China’s central bank said it would expand the scope of its digital yuan trial this year, as it rushed to fill hundreds of engineer and product developer positions to accelerate the initiative. The People’s Bank of China said on Thursday that this year it would “solidly push ahead” with the research and development of e-CNY, and “orderly expand” the scope of use for China’s digital fiat currency, following two years of trials in several Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shenzhen and Suzhou, as well as venues of this year’s Beijing Winter Olympics. While the user numbers, usage frequency and total turnover of e-CNY still lags Alipay and WeChat Pay, the two dominant cashless payment services in China owned by Ant Group and Tencent Holdings respectively, digital yuan is quickly emerging as an alternative choice for Chinese consumers. Ant Group is an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding, owner of the South China Morning Post . The central bank said e-CNY reached 261 million users by the end of last year, nearly twice the user number back in October. Could sanctions on Russia open the door for China’s digital yuan? To support the expansion of the e-CNY project, the Digital Currency Research Institute – the central bank unit responsible for developing and promoting the digital yuan – has kicked off a hiring spree. On Boss Zhipin, a Chinese online recruitment platform, the institute currently lists 205 vacancies, including for Beijing-based Android engineers with a monthly salary of up to 70,000 yuan (US$11,000), cloud platform engineers in the eastern city of Suzhou with a monthly salary of up to 60,000 yuan, and blockchain experts in Shenzhen with a monthly salary of up to 80,000 yuan. Some Beijing-based positions described as “urgently in need”, including senior architecture engineers, come with a monthly salary of up to 120,000 yuan, according to the institute’s hiring advertisement on Lagou, another employment site. The recruitment drive marks the institute’s largest-ever external hiring exercise since it was established in 2016, suggesting that the central bank is eager to step up its efforts to promote e-CNY as a way to replace banknotes and coins. China’s exploration of a sovereign digital currency, known officially as Digital Currency Electronic Payment, is leading the world. The US Federal Reserve has only gone as far as researching the idea of a digital dollar and publishing a research paper in January about stable coins – a type of cryptocurrency usually tied to an existing fiat currency such as the US dollar. The Bank of Japan said on Friday it would move next month to the second phase of its experiment on the issuing of a sovereign digital currency, although it has not said whether it would actually introduce a digital yen to the public. China became the first major economy to begin exploring its own central bank digital currency in 2014, but it has yet to provide an official timetable for a national launch. The e-CNY app is available for download on Chinese app stores, but the use of the digital yuan is limited to designated cities where trials are taking place, including Beijing, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Xiongan, Chengdu, Shanghai, Hainan, Changsha, Xian, Qingdao and Dalian. Hong Kong plans to soon roll out a pilot scheme for the use of the digital yuan for shopping and dining, making the special administration region the first offshore city to use the e-CNY outside the mainland, Eddie Yue Wai-man, CEO of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority – the city’s de facto central bank – said last month.