COVID-19, financial markets and digital transformation

Andréa M. Maechler / Thomas Moser, Member of the Governing Board / Alternate Member of the Governing Board

Virtual Money Market Event, webcast, 15.04.2021

In many ways, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is unprecedented. The economic shock has been global and massive, affecting both economic supply and demand simultaneously. To mitigate the economic impact, the crisis response has had to be swift and innovative - including in Switzerland. The Swiss National Bank has played an important role here, preventing an excessive appreciation of the Swiss franc through foreign currency purchases. Moreover, it has helped to ease strains in US dollar funding markets by participating in a series of coordinated central bank actions. By setting up the SNB COVID-19 refinancing facility (CRF), a mechanism designed to complement the package of support measures adopted by the federal government, the SNB has facilitated bank lending to small and medium-sized enterprises that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

However, the pandemic's implications for central banking extend far beyond short-term crisis management. COVID-19 and the associated containment measures have accelerated the trend towards digitalisation. These developments have consequences for areas of central bank activity, particularly as regards the use of payment methods and systems. Big data and automation enable the deployment of new, non-standard data; these datasets can be valuable for estimating economic trends and have proved especially useful during the pandemic. These technologies are also altering dynamics in the financial markets - for example, algorithm-based trading programs are increasingly being used to execute foreign exchange transactions.

As organisations' reliance on IT systems grows, so too do operational challenges, not least with respect to cyber risks. The SNB contributes to the cybersecurity of the financial sector by participating in relevant projects alongside the authorities and other players active in the Swiss financial centre.