This essay concerns how the Federal Reserve’s role as a payment services provider can best be aligned with its broad mission to foster the integrity, efficiency, and accessibility of the U.S. payments system. A recommended strategy involves specialization in providing services where the central bank has a comparative advantage—notably, services directly related to providing a comprehensive, secure system of accounts for interbank settlement and potentially some additional services justified by economies of scope. If markets for other payment services evolve as expected, the recommended strategy would have the Fed generally rely on means other than direct service provision to help ensure that services are provided effectively and equitably. Several specific implications of this strategy are suggested.
This essay also appeared in the “Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis 2000 Annual Report,” which was published in the April 2001 issue of the Bank’s magazine _The Region_.