Session 1 : Keynotes Speakers
Dr Peter North University of Liverpool, Local Money
Peter North gave an informative speech about his involvement as a researcher of local currencies. It served as a good introduction to anyone unfamiliar with local/ alternative currencies. He began his talk with the politics of alternative money: it is just a social construction; we can make a collective agreement to use other forms of money, therefore we can create money
He divided alternative currencies into five models, and discussed their various strengths and weaknesses.
1) LETS – started in 1987 in Vancouver, backed by a personal commitment to pay, denominated in national currency. These are informal schemes, which are generally small but have been shown to last as long as 20 years, although it is hard to get businesses involved.
2) Time Banks – no connection with national currency, it is not taxable and so does not incur regulation. Time Banks are run on a social service model.
3) Time Based Paper Currencies – such as Ithaca Hours. These schemes have no database or directory like LETS, so there is less opportunity for tax collection. These schemes have been shown to work with local businesses.
4) National Money Referential Scrip – I.E. Brixton Pounds, Bristol Pounds – convertible with national currency. The main advantage here is that businesses can get on board.
5) Electronic Money – Peter North left this to the next speaker He ended his presentation with simple advice for those wanting to start their local currency – i.e. setting up a local currency is fine, sustaining it is a lot of work; consider what is considered ‘local’ – how geographically defined is your identity?; think about deepening your local network, produce more locally, in order to enrich the possibility of local money.
Professor Jem Bendell Sustainability Leadership, Founder IFLAS
Jem Bendell’s talk complimented Peter’s as an introduction to local currency, from the point of view of FinTech. He began by outlining his view of the financial system – “a farce” – and the need to “free us from the banks”. The key to doing this would be have local issuance of currency, as the present model of local currencies (such as Brixton and Bristol Pounds) are re-packaged versions of the national currency.
Then a quick overview of cashless Fintech: more transactions were done electronically last year than cash payments; i.e. we’re seeing the end of cash; Facebook will soon have a system to evaluate users’ creditworthiness and allow peer-to-peer lending (not confirmed), cashless payments through Amazon are coming android pay, apple pay etc.; $20 billion went into cashless Fintech last year; the Danish government ruled retailers are able to reject cash if they choose – the conclusion: we have a short window of beautiful currency notes; the Brixton Pound note featuring David Bowie was selling for £40 on eBay – this may represent the pinnacle of local cash.
Bendell talked about the need to keep up with the ‘Fintech revolution’ – there are $ billions going into the payments business, because people want to own what’s coming. But there are so many separate platforms and software – are they all working together? How could FinTech work to reclaim credit creation? One place it is working is Community Exchange Systems, which work through a system called Clearing Central, using an API, with governance to decide exchange rates – could this be the BACS and SWIFT alternatives?
The conclusion – we need people to see greater utility in alternative currencies, and for payments processes to be simple. Local spending is ok, but local issuance is the key.
– Very few local currencies hit scale, what are the critical dimensions?
Peter North replied that he was not interested in scale. He sees local currencies as being about relationships, and when they become too big they lose their feeling of connectedness and solidarity. He used the Trueque (lcoal currency in South America) as an example, which failed as it gained national popularity. Jem Bendell added that the end of cash threatens to undermine local currencies, with new forms of credit payments. If you want scale, he recommends learning from open source and interruptible technology, again reaffirming the end of cash payments. An example is the WIR, which is an electronic alternative currency in Switzerland he says currently 1% of Swiss GDP is traded with WIR,
– Why did the Berkshares currency in the US fail?
Because the currency didnt incentivize people, it became an annoyance. The organizers didnt listen to peoples experience. For this reason, Berkshares ended up hurting the same people the currency was designed to help.
At one point in his presentation, Peter North implied that it was problematic when local currencies resembled national currencies in their appearance. I asked why is this problematic?
– People who initiate currencies are radically minded, environmentalists; theyre not so bothered about the look and feel of national currency.
Professor Nigel Dodd LSE, Social life of Money
Nigel Dodd gave a mostly theoretical talk on the nature of money. The basis of his talk was the Georg Simmel quote – “money is a claim upon society”. Dodd’s theory is that money is not a thing, but a social process. He sees local currencies as a tool to re-educate people, and not in an auditable or measurable way: there is a public ignorance about the nature of money, and local currencies inspire the conversation.
Dodd rejects the idea of money as a medium of exchange, account and store of value; he rejects the barter theory of money’s origins, as a spot transaction, there being no lasting social finesse Gold on the other hand is just a commodity – against the idea that money is debt, and debt is not necessarily bad, in his view.
Local Currencies serve to focus our attention on the nature of that “claim upon society” – money is not necessarily evil (!); money is something through which we relate to people… the issue is not about measuring a local currencies’ impact in quantitive terms, but in qualitative terms: how they counter the public’s ignorance about money.
Henk van Arkel CEO Social Trade Organisation
The presentation focused on the work of STR0, which is a consultancy for local currencies, as well as doing R&D on innovative approaches namely digital currencies. STR0 has promoted Cyclos, winner of the Epay Innovation Award 2014 which is now seeing its 4th version with more functions, such as the possibility to form an exchange rate between community currencies.
Again, we see the rejection of paper, as Henk Van Arkel declared that printed local currency is too dangerous it is tangible, and therefore too close to the central banks product. This point was demonstrated by a scheme in Brazil, which was shut down by the Brazilian CB. However, the CB ruled that any scheme could continue, as long as it could be seen to benefit poor people.
Van Arkel then looked at reasons why local currencies fail. These include: lack of seriousness; the growth isnt fast enough; currencies that sell the idea of profit; more offer than demand. He then presented a few success stories Bio-fuel based money (the Gota Verde), Comal (money distribution chains), and the Bonus Fermento method a form of long-lasting currency. Van Arkel then talked about Blockchain technology, which could possibly used in clearing to prevent fraud.
Session 2 : Main Scheme Presentations
Graham Woodruff from Bristol Pound gave a brief overview of local currencies in the UK, the motivations and strategies. First, a history of local currencies (the phrase ‘Transition Currencies’ is used interchangeably) – starting in 2007 (Totnes), then Lewes, Stroud, Brixton, Bristol followed, with Exeter and Kingston setting up in 2015.
The main motivation? – the so-called ‘leaky bucket’ – money drains from the community via large corporations; the purpose is to keep money local, and to make gentle changes in doing so. Graham showed a graphic demonstrating how a few multinational corporations own the typical shops on every high street. Other motivations include a low carbon footprint; shorter supply chains; self-reliance; a reminder of connectedness; and the creation of local currency as an emerging project in local identity and pride.
In the case of Brixton, they have a ‘Brixton Bonus’ – a local lottery. Ticket sales go to the Brixton £ fund, and the winner (of Brixton £) spends the prize locally.
With Bristol £, they launched a co-op, with food buying groups who would source food locally, popup markets and cooking classes. The recurring message is that first there is community, then there is dialogue, and then there is the foundation for a currency. Some participants had their assumptions tested, as they presumed starting a currency would be the means to an end, when in fact it has been shown to be a by-product of a delicate and unpredictable social process.
In terms of scaling up, the Bristol £ is now collaborating with local energy and transport companies but the balance was of course tipped when the local mayor (who already had influence in local business circles) began to accept his salary in B£. In the Q&A, someone asked what happens if Tesco accepted Bristol currency? the answer: Bristol pounds currently collaborate with First Bus; they are not local, but we decided transport was really important. We call these non-local businesses associate members. Tesco would be the same.
Another important question: what sharable resources are available for local currencies? Answer: the guild is an attempt to begin that process. We can also share income/costs and technology things are moving towards open source tech, website plugins and free downloads.
Hull coin is an electronic currency using blockchain technology (the underpinnings of BItcoin). The motivations behind the currency originate in the need to combat financial stress, regeneration and poverty in Hull. The founders of Hull Coin have backgrounds in welfare and social work.
The Bitcoin model has been adapted, as decentralized Internet currency, but locally issued and exchanged within Hull. The currency architecture was designed with help from Peter Bushnal, the UK’s first crypto- currency programmer. Coins can be exchanged as a discount for goods and services; there is no exchange rate with GBP.
The creators of Hull Coin expressed the benefits it is incredibly secure, the platform is simple and easy to use; all transactions are public, so it creates a ‘social footprint CV’, even allowing potential employers to view a metric of a person’s social value/level of contribution.
The project was featured on coindesk.com, the premier crypto-currency news site, which has given the project a lot of publicity. However, they are continuing to develop, test and scale. They would like to see a local government-issued currency, but there is not yet the confidence to do so.
Spice Time Credits
Started in South Wales in 2009 – there are around 90 organizations using the time credits across the UK. This is not a ‘local currency’ as such, but a time-based paper voucher scheme.
As with the time credit model, the system encourages participation and volunteering, and incentivizes people to set up their own initiatives. The vouchers are given to volunteers, which act as discounts to services and experiences across the country e.g. parks, landmarks, attractions they have a common front design and each back features a participating park/attraction. There are currently 36 different designs.
Statistics: 25,000 people are currently involved, and 1000 organizations issue time credits. 900 points accept time-credits in payment. 300,000 time credits have been issued to date, with 5000 exchanges and organizations delivering services to 250,000 people.
The effects of the scheme are advertised as an increased social contract, and improvement in health and wellbeing.
A few points from the Q&A
Q can someone earn time credits for their retirement ? (there is schème like this in Japan)
A the scheme is 7 years old, but we aspire to do this.
Q is spice time credits just for services?
A it was piloted for use with goods, but it was a disaster because of the tax laws.
Scot Pound from NEF
The idea of Scot Pound was borne out of the referendum for Scottish Independence. The referendum initiated a debate about Scottish currency. Scot Pound will be designed as a bottom-up grassroots currency, but also as a top-down project to reform a national currency, delinking Scotland macro-economically.
The first action would be to create 1 billion scot pounds, which are distributed as a dividend to every eligible person in Scotland (must be Scottish!), which would be 250 S£ each. Scot pound would work on a free digital payment system; it would be usable for goods, services and taxes, as Scotland now has its own version of HMRC. So – this would be an exclusively electronic currency, payable by phone, text, and app.
The currency would be created without interest and could only be accepted in Scotland. There would be no interactions with sterling, because that incurs regulation. However, if successful, the founders foresee exchanges and brokers who would exchange GBP into Scot Pound and vice versa.
Inspiration was taken from M-Pesa, Australian and US Stimulus programs, Sardex, Banco Palmas and the Cheimgauer. The founders have also learnt about the difficulties in engaging with regulators, the FCA and BOE, with a recommendation to engage as early as possible: “keep them informed, dont surprise central banks”.
The benefits: fiat created out of nothing for the good of the people; extra money injected into society without debt; benefits for SMEs.
The talk ended with the question – how would Scot Pound circulate? How do we incentivize people? – they concluded that it must be inclusive, with interest on a political level, as it is designed as a sovereign state currency, which would give people confidence in a new primary state currency (this state currency being electronic).
An advantage of Scot Pound is the clear geographical identity this makes the values and message very concise, but also without a defined identity, there is difficulty in cooperating with taxing authorities.
A question from the audience how would Scot pound cover its costs? The founders suggested public funding, ROI funding, and demurrage. A small transaction fee may cover their costs.
The next step in the Bristol Pound evolution is something the founders call the Prospects Network. Essentially, they are launching a mutual credit system, issuing credit to businesses at 0% interest; creating money based on a contract between people. It is very simple: there is an extension of credit, it is made fungible, it becomes money and this is called the Prospects Network. Crucially, their project doesnt currently incur regulation.
There would be standard credit checks, transaction fees and negative rates on deposits. Conversion to GBP would be at or near parity for wide participation; in other words, you can sell your prospects at very close to 1-1. Their plan is to have £10-15 million worth of credit in circulation in 3 years.
There are some obsticals: as it is a new idea, it falls into a number of regulation areas. However, if the exchange back to GBP is NOT guaranteed, it does not incur the same regulation. We were then shown a YouTube advert for Prospects Network, which presented the positives more clearly!
Sardex & WIR
A jumbled presentation with two different speakers talking about two different projects, interchangeably. Here is what I learned:
WIR is a very successful electronic currency used in Switzerland. It grew out of a co-op for small and medium sized enterprises in 1934! Although, back then it used paper scrip. After the war, it turned into a members-only system. After the war, it was forced to operate as a bank by Swiss authorities (due to the legal framework of Switzerland).
Today, there is no printed money, although the WIR has grown, with an additional 50 employees working on its daily function, added this year. The WIR retains it roots, but uses modern tools payment apps, simpler rules, credit limits, open advertising, and visible members. It operates as a closed economics circle, with payments accepted in part WIR, part CHF, in a ratio agreed by two parties. The founders say the WIR has accumulated money and is now completely self-funded.
Sardex is a B2B mutual credit system, with 100% tax transparency, and non-convertibility to national currency, based in Sardinia. It is a closed circle, which is beneficial in a crisis situation or a weak economy. The Sardex functions as a unit of account with minimal store of value and 0% interest again benefiting a weak economic environment. The backing of the Sardex in 20% circulating currency, with funding coming from transaction and membership fees. The members agree to accept a line of credit as 1% of their turnover, and pay their employees in Sardex. There are 20 brokers who go between the members.
The Q&A revealed that the same system has been replicated in 6 other Italian regions, mostly in the south.
Patrick Forgeau gave a presentation on Nantes digital currency. It was implemented 1 year ago, although planning took some years prior. It was the mayors decision to have a local currency, in a region with 9% unemployment (this was the main justification for the currency). Before launching, they researched the RES model in Belgium, Bristol Pond, and the WIR system in Switzerland (the SoNantes system is closer to WIR). They set up workshops to generate research. Through this, they wrote a charter/manifesto as the basis of the scheme.
SoNantes is based on four criteria: accessible to all, companies and individuals alike; not convertible to EUR, but worth 1 EUR; managed by a public utility bank/credit municipal bank (because of French law, this is the way a number of French local currencies operate. It should also be noted that France is heavily regulated in this area); easy to use; the currency must also be managed in collaboration with local stakeholders.
Again, due to French law, they refer to their currency as DIGITAL rather than electronic this incurs less regulation.
After the first year, they experienced good growth, with 800 individuals and 150 business on board. So far, there have been transactions of 40,000 SoNantes, with 1700 transactions, and a 50/50 split between B2B transactions and person-to-person.
People under 35 embraced the scheme, although electronic payments are not mature in France (so the presenters said). However, they are still trying to promote SoNantes, find more ambassadors for the currency, and convince the French government to embrace digital currencies. On a technical note, SoNantes have a partnership with CEV, so they can access retailers card terminals the terminals can be set up with Cyclos in one installation.
The Q&A session revealed that the French film DEMAIN, which is a new French documentary about money and the environment, made a huge difference to their uptake.
Session 3 : Workshops
Design for Local Currencies Charlie Waterhouse
Charlie Waterhouse (designer of the Brixton Pound) gave a talk on the importance of currency design. The talk was successful in that it was fun, basic, accessible information, given to an audience where the visual design of banknotes is an after-thought. However, it was clear he was not a security document designer – it would not have made any difference if he was talking about the Brixton Pound, or advertising in general although the marketing and branding of the Brixton Pound has been very astute.
The most interesting point was that Charlie said he designed the note with just enough ‘moneyness’ (a face, a value) for it to be considered money, but in total rejection of sterling notes. His justification was that if they looked like national currency, they would communicate an ‘anti-community’, ‘anti-local’ sentiment, and that Brixton £s ‘play money’ feel is what hides its apparent rebelliousness in plain sight (of the central bank) -interesting response, which encapsulated others’ desire to turn away from national currency.
Changing the Psychological Meaning of Money Tom Crompton
Tom Crompton ran a workshop on the values that a local currency project could appeal to, how those values are communicated, and how a project could fail if these values are muddled. The talk was fast-paced and complex, but the centre-piece was a diagram of ‘Basic Human Values’ – imagine a clock face with Universalism, Benevolence, Conformity, Tradition, Security, Power, Achievement, Hedonism, Stimulation and Self-Direction
. Self-Direction, Universalism and Benevolence are INSTRINSIC values, and Security, Achievement and Power are EXTRINSIC values – intrinsic and extrinsic being at opposite sides of the clock face.
Tom’s research showed that if an individual is drawn to one value, they’re more likely to place less importance on the value on the opposite side. – I.e. people attracted by extrinsic values would tend to reject intrinsic values and vice versa.
Tom proposed that national currency appeals more to the extrinsic values of achievement, power and security – therefore, a rejection of national currency (i.e. local currency), appeals to opposite values: self-direction, universalism and benevolence.
This was an interesting talk, as it diagrammed the reason why there seemed to be an unspoken ideological consensus among the aspiring currency projects – backed up with scientific research! It also linked up with the design aspect, and provided a scientific basis for why local currencies purposefully may not look or feel like national currencies.
Impact Research Coordination Led by the Lewes Pound
A talk about best practices in local currency implementation and problem solving. The focus was the Lewes Pound, which was one of the first local currencies in the UK, and was hailed as revolutionary, but after 7 years has faded, though there is still a core of users. The speaker was charged with reviving the Lewes £.
The main takeaways form the workshop:
– offer a relevant benefit in the short-term to all participants
– find out where people are ready to give time to a local currency, but its also important to engage with skeptics
– locate and define the relevant area where people have a shared identity
– technology can be used to discover and incentivize
– Anchor volunteers in both credit unions and local currencies and facilitate apprenticeship schemes
How To Start A Local Currency Graham Woodruff
This workshop was a mix of suggestions from experienced local currency practitioners. The majority of the dialogue focused on what to do before launching a currency; some attendees were enthusiastic about launching a currency, but by the end of the workshop they realized the currency is a by-product of a foundational structure including identifying the challenges of the community, the specific problems a community is trying to solve, or whether the scheme will be apolitical (this was recommended).
– make a map that shows what people are doing in the area. There may be ways in which people are supporting themselves informally that could form the perfect foundations of an exchange system.
– ascertain what the communities motivations are, and start a dialogue, form networks and build the community.
– Do not hide from the rebelliousness of the currency rebellion sells! But before this, it must be fun and social.
– Do not incentivize people by focusing on a currency that offers discounts this has been proven to backfire when used in payment for goods.
– Communicate a simple message
– Make it a value-based decision, to be an activist in a small way
– Talk to shops next to large chains: they feel the leaky bucket effect the most!
– Get suppliers to local businesses involved before businesses themselves.
The was little time to talk about funding. But various participants said the main sources of funding are E.U. agencies, local councils, grants, and schemes such as the Social Impact Accelerator.
I asked what were the main risks to funding, at present and in the future? The response was that a big problem could be regulation – if local currencies get ‘too big’ (threaten tax collection/national currency dynamics), they are often stopped. Bank of England has a ‘Local Currency Sandbox’, where local currencies are invited to play without fear of regulation, but this is also a means to assemble all aspiring local currencies so they can be more closely monitored by the BOE.