, and continue to play, as stewards of public trust. Private digital tokens posing as currencies, such as bitcoin and other crypto-assets that have mushroomed of late, must not endanger this trust in the fundamental value and nature of money.
What is money? “What is money?” is obviously a key question for any central banker, and one on which economists have spent much ink. The answer depends on how deep and philosophical one wants to be. Being at a university, especially one named after Goethe, I think I can err on the side of being philosophical. Conventional wisdom tells you that “money is what money does”.1 That is, money is a unit of account, a means of payment and a store of value. But telling you what something does does not really tell you what it is. And it certainly does not tell you why we need or have money, how it comes about and what the preconditions are for it to exist. In terms of the “need” for money, you may learn that money is a way to get around the general lack of double coincidence of wants. That is, it is rare that I have what you want and you have what I want at the same time. As barter is definitely not an efficient way of organising an economy, money is demanded as a tool to facilitate exchange. What about the other side of the coin, so to speak? How does money come about? Again, conventional wisdom may tell you that central banks provide money, ie cash (coins and notes), and commercial banks supply deposits. But this answer is often not fully satisfactory, as it does not tell why and how banks should be the one to “create” money. If you venture into more substantive analyses on monetary economics, things get more complex. One theory, which proposes that “money is memory”, amounts to arguing that a “superledger” can facilitate exchange just like money. This argument says a ledger is a way of keeping track of not only who has what but also who owes, and is owed, what. I will come back to this later. Moving beyond this line of thought, other scholarly and historical analyses provide answers that are more philosophical. These often amount to “money is a convention” – one party accepts it as payment in the expectation that others will also do so.2 Money is an IOU, but a special one because everyone in the economy trusts that it will be accepted by others in exchange for goods and services. One might say money is a “we all owe you”. Many things have served as money in this way. Figure 1 gives some examples: Yap stones, gold coins, cigarettes in war times, $100,000 bills, wissel (Wechsel), ie bills of exchange or bearer notes, such as those issued by the Bank of Amsterdam in the first half of the 17th century. It includes an example from my own country, Aztec hoe (or axe) money, a form of (unstamped) money made of copper used in central Mexico and parts of Central America. 1 See J Hicks, Critical essays in monetary theory, 1979. 2 See D Lewis, Convention: a philosophical study, 1969.
Common to most of these examples is that the nominal value of the items that have served at one time as money is unrelated to their intrinsic value. Indeed, as we know very well in the case of fiat money, the intrinsic value of most of its representations is zero. History shows that money as a convention needs to have a basis of trust, supported by some form of institutional arrangement.3 As Curzio Giannini puts it: “The evolution of monetary institutions appears to be above all the fruit of a continuous dialogue between economic and political spheres, with each taking turns to create monetary innovations … and to safeguard the common interest against abuse stemming from partisan interests.”4 Money can come in different institutional forms and colours. How to organise them? The paper by Bech and Garratt in last September’s BIS Quarterly Review presented the money flower as a way of organising monies in today’s environment.5 It acknowledges that money can take on rather different forms and be supplied in various ways. The money flower Allow me to explain, noting that we do not sell seeds to this money flower! 3 Fiat means “by law“. So, in principle, it should be said that money exists by convention or by law. But if trust in money does not prevail, the legal mandate that conveys value to money becomes meaningless. 4 C Giannini, The age of central banks, 2011. 5 M Bech and R Garratt, “Central bank cryptocurrencies”, BIS Quarterly Review, September 2017, pp 55–70.
The money flower highlights four key properties on the supply side of money: the issuer, the form, the degree of accessibility and the transfer mechanism. • The issuer can be either the central bank or “other”. “Other” includes nobody, that is, a particular type of money that is not the liability of anyone. • In terms of the form it takes, money is either electronic or physical. • Accessibility refers to how widely the type of money is available. It can either be wide or limited. • Transfer mechanism can either be a central intermediary or peer-to-peer, meaning transactions occur directly between the payer and the payee without the need for a central intermediary. Let us look at where some common types of money fit into the flower, starting with cash (or bank notes) as we know it today. Cash is issued by the central bank, is not electronic, is available to everyone and is peer-to-peer. I do not need a trusted third party such as Jens to help me pay each of you 10 euros. Let us try another one: bank deposits. They are not the liability of the central bank, mostly electronic, and in most countries available to most people, but clearly not peer-to-peer. Transferring resources from a bank deposit requires the involvement of at least your own bank, perhaps the central bank and the recipient’s bank. Think here not only of commercial bank deposits but also bills, eg non-interest bearing (bearer) certificates, issued privately, as in the case of the Bank of Amsterdam mentioned earlier. Local or regional currencies are the ones that can be spent in a particular geographical location at participating organisations. They tend to be physical. The túmin, for example, was a local currency circulating (illegally) for some time around 2010 exclusively in the Mexican municipality of Espinal. What does digitalisation mean for the flower? Digitalisation is nothing new: financial services and most forms of money have been largely digital for many years. Much of the ongoing transformation is just adding a mobile version for many services, which means that the device becomes a virtual extension of the institution. As such, there is not a new model. The money flower then also easily accommodates these forms.
That is also the case for the digital, account-based forms of money that central banks traditionally have made available to commercial banks and, in some instances, to certain other financial or public institutions (ie bank reserves). It would also be the case if the central bank were to issue digital money to the wider public for general purposes. Each central bank will have to make its own decision on whether issuing digital money is desirable, after considering factors such as the structure of the financial system and underlying preferences for privacy. The central bank community is actively analysing this issue. A potentially important and leapfrogging digital-related development, however, is distributed ledger technology (DLT), the basis for Bitcoin. Many think DLT could transform financial service provision, maybe first wholesale, then possibly retail. For example, it could enhance settlement efficiency involving securities and derivatives transactions. A few central banks have conducted experiments in this area, for example the Bank of Canada, the Bundesbank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Bank of England.6 Yet doubts remain regarding the maturity of DLT and the size of associated efficiency gains relative to existing technologies. Moreover, their robustness, including to cyber-risk, is still to be fully understood and ascertained. Still, there are potential benefits, and I expect that central banks will remain engaged on this topic.7 For now, DLT is largely used to “create” bitcoin and other digital currencies. Such cryptocurrencies can be placed easily in the money flower. Nobody issues them, they are not physical and they are peer-to-peer. But beyond that, how should one think about them? What constitutes good money? Just because we are able to find a place for bitcoin in our money flower does not mean we should consider it as “good” money. As I mentioned before, trust is the fundamental tenet that underpins credible currencies, and this trust has to be earned and supported. There are many lessons from history and institutional economics on the earning of trust that we can use as we move further into digitalisation.8 Over the ages, many forms of private money have come and gone. It is fair to say that the same has happened with various experiments with public money (that is, money issued by a public entity that is not the central bank). While some lasted longer than others, most have invariably given way to some form of central bank money. The main reason for their disappearance is that the “incentives to cheat” are simply too high. Let me give three historical examples: one in Germany, another in the United States and the last one in Mexico. In Germany, the Thirty Years War (1618–48), involving small German states of the Holy Roman Empire and neighbouring regional powers, was associated with one of the most severe economic crises ever recorded, with rampant hyperinflation – just as happened three centuries later during the Weimar Republic – and the breakdown of trade and economic activity. The crisis became known as the Kipper- und Wipperzeit (the clipping and culling times), after the practice of clipping coins (shaving metal from their circumference) and sorting good coins from bad. This morning, we are launching a BIS Working Paper, by Professor Isabel Schnabel and BIS Economic Adviser Hyun Song Shin, which further details and explains this experience, as background to my speech. 6 See Bech and Garratt, op cit. 7 See Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures, Distributed ledger technology in payment, clearing and settlement: an analytical framework, February 2017. 8 See D North, Institutions, institutional change and economic performance, 1990.
While episodes of currency debasement have occurred throughout history, this one stands out for two reasons. First is the severity of the crisis and its rapid regional spread. Debasement proceeded at such a pace that public authorities quickly lost control of the downward spiral. Second is how the debasement was brought under control. This occurred through standardisation of wholesale payments by public deposit banks, for example the Bank of Hamburg and the Bank of Amsterdam. These were in many ways examples of the precursors of modern central banks. As the working paper argues, monetary order could be brought to an otherwise chaotic situation by providing reliable payment means through precursors to central bank money, which at the end means the use of a credible institutional arrangement. In the period in the United States known as the Free Banking Era, from 1837 to 1863, many banks sprang up that issued currency with no oversight of any kind by the federal government.10 These so-called free bank notes did not work very well as a medium of exchange. Given that there were so many banks of varying reputations issuing notes, they sold at different prices in different places, making transactions quite complicated. And as supervision was largely absent, banks had limited restraint in issuing notes and did not back them up sufficiently with specie (gold or silver), thereby debasing their values. This era of “wildcat banking” ended up being a long and costly period of banking instability in the history of the US, with banking panics and major disruptions to economic activity. It was, after some further hiccups, followed by the establishment of the Federal Reserve System in 1913. Let me present a final example, from Mexican monetary history. A little known fact is that Mexico had the first series of hyperinflations at the beginning of the 20th century. My country had a revolution from 1910 to 1921, in which no central government existed in an effective way, with many factions fighting and disputing different territories. A winning faction would arrive in a territory, print its own money and make void previously issued cash. So different bills issued by different factions coexisted, leading to chaos and hyperinflation. To give you an idea of the disorder, in 2015 four trunks full of bills were returned to Mexico after having been appropriated by the US Navy in 1914, when the US occupied the port city of Veracruz. In the trunks, the Bank of Mexico discovered dozens of types of bills that the central bank had not even known existed.11 At the end of the conflict, a new constitution was drafted, having as a central article one which gave the Bank of Mexico the appropriate institutional framework, designating it the exclusive issuer of currency in the country. Once this was in place, hyperinflation ceased, illustrating the importance of controlling fiscal dominance (which tends to be the result of the abuse of publicly issued money). Based on these experiences, most observers, and I suspect all of you here, would agree that laissez-faire is not a good approach in banking or in the issuance of money. Indeed, the paradigm of strict bank regulation and supervision and central banks overseeing the financial and monetary system that has emerged over the last century or so has proven to be the most effective way to avoid the instability and high economic costs associated with the proliferation of private and public monies. 9 I Schnabel and H S Shin, “Money and trust: lessons from the 1620s for money in the digital age”, BIS Working Papers, no 698, February 2018. 10 See G Dwyer, “Wildcat banking, banking panics, and free banking in the United States”, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Economic Review, vol 81, nos 3–6, 1996; A Rolnick and W Weber, “New evidence of the free banking era”, The American Economic Review, vol 73, no 5, December 1983, pp 1080–91; and C Calomiris, “Banking crises yesterday and today”, Financial History Review, vol 17, no 1, 2010, pp 3–12. 11 See Bank of Mexico, “La SRE entregó al Banco de México un acervo de billetes de la época del porfiriato”, press release, 1 June 2015, www.banxico.org.mx/informacion-para-la-prensa/comunicados/billetes-y-monedas/billetes/%7B3A41E6F8-FBD8-2FA7-DA0B-66FCCE46430A%7D.pdf
The unhappy experience with private forms of money raises deep questions about whether the proliferation of cryptocurrencies is desirable or sustainable. Even if the supply of one type of cryptocurrency is limited, the mushrooming of so many of them means that the total supply of all forms of cryptocurrency is unlimited. Added to this is the practice of “forking”, where an offshoot of an existing cryptocurrency can be conjured up from thin air. Given the experience with currency debasement that has peppered history, the proliferation of such private monies should give everyone pause for thought. I will return to this shortly. We have learned over the centuries that money as a social institution requires a solution to the problem of a lack of trust.12 The central banks that often emerged in the wake of the private and public money collapses may not have looked like the ones we have today, but they all had some institutional backing. The forms of this backing for their issuance of money have differed over time and by country.13 Commodity money has often been the start. History shows that gold and other precious metals stored in the vault with governance (and physical) safeguards can provide some assurance. Commodity money is not the only or necessarily sufficient mechanism. Often it also required a city-, state- or nation-provided charter, as with the emergence of giro banks in many European countries. Later, the willingness of central banks to convert money for gold at a fixed price (the gold standard) was the mechanism. Currency boards, where local money is issued one-to-one with changes in foreign currency holdings, can also work to provide credibility. The tried, trusted and resilient modern way to provide confidence in public money is the independent central bank. This means legal safeguards and agreed goals, ie clear monetary policy objectives, operational, instrument and administrative independence, together with democratic accountability to ensure broad-based political support and legitimacy. While not fully immune from the temptation to cheat, central banks as an institution are hard to beat in terms of safeguarding society’s economic and political interest in a stable currency. Where do cryptocurrencies fit in? One could argue that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies’ attractiveness lies in an intelligent application of DLT. DLT provides a method to broadcast transactions publicly and pseudonymously in a way that achieves in principle ledger immutability.14 Who would have thought that having people guessing solutions to what was described to me by a techie as the mathematical equivalent of mega-sudokus would be a way to generate consensus among strangers around the world through a proof of work? Does it thus provide a novel solution to the problem of how to generate trust among people who do not know each other? If DLT provides the potential for a superledger, could bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies then substitute for some forms of money?15 We do not have the full answers, but at this time the answer, also in the light of historical experiences, is probably a sound no, for many reasons. In fact, we are seeing the type of cracks and cheating that brought down other private currencies starting to appear in the House of Bitcoin. As an institution, Bitcoin has some obvious flaws. 12 See M King, “The institutions of monetary policy”, speech at the American Economic Association Annual Meeting, San Diego, 4 January 2004. 13 See Giannini, op cit. 14 See Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures, op cit. 15 See N Kocherlakota, “Money is memory”, Journal of Economic Theory, vol 81, pp 232–51, 1998. In fact, he shows in a very stark setting that having a costless means to record the memory of all economic actors, both present and past, can do as much as money, and sometimes more. Conversely, money effectively functions as memory by providing an observable record of past transactions – that is, agents can tell whether a potential trader is running a current deficit or surplus with society by looking at the money balances that trader is carrying. The finding, however, is theoretical and not robust to slight changes in assumptions, including the risk of loss of data.
Debasement. As I mentioned, we may be seeing the modern-day equivalent of clipping and culling. In Bitcoin, these take the form of forks, a type of spin-off in which developers clone Bitcoin’s software, release it with a new name and a new coin, after possibly adding a few new features or tinkering with the algorithms’ parameters. Often, the objective is to capitalise on the public’s familiarity with Bitcoin to make some serious money, at least virtually. Last year alone, 19 Bitcoin forks came out, including Bitcoin Cash, Bitcoin Gold and Bitcoin Diamond. Forks can fork again, and many more could happen. After all, it just takes a bunch of smart programmers and a catchy name. As in the past, these modern-day clippings dilute the value of existing ones, to the extent such cryptocurrencies have any economic value at all. Trust. As the saying goes, trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair. Historical experiences suggest that these “assets” are probably not sustainable as money. Cryptocurrencies are not the liability of any individual or institution, or backed by any authority. Governance weaknesses, such as the concentration of their ownership, could make them even less trustworthy. Indeed, to use them often means resorting to an intermediary (for example, the bitcoin exchanges) to which one has to trust one’s money. More generally, they piggyback on the same institutional infrastructure that serves the overall financial system and on the trust that it provides. This reflects their challenge to establish their own trust in the face of cyber-attacks, loss of customers’ funds, limits on transferring funds and inadequate market integrity. Inefficiency. Novel technology is not the same as better technology or better economics. That is clearly the case with Bitcoin: while perhaps intended as an alternative payment system with no government involvement, it has become a combination of a bubble, a Ponzi scheme and an environmental disaster. The volatility of bitcoin renders it a poor means of payment and a crazy way to store value. Very few people use it for payments or as a unit of account. In fact, at a major cryptocurrency conference the registration fee could not be paid with bitcoins because it was too costly and slow: only conventional money was accepted. To the extent they are used, bitcoins and their cousins seem more attractive to those who want to make transactions in the black or illegal economy, rather than everyday transactions. In a way, this should not be surprising, since individuals who massively evade taxes or launder money are the ones who are willing to live with cryptocurrencies’ extreme price volatility. In practice, central bank experiments show that DLT-based systems are very expensive to run and slower and much less efficient to operate than conventional payment and settlement systems. The electricity used in the process of mining bitcoins is staggering, estimated to be equal to the amount Singapore uses every day in electricity,16 making them socially wasteful and environmentally bad. Therefore, the current fascination with these cryptocurrencies seems to have more to do with a speculative mania than any use as a form of electronic payment, except for illegal activities. Accordingly, authorities are edging closer and closer to clamping down to contain the risks related to cryptocurrencies. There is a strong case for policy intervention. As now noted by many securities markets and regulatory and supervisory agencies, these assets can raise concerns related to consumer and investor protection. Appropriate authorities have a duty to educate and protect investors and consumers, and need to be prepared to act. Moreover, there are concerns related to tax evasion, money laundering and criminal finance. Authorities should welcome innovation. But they have a duty to make sure technological advances are not used to legitimise profits from illegal activities. 16 See Digiconomist, “Bitcoin energy consumption index”, digiconomist.net/bitcoin-energy-consumption.
What role for the central bank? Central banks, acting by themselves and/or in coordination with other financial authorities like bank regulators and supervisors, ministries of finance, tax agencies and financial intelligence units, may also need to act, given their roles in providing money services and safeguarding money’s real value. Working with commercial banks, authorities have a part to play in policing the digital frontier. Commercial banks are on the front line since they are the ones settling trades, providing real liquidity, keeping exchanges going and interacting with customers. It is alarming that some banks have advertised “bitcoin ATMs” where you can buy and sell bitcoins. Authorities need to ensure commercial banks do not facilitate unscrupulous behaviours. Central banks need to safeguard payment systems. To date, Bitcoin is not functional as a means of payment, but it relies on the oxygen provided by the connection to standard means of payments and trading apps that link users to conventional bank accounts. If the only “business case” is use for illicit or illegal transactions, central banks cannot allow such tokens to rely on much of the same institutional infrastructure that serves the overall financial system and freeload on the trust that it provides. Authorities should apply the principle that the Basel Process has adhered to for years: to provide a level playing field to all participants in financial markets (banks and non-banks alike), while at the same time fostering innovative, secure and competitive markets. In this context, this means, among other things, ensuring that the same high standards that money transfer and payment service providers have to meet are also met by Bitcoin-type exchanges. It also means ensuring that legitimate banking and payment services are only offered to those exchanges and products that meet these high standards. Financial authorities may also have a case to intervene to ensure financial stability. To date, many judge that, given cryptocurrencies’ small size and limited interconnectedness, concerns about them do not rise to a systemic level. But if authorities do not act pre-emptively, cryptocurrencies could become more interconnected with the main financial system and become a threat to financial stability. Most importantly, the meteoric rise of cryptocurrencies should not make us forget the important role central banks play as stewards of public trust. Private digital tokens masquerading as currencies must not subvert this trust. As history has shown, there simply is no substitute. Still, central banks are embracing new technologies as appropriate. Many new developments can help. For example, fintech and “techfin” – which refers to established technology platforms venturing into financial services. These are changing financial service provision in many countries, most clearly in payments, and especially in some emerging market economies (for example, China and Kenya). While they introduce the possibility of non-bank financial institutions introducing money-type instruments, which raises a familiar set of regulatory questions, they do present scope for many gains. Conclusion In conclusion, while cryptocurrencies may pretend to be currencies, they fail the basic textbook definitions. Most would agree that they do not function as a unit of account. Their volatile valuations make them unsafe to rely on as a common means of payment and a stable store of value. They also defy lessons from theory and experiences. Most importantly, given their many fragilities, cryptocurrencies are unlikely to satisfy the requirement of trust to make them sustainable forms of money. While new technologies have the potential to improve our lives, this is not invariably the case. Thus, central banks must be prepared to intervene if needed. After all, cryptocurrencies piggyback on the institutional infrastructure that serves the wider financial system, gaining a semblance of legitimacy from their links to it. This clearly falls under central banks’ area of responsibility. The buck stops here. But the buck also starts here. Credible money will continue to arise from central bank decisions, taken in the light of day and in the public interest. In particular, central banks and financial authorities should pay special attention to two aspects. First, to the ties linking cryptocurrencies to real currencies, to ensure that the relationship is not parasitic. And second, to the level playing field principle. This means “same risk, same regulation”. And no exceptions allowed.
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