News & Views

Author name: Diana Finch

Building Something New:
An Interview with Diana Finch

Bristol Pound, Bristol Pay, and the future of local money in our City: In conversation with Diana Finch, Managing Director, Bristol Pound CIC

The Bristol Pound has become an iconic part of Bristol’s thriving third sector scene. As of the 7th of August, however, we bid it farewell. Diana Finch, managing director of the Bristol Pound, answers questions on why this is happening, and what’s next for local money in Bristol. 

 

Why are you turning the page on the Bristol Pound? Where did the Bristol Pound end and Bristol Pay begin?

We’ve been running Bristol Pound for eight years – long enough for us to compare what we’ve achieved with our original vision, and consider what we’ve learnt along the way. 

Our initial idea was to keep money circulating within independent businesses in Bristol, keeping wealth local where it could be reinvested in Bristol’s economy. It was a good idea, and we still see independent businesses as vital to creating a resilient and diverse local economy. But by limiting ourselves to operating with independent businesses, the scale of our impact was always going to be small. 

We realised that we needed to scale up. Operating at scale would offer us the opportunity to make an impact in lots of different ways (that I’ll come back to), as well as becoming self-sustaining financially – something that had always eluded Bristol Pound. In fact, we won’t just be self-sustaining, we’ll have the potential to generate significant income for charitable projects in Bristol. 

Given this shift in our operations, we felt a change of name was needed.  That change happens in August 2020, when the old digital indie-only scheme comes to an end, and the new Bristol Pay platform comes into being.

How is this different from the Bristol Pound? Is this a different way to achieve the same thing, or something totally new? 

The broad aims are still the same – to create a more environmentally sustainable, fair and resilient economy for Bristol.  But the methods are changing, so I’d say it is something completely new.  Rather than being a sterling backed currency scheme that only independents can accept, this is a sterling payment platform for the entire city.  We want every person and business in the city to use Bristol Pay, because by operating at scale, not only can we fund our activities, but also raise money for charitable projects.  The more people and businesses use the payment method regularly, the more money we’ll be able to use to fund social and environmental projects in line with Bristol’s One City Plan. We want to be raising £10m per year by 2025 – that’s a really ambitious target, and we need the city to come together to achieve that.

The rest of our work will really be on developing token schemes.  Think Nectar points, but with some important differences.  Instead of earning points for spending money in particular ways, people will be able to earn points for engaging in the kind of culture shifts that are needed to deliver the One City Plan and to address climate change.  And instead of the points driving discounts at big chain stores, they’ll be a recognised way of thanking people for their efforts.  We’ll be working with people from all across the city to design the token schemes, to make sure people see the tokens as trusted and purposeful, and that the thank you is appropriate – whether that’s a discount, a freebie, or a rating (like an Uber score).  The options are endless – so it’s really important that we listen to people’s ideas before we develop schemes.

What are your hopes for Bristol Pay? How will this be better for Bristol? What problems is Bristol Pay looking to solve? 

The first hope for Bristol Pay is that it is seen by people and businesses across Bristol as the best way to pay, because it helps prevent the leakage of so much money to commercial payment providers and instead creates a pot of money to invest in charitable projects right here.  If you care about Bristol, you should be paying with Bristol Pay – that’s the message I want everyone to take away.

The second hope is that the token schemes will really engage people in a cultural shift to help us meet the environmental and social challenges we face, especially as we emerge from COVID, with all the financial hardship of lockdown.  

When I was a kid, there was much more of a community safety net – neighbours looking out for each other,  popping round for a cup of tea, lending a helping hand or a tool.  Gradually that’s been eroded as we’ve all been sucked into the market-driven economy.  Now there’s an opportunity – and a need – to redevelop those kinds of community approaches.  We can save each other money, address loneliness and create purpose and connection in our lives by coming together in this way.  And in turn, that can reduce the pressure on public services.

There are other sorts of culture we need to shift too.  We can’t carry on finding it acceptable to jump in the car when we could have walked, cycled or got on the bus.  We can’t carry on finding it normal to generate the amount of non-recyclable, or even recyclable, waste we do..  We all need to be engaged with ways to change our lifestyles to be more sustainable.  Sometimes just being told isn’t enough. We’d need some kind of encouragement or support to change our attitudes to water use, for example.

Let’s talk about Bristol Pay itself, what is it? How will it work? 

There’s nothing quite like Bristol Pay out there, so in a way it is difficult to describe.  

I could say it’s like Paypal, in that you have an account, and you can pay other people with an account really easily, without needing to know a load of account numbers.  And those payments will be instantaneous, unlike when you pay by card or phone app via the normal VISA and Mastercard network, which actually take days to hit the account of the business you’re paying.  In due course, there will be a phone app and a payment card too, so you’ll be able to use it out and about, as well as for online shopping.  

If you have a bank account, you’ll be able to link your Bristol Pay account to it, like with Paypal.  But if you don’t have a bank account, you’ll still be able to open a Bristol Pay account, meaning it’s more accessible than Paypal.  And you’ll be able to receive payments (like benefits and wages) direct to your Bristol Pay account through the normal banking systems.  That might be really important for people who currently find it impossible to open a bank account.

Who are you doing this with? Who’s funding it? 

Our partners are Payji Ltd.  They’re a new, small fintech business based in London.  We’re working with them because they approached us back in February with an offer of help.  

You might be aware that back in January, we were looking at having to close the digital Bristol Pound because it couldn’t operate in a financially viable way.  The organisation and our innovative work was going to fade away unless we found a partner who could help us through the hard times and provide us with a technical solution to create a new sort of payment platform.

Payji had already developed a payment platform, and were really keen to get it used in a local economy setting.  Over the course of the next month, they were able to convince us that they were well very aligned with our aims, and were able to provide both the tech and the financial support to give the organisation a new lease of life, through the development of the innovative approach that is Bristol Pay.

What’s the response been like from Bristol’s organisations and communities? Is Bristol keen?

So far there is quite a lot of excitement.  The mayor and deputy mayors have expressed their support for our work, and we’re working closely with the University of Bristol and University of the West of England who are both keen to research how we can use Bristol Pay to create the kinds of culture change needed to address many of the problems Bristol faces. Not least so that we can share our learnings.  We’re also working with Bristol Water and Bristol Waste on the potential for a token to help them achieve their environmental aims, and we’re working with various local voluntary sector partners, to look at how we can start to address particular issues like the problems many face as businesses increasingly stop accepting cash. Obviously, not many people know what we’re doing yet, but of those that do, yes, they’re keen!

What are you most excited about for Bristol Pay?

For me, the potential of the tokens is the most exciting thing in the longer term.  For many years, as a society we’ve been growing a consumer driven, market based economy.  That economic model is damaging to people and planet, and tokens offer us a way to experiment with different sorts of economic models.  We’ve been driven by money, price and scarcity.  I’m excited to shift our culture to instead be driven by generosity, common values and the abundance our planet can provide when we work with it, not against it.

Tokens sound interesting, can you tell me how they’d work in lay-person terms? Give me some examples

Well, none of these exist yet, but here at least are some ideas that we’d like to work on.

We think the first token we’ll have will be called Thanx.  It will be available to every person with an account – we’ll probably give everyone a Thanx just to get started.  The idea of Thanx is just to encourage people to recognise favours and pay them forwards. For example, I might help you paint your kitchen, and you might give me a Thanx. I might pass that Thanx on to a friend who’s just given me a load of veg from the allotment.  And they might pass it on to a neighbour who’s lent them a power sander for a DIY job. It’s just a way to encourage people to do each other favours, and share skills and equipment (rather than keep buying things that actually took a lot of carbon to make, and get used a couple of times before being consigned to the garage or attic…). We can build community spirit and cut down on unnecessary purchases – and that’s good for our wallet and the environment, as well as the health and wellbeing of the community.

Another scheme might involve shops and cafes serving takeaway food and drink. If you take a reusable container, when you pay with Bristol Pay, you automatically get  a token.  That token might give you a discount on something – or maybe it would just add to your ‘Avoiding Waste’ score, which might get you on a leaderboard, or even win you a prize like a free cinema screening.

There might be more technologically advanced schemes. For example, maybe there’d be a scheme you could sign up to and get a DBS check, and then volunteer to look in on a neighbour or two near you. They might have a device in their home where you can register each time to pop round for a chat, make sure the heating is working and check they’ve got their medication. Maybe you’ll even do a spot of shopping for them (and of course it’s easy for them to pay you back if they’ve got Bristol Pay – no need to have cash to hand, and no need for them to key in a lot of numbers with online banking!).

Or there might be smart bollards on cycle tracks around the city that recognise a smart chip on your bike as you cycle round and automatically reward you with points.  

Again, what all those points or tokens enable will very much depend on what people tell us they value and what the partners we work with can offer. But the important thing to understand is that the aim is to engage people and to thank and recognise them for their efforts, not to ‘buy’ their good behaviour. Creating a financial incentive is not only costly for partners, but research has shown that financial rewards tend to create only short term behaviour changes, as people start to feel after a while that the little gain in financial terms is not enough to be ‘worth’ their extra time and effort.

This sounds great. But can we talk a little bit about accessibility? How hard will it be to get a Bristol Pay account? 

It will be very easy!  Because we are regulated in a completely different way to banks, we don’t have to have the same high barriers to entry.  

When you first set up an account, you’ll be asked for your name, date of birth and contact details, and you’ll set up your username and password of course. Without any verification at all, you’ll have a basic account straight away, with a monthly payment and balance limit of £125.

The details you give will be run past our online identity checks. If the details are verified, you’ll have your limits extended to £5000. If the details can’t be verified, we will let you know alternative steps you can take to verify your identity to increase your account limit. The important thing is, you won’t be forced to come up with a load of paperwork just to get started. 

So it puts money back into Bristol, and anyone can use it. Sounds ideal. When can we start using it?

There is a lot of development work still to be done, so we’re taking a phased approach.  

In August, you’ll be able to open an account, and use it to make payments to other people and businesses with accounts.  

In September, we’re expecting the phone app to be available, and we’ll be getting the first pioneer businesses set up with the point of sale terminals they’ll need.  We’re seeing September and October as a beta testing phase, through which we can sort any teething problems, and gather ideas from people’s first experiences of the system.

We’re hoping to add in a basic token scheme in the late autumn – the Thanx I talked about just now, to encourage community based interactions. That development work will underpin all the other tokens we add over the coming months and years.

2021 will really be all about trying to grow the platform – getting more people and businesses on board. We’ll also add a payment card, which will be important to people who can’t or don’t use smartphones.  We’ll also be adding new features – like instant messaging from independent businesses, and budgeting features for personal account holders. And we’ll be continuing to work with partners to develop token schemes – in areas like transport, household energy usage, physical fitness, community volunteering…

By 2022 I think we’ll be working with at least one other city, to replicate our work. In the longer term, I think there will be lots of cities using City Pay, all locally branded and bringing the same sorts of local benefits that we’ll be bringing to Bristol.

Is there anything else we can expect from Bristol Pay in the future?          

We are all about systemic change – we’re constantly thinking about the big problems we face as a society, and working out where we could make an intervention that might help. We want to be working at the leading edge of innovation, and challenging the status quo. So, expect the unexpected!  

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News & Views

Author name: Diana Finch

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Building Something New: An Interview with Diana Finch

Bristol Pound, Bristol Pay, and the future of local money in our City: In conversation with Diana Finch, Managing Director, Bristol Pound CIC

The Bristol Pound has become an iconic part of Bristol’s thriving third sector scene. As of the 7th of August, however, we bid it farewell. Diana Finch, managing director of the Bristol Pound, answers questions on why this is happening, and what’s next for local money in Bristol. 

 

Why are you turning the page on the Bristol Pound? Where did the Bristol Pound end and Bristol Pay begin?

We’ve been running Bristol Pound for eight years – long enough for us to compare what we’ve achieved with our original vision, and consider what we’ve learnt along the way. 

Our initial idea was to keep money circulating within independent businesses in Bristol, keeping wealth local where it could be reinvested in Bristol’s economy. It was a good idea, and we still see independent businesses as vital to creating a resilient and diverse local economy. But by limiting ourselves to operating with independent businesses, the scale of our impact was always going to be small. 

We realised that we needed to scale up. Operating at scale would offer us the opportunity to make an impact in lots of different ways (that I’ll come back to), as well as becoming self-sustaining financially – something that had always eluded Bristol Pound. In fact, we won’t just be self-sustaining, we’ll have the potential to generate significant income for charitable projects in Bristol. 

Given this shift in our operations, we felt a change of name was needed.  That change happens in August 2020, when the old digital indie-only scheme comes to an end, and the new Bristol Pay platform comes into being.

How is this different from the Bristol Pound? Is this a different way to achieve the same thing, or something totally new? 

The broad aims are still the same – to create a more environmentally sustainable, fair and resilient economy for Bristol.  But the methods are changing, so I’d say it is something completely new.  Rather than being a sterling backed currency scheme that only independents can accept, this is a sterling payment platform for the entire city.  We want every person and business in the city to use Bristol Pay, because by operating at scale, not only can we fund our activities, but also raise money for charitable projects.  The more people and businesses use the payment method regularly, the more money we’ll be able to use to fund social and environmental projects in line with Bristol’s One City Plan. We want to be raising £10m per year by 2025 – that’s a really ambitious target, and we need the city to come together to achieve that.

The rest of our work will really be on developing token schemes.  Think Nectar points, but with some important differences.  Instead of earning points for spending money in particular ways, people will be able to earn points for engaging in the kind of culture shifts that are needed to deliver the One City Plan and to address climate change.  And instead of the points driving discounts at big chain stores, they’ll be a recognised way of thanking people for their efforts.  We’ll be working with people from all across the city to design the token schemes, to make sure people see the tokens as trusted and purposeful, and that the thank you is appropriate – whether that’s a discount, a freebie, or a rating (like an Uber score).  The options are endless – so it’s really important that we listen to people’s ideas before we develop schemes.

What are your hopes for Bristol Pay? How will this be better for Bristol? What problems is Bristol Pay looking to solve? 

The first hope for Bristol Pay is that it is seen by people and businesses across Bristol as the best way to pay, because it helps prevent the leakage of so much money to commercial payment providers and instead creates a pot of money to invest in charitable projects right here.  If you care about Bristol, you should be paying with Bristol Pay – that’s the message I want everyone to take away.

The second hope is that the token schemes will really engage people in a cultural shift to help us meet the environmental and social challenges we face, especially as we emerge from COVID, with all the financial hardship of lockdown.  

When I was a kid, there was much more of a community safety net – neighbours looking out for each other,  popping round for a cup of tea, lending a helping hand or a tool.  Gradually that’s been eroded as we’ve all been sucked into the market-driven economy.  Now there’s an opportunity – and a need – to redevelop those kinds of community approaches.  We can save each other money, address loneliness and create purpose and connection in our lives by coming together in this way.  And in turn, that can reduce the pressure on public services.

There are other sorts of culture we need to shift too.  We can’t carry on finding it acceptable to jump in the car when we could have walked, cycled or got on the bus.  We can’t carry on finding it normal to generate the amount of non-recyclable, or even recyclable, waste we do..  We all need to be engaged with ways to change our lifestyles to be more sustainable.  Sometimes just being told isn’t enough. We’d need some kind of encouragement or support to change our attitudes to water use, for example.

Let’s talk about Bristol Pay itself, what is it? How will it work? 

There’s nothing quite like Bristol Pay out there, so in a way it is difficult to describe.  

I could say it’s like Paypal, in that you have an account, and you can pay other people with an account really easily, without needing to know a load of account numbers.  And those payments will be instantaneous, unlike when you pay by card or phone app via the normal VISA and Mastercard network, which actually take days to hit the account of the business you’re paying.  In due course, there will be a phone app and a payment card too, so you’ll be able to use it out and about, as well as for online shopping.  

If you have a bank account, you’ll be able to link your Bristol Pay account to it, like with Paypal.  But if you don’t have a bank account, you’ll still be able to open a Bristol Pay account, meaning it’s more accessible than Paypal.  And you’ll be able to receive payments (like benefits and wages) direct to your Bristol Pay account through the normal banking systems.  That might be really important for people who currently find it impossible to open a bank account.

Who are you doing this with? Who’s funding it? 

Our partners are Payji Ltd.  They’re a new, small fintech business based in London.  We’re working with them because they approached us back in February with an offer of help.  

You might be aware that back in January, we were looking at having to close the digital Bristol Pound because it couldn’t operate in a financially viable way.  The organisation and our innovative work was going to fade away unless we found a partner who could help us through the hard times and provide us with a technical solution to create a new sort of payment platform.

Payji had already developed a payment platform, and were really keen to get it used in a local economy setting.  Over the course of the next month, they were able to convince us that they were well very aligned with our aims, and were able to provide both the tech and the financial support to give the organisation a new lease of life, through the development of the innovative approach that is Bristol Pay.

What’s the response been like from Bristol’s organisations and communities? Is Bristol keen?

So far there is quite a lot of excitement.  The mayor and deputy mayors have expressed their support for our work, and we’re working closely with the University of Bristol and University of the West of England who are both keen to research how we can use Bristol Pay to create the kinds of culture change needed to address many of the problems Bristol faces. Not least so that we can share our learnings.  We’re also working with Bristol Water and Bristol Waste on the potential for a token to help them achieve their environmental aims, and we’re working with various local voluntary sector partners, to look at how we can start to address particular issues like the problems many face as businesses increasingly stop accepting cash. Obviously, not many people know what we’re doing yet, but of those that do, yes, they’re keen!

What are you most excited about for Bristol Pay?

For me, the potential of the tokens is the most exciting thing in the longer term.  For many years, as a society we’ve been growing a consumer driven, market based economy.  That economic model is damaging to people and planet, and tokens offer us a way to experiment with different sorts of economic models.  We’ve been driven by money, price and scarcity.  I’m excited to shift our culture to instead be driven by generosity, common values and the abundance our planet can provide when we work with it, not against it.

Tokens sound interesting, can you tell me how they’d work in lay-person terms? Give me some examples

Well, none of these exist yet, but here at least are some ideas that we’d like to work on.

We think the first token we’ll have will be called Thanx.  It will be available to every person with an account – we’ll probably give everyone a Thanx just to get started.  The idea of Thanx is just to encourage people to recognise favours and pay them forwards. For example, I might help you paint your kitchen, and you might give me a Thanx. I might pass that Thanx on to a friend who’s just given me a load of veg from the allotment.  And they might pass it on to a neighbour who’s lent them a power sander for a DIY job. It’s just a way to encourage people to do each other favours, and share skills and equipment (rather than keep buying things that actually took a lot of carbon to make, and get used a couple of times before being consigned to the garage or attic…). We can build community spirit and cut down on unnecessary purchases – and that’s good for our wallet and the environment, as well as the health and wellbeing of the community.

Another scheme might involve shops and cafes serving takeaway food and drink. If you take a reusable container, when you pay with Bristol Pay, you automatically get  a token.  That token might give you a discount on something – or maybe it would just add to your ‘Avoiding Waste’ score, which might get you on a leaderboard, or even win you a prize like a free cinema screening.

There might be more technologically advanced schemes. For example, maybe there’d be a scheme you could sign up to and get a DBS check, and then volunteer to look in on a neighbour or two near you. They might have a device in their home where you can register each time to pop round for a chat, make sure the heating is working and check they’ve got their medication. Maybe you’ll even do a spot of shopping for them (and of course it’s easy for them to pay you back if they’ve got Bristol Pay – no need to have cash to hand, and no need for them to key in a lot of numbers with online banking!).

Or there might be smart bollards on cycle tracks around the city that recognise a smart chip on your bike as you cycle round and automatically reward you with points.  

Again, what all those points or tokens enable will very much depend on what people tell us they value and what the partners we work with can offer. But the important thing to understand is that the aim is to engage people and to thank and recognise them for their efforts, not to ‘buy’ their good behaviour. Creating a financial incentive is not only costly for partners, but research has shown that financial rewards tend to create only short term behaviour changes, as people start to feel after a while that the little gain in financial terms is not enough to be ‘worth’ their extra time and effort.

This sounds great. But can we talk a little bit about accessibility? How hard will it be to get a Bristol Pay account? 

It will be very easy!  Because we are regulated in a completely different way to banks, we don’t have to have the same high barriers to entry.  

When you first set up an account, you’ll be asked for your name, date of birth and contact details, and you’ll set up your username and password of course. Without any verification at all, you’ll have a basic account straight away, with a monthly payment and balance limit of £125.

The details you give will be run past our online identity checks. If the details are verified, you’ll have your limits extended to £5000. If the details can’t be verified, we will let you know alternative steps you can take to verify your identity to increase your account limit. The important thing is, you won’t be forced to come up with a load of paperwork just to get started. 

So it puts money back into Bristol, and anyone can use it. Sounds ideal. When can we start using it?

There is a lot of development work still to be done, so we’re taking a phased approach.  

In August, you’ll be able to open an account, and use it to make payments to other people and businesses with accounts.  

In September, we’re expecting the phone app to be available, and we’ll be getting the first pioneer businesses set up with the point of sale terminals they’ll need.  We’re seeing September and October as a beta testing phase, through which we can sort any teething problems, and gather ideas from people’s first experiences of the system.

We’re hoping to add in a basic token scheme in the late autumn – the Thanx I talked about just now, to encourage community based interactions. That development work will underpin all the other tokens we add over the coming months and years.

2021 will really be all about trying to grow the platform – getting more people and businesses on board. We’ll also add a payment card, which will be important to people who can’t or don’t use smartphones.  We’ll also be adding new features – like instant messaging from independent businesses, and budgeting features for personal account holders. And we’ll be continuing to work with partners to develop token schemes – in areas like transport, household energy usage, physical fitness, community volunteering…

By 2022 I think we’ll be working with at least one other city, to replicate our work. In the longer term, I think there will be lots of cities using City Pay, all locally branded and bringing the same sorts of local benefits that we’ll be bringing to Bristol.

Is there anything else we can expect from Bristol Pay in the future?          

We are all about systemic change – we’re constantly thinking about the big problems we face as a society, and working out where we could make an intervention that might help. We want to be working at the leading edge of innovation, and challenging the status quo. So, expect the unexpected!  

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Station Approach 

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Reg#07346360

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