Category Archives: Exchange Design

Sardex, an emerging model for credit clearing exchanges?

Last week I had occasion to visit the Italian island of Sardinia and spend a few hours meeting with the founders and managers of a commercial trade exchange called Sardex. Here below is an abbreviated report of what I learned. The pdf version of the report can be found here.

Sardex, a brief report
by Thomas H. Greco, Jr. August 15, 2015
I recently spent a few days on the Italian island of Sardinia conferring with the founders and administrators of Sardex (http://www.sardex.net/), a commercial credit clearing exchange that has been notable for its success in organizing small businesses and service providers on this island of about 1.6 million people.

I’ve known about Sardex since almost its beginning five years ago and have corresponded over the past few years with Giuseppe Littera, one of its founders, but this was the first opportunity I’ve had to get an inside look at their operation. I came away with a pretty good understanding of how they operate and the impression that the Sardex structures, procedures, and protocols come closer to optimal than any other trade exchange I’ve seen. It appears to be a developing model that is both scalable and replicable.

I will not attempt to provide here a comprehensive report or detailed analysis, rather I will highlight a few major points and provide some sources of additional information for those who are interested in doing their own research.

Some highlights:
Current membership: ~3,000
Current transaction turnover: ~1.5 million euro equivalent per month
Expected turnover for 2015: 50 million
Velocity of credit circulation: 12 times per year
Employees included as sub-accounts: 1,000

When I asked about the key factors that account for their success, here is some of what I was told:

1. Founders are dedicated to the mission to relocalize and rehumanize the economy and to reconnect people by enabling the creation of interest-free local liquidity based on the production capacity of local businesses.

2. Social solidarity and cultural cohesion, while very important and part of the mission, were NOT a pre-existing factor that would account for their early success. In fact, they have had to work hard to develop social solidarity and cooperation amongst their members, but this is now changing. One account broker told me, “I can see how behavior of many of our members has changed. When the financial crisis first began, they were starting to lay off employees or cut their wages, and they were reluctant to spend their euros. This made matters worse as the circulation of money slowed down. But as they began to participate in the process of earning and spending trade credits, they began to increase pay to their workers and to invest in their education. In one case, when a member’s shop was burglarized, other members stepped up to help by donating some of their trade credits to help their fellow member recover from the loss.”

That anecdote demonstrates the differences in behavior that results when people experience scarcity compared to when they experience abundance. In this case, the scarcity of euros caused behavior to change in the direction of reduced willingness to spend and the contraction of overall economic activity. But their experience with trade credit was much different. Realizing the greater availability of trade credits, and finding it easier to earn them, leads people to experience abundance and to be more generous and spend more liberally.

3. I was surprised to learn that the Sardex revenue model relies mainly upon initiation fees and annual membership fees (collected in euros); and that they had decided early-on to stop charging fees on transactions. For me, that approach is counter intuitive in that I have long held the view that recruitment would be most successful if membership were made easy, low cost, and risk free, and that it seems reasonable to apply the principle that users pay in proportion to the amount of services they receive. In this case, that principal would mean that those that receive more credit clearing services should pay more. Well, this may be a case where successful practice trumps rational theory. Marketing specialists should look closely at the dimensions of this phenomenon.

There is however some logic in this approach in that, since the cost of participation is relatively fixed, members should seek to maximize the benefits of their membership by trading more within the network. Initiation fees are set according to the size of the business and range from 150 to 1,000 euros. Annual membership fees are likewise based mainly on turnover and range from 350 to 2,500 euros.

4. Strong member support by an effective staff of brokers who help to arrange trades, especially for those that have high earning capacity to avoid excessive accumulation and high positive trade credit balances.

5. Recruitment strategy tries to replicate the supply chain, i.e., bring in businesses that are the suppliers of existing members or prospective members.

6. “Solidarity threshold.” Requirement that members offer their goods and services for trade credit at the same prices as their euro prices, and that payment be accepted 100% in trade credit on all transactions of less than 1,000 euros. “Blended trades,” i.e., payment in a combination of trade credits and euros are allowed on larger purchases, according to a sliding scale).

7. (a) Restrict membership to companies that have a registered office in Sardinia. This promotes social solidarity and excludes large multi-national corporations. (b) Avoid “saturation” (accepting too many members that offer the same line of products or services).
[While I am fully supportive of the former of these, and would indeed, permanently exclude multi-national companies, this latter practice of avoiding saturation I consider to be of use only in the initial stage of establishing credit clearing as a credible means of exchange and an effective source of local liquidity. Ultimately, I believe that membership must be open to any community-based small or medium enterprise (SME) that meets the basic qualifications for membership. Of course, not all of them will qualify for lines of credit.]

8. Fully compliant with reporting and tax regulations. Transparency is a matter of fundamental importance.

9. Emphasis on monetizing the unused capacity of members. Connecting unused supplies with unmet needs is a primary benefit of credit clearing services.

The Sardex company has been consulting with other groups to replicate their system in seven other regions around Italy. In the future, Sardex is planning to initiate a rebate program to bring consumers into the trading community, which will enhance the circulation of local trade credits, make Sardex better known, and stimulate more sales for their business members.

Here below is a list of a few of the many reports and sources of information about Sardex. Readers are invited to add others as comments.

From an idea to a scalable working model: merging economic benefits with social values in Sardex, by Giuseppe Littera, et al, at the London School of Economic, Inaugural WINIR Conference, 11-14 September 2014, Greenwich, London, UK. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/59406/1/__lse.ac.uk_storage_LIBRARY_Secondary_libfile_shared_repository_Content_Dini%2C%20P_From%20idea%20to%20scalable%20model_Dini_From%20idea%20to%20scalable%20model_2014.pdf
You can get a pretty good picture of the distinctive features of Sardex by viewing Giuseppe Littera’s presentation that was made (in English) at a conference in Volos, Greece, in 2014. It is to be found on YouTube at, https://youtu.be/rvaL2A8juz0
Report (in Italian) in the Italian daily newspaper, La Repubblica: Dalla Sardegna al resto d’Italia. Sardex inventa la moneta complementare. “Abbiamo ripensato l’economia.” http://www.repubblica.it/next/2014/06/23/news/dalla_sardegna_al_resto_d_italia_sardex_inventa_la_moneta_complementare_abbiamo_ripensato_l_economia-89771112/?refresh_ce. [English translation needed.]

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New Community Currency Hanbook

The New Economics Foundation has recently announced a new handbook. Covering a variety of currency designs from time banks, LETS, and currencies issued on the basis of conventional money payment, People Powered Money: everything you need to know to set up a community currency, is a useful guidebook for grassroots exchange innovators.

The book can be downloaded from http://communitycurrenciesinaction.eu/peoplepoweredmoney/.

Beyond Money—Learning the basics of value exchange

We need to get beyond the confusions and obfuscations that surround the concept of money.

To do that we need to distinguish between what money is, i.e., its essence, and what money does, i.e., its functions. Conventional definitions of money, the ones that are universally taught in schools and universities, tell what money is supposed to do, not what it is.

The essence of money is credit. It is the issuer’s i.o.u. or promise to reciprocate, i.e. to provide real value to the market and accept his currency back as payment for it.

With that in mind, we can begin to make sense of money and effectively address the problems that arise from conventional forms of money.

Conventional thinking lists money as having these functions:

  • Medium of exchange—what we use to pay one another.
  • Store of value—what we use to save our temporary surplus.
  • Measure of value—what we use to quantify the market value of all the things that we buy and sell.

But, as I have argued for almost 30 years, these are separate and distinct functions that need to handled by distinct and different means. (For more about that see my book, Money and Debt: A Solution to the Global Crisis, Part III).

Let’s focus on the exchange function, for this is the fundamental and proper role of money, and this is where attempts to solve our global financial and economic problems must begin. Anyone who has studied my work will know that I have thoroughly articulated these concepts in my books and my various presentations. But theory and practice develop together, each informing the other, and finding ways to improve the process requires that we look at both.

Over the past several decades, numerous innovations in the exchange function have emerged, including virtual commodities like Bitcoin, LETS systems, community currencies, and commercial trade (“barter”) exchanges.

Of these, the greatest market success has been achieved by commercial trade exchanges which enable their member businesses to buy and sell without using conventional money. Rather, trading is enabled by using the members’ own credit in a process called credit clearing which simply offsets debits from purchases against credits from sales. (For a more complete description of how this works, see my book, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, especially Chapter 10).

Over the past 40 years, much has been learned from the operation of commercial trade exchanges, and while they have achieved some modest levels of success, they have barely scratched the surface of the potential market for credit clearing services. It remains for exchanges system designs and procedures to be optimized and standardized and for local exchanges to be networked together into a vast moneyless marketplace.

The trade exchange industry has two trade associations that have been instrumental in helping practitioners to share information and in promoting standards and best practices. These are the International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA) and the National Association of Trade Exchanges (NATE). But over the past year a new voice, Bartertown Radio, has emerged that seeks to disseminate the knowledge and wisdom of practitioners to a wider audience. Its mission is to provide an “Educational Program for Business Owners, Entrepreneurs, Barter Exchanges, Owners or New Owners of Barter Exchanges or anyone interested in Alternative Economies.”

Broadcasts are archived and can be accessed on demand at the Bartertown Radio website. Particularly relevant is the April 18 broadcast featuring Richard Logie, a man with 20 years of experience as a trade exchange operator and software platform developer. During that interview, Richard shared his experience and knowledge about a wide range of topics including the factors he considers in allocating credit lines to exchange members, how tax issues are dealt with, and ongoing efforts to establish and enforce good standards of operation. That interview with Richard will be continued next Saturday, April 25 at 11 AM Eastern time (UTC-5). Be sure to tune in at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/educate4barter/2015/04/25/richard-logie-part-2 .

Other archived broadcasts that may be of particular interest are the April 5 interview with industry leader, Harold Rice of the American Exchange Network, and the interview with yours truly from December 13, 2014. Besides operating his own trade exchange company for almost 40 years, Harold Rice has provided consulting services for entrepreneurs and other exchange operators. He is a fount of knowledge about the details of exchange operation and has special expertise in accounting and tax issues.

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Thomas Greco’s Presentation at The Institute of Noetic Sciences: The Evolution of Money and its Potential to Improve Humanity

On October 30, 2014, I gave a presentation, titled, The Evolution of Money and its Potential to Improve Humanity, at the  Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in Petaluma, California.

I was greatly encouraged by the high caliber of those who attended and the quality and intensity of the discussion that followed.

The proceedings were video recorded by organizer and master networker, Sergio Lub, and can be viewed at this Vimeo site.

Youth Employment Scrip-Solving Two Problems at Once

In my 2001 book, Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender, I included a description of a proposed community currency I call Youth Employment Scrip.

This currency design is intended to provide the local community with a supplemental means of payment based on the labor that young people can provide to local businesses, non-profits, and government agencies, that normally could not afford to hire them.

Combined with presently available employment agency services, such a plan could help reduce youth unemployment while providing the entire community with additional liquidity that will help local businesses to sell some of their unused capacity.

For a complete description, you can view or download the entire chapter here: Money Chapter 22 YES

Thomas H. Greco to address Tucson business communty

I will be giving a free presentation in Tucson on August 18 to show local small businesses how to create liquidity based on their own capacity to produce desired goods and services.

Details can be found at:  https://beyondmoney.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/2014-tucson-flyer-local.pdf
Even if you don’t live anywhere near Tucson, I’m sure this will be of interest to many in your network so please help to get the word out. Our communities cannot afford to be complacent. We need new creative approaches to economic development, and locally controlled exchange alternatives are a key requirement to future prosperity, resilience, and a sustainable world.

This presentation will be recorded and made available on this website following the event.

Thomas H. Greco

Phone-to-phone payments already bringing massive changes to Kenya

Try to imagine what your life would be like if you had no bank account, no credit or debit cards, and no cash, and on top of that, you lived in a country where poverty, crime, and corruption were rampant. I’ve never been there, but by many reports Kenya is just such a place. How do people cope?

As in other places, like India and Thailand, that I have visited, it seems that the majority of people in Kenya are micro-entrepreneurs who eke out a living by producing and selling products or services of some sort. And, like everywhere else, having a means for exchanging those goods and services and “paying” each other is crucial to survival.

Ultimately, as private currencies and moneyless exchange mechanism proliferate, we all will have numerous payment options.  The Bangla-Pesa project operating near Mombasa is one such model that is now being replicated in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya. But even technologies that only provide new ways of paying with national currencies are proving to be beneficial in many ways.

Kenya’s Safaricom company has led the world in implementing phone-to-phone payments with the M-pesa. All it takes is a text message from the buyer’s phone to the seller’s phone to make a payment. Almost everyone in Kenya has access to mobile phone service and they may draw cash from their accounts at any of the 45,000 independent agents scattered around the country.

A recent Business Week article documents the ubiquity of this payment mechanism and its positive effects in such diverse areas as security, renewable energy, crowdfunding, and economic development . You can read it here: Ten Days in Kenya With No Cash, Only a Phone.

When mobile phone payment systems include complementary currency options, the beneficial effects will be multiplied manifold. — t.h.g.