FundingKnight Likes… Brixton Pound

Recently I wrote about the newly launched Bristol Pound and why we at FundingKnight were fans of this community orientated and hyperlocal currency.

The Bristol Pound is one of few other similar projects taking place around the UK so we thought we would write about one of the first and the original urban scheme, the Brixton Pound.

In the same way as other local currencies, the Brixton Pound was designed and implemented to keep investment and spending in the local area.

By exchanging your run of the mill ordinary sterling into Brixton Pounds you can spend your hard earned cash in a plethora of Brixton businesses helping them to increase their profits.

It’s simple, you invest in your community and as a result your local area improves. It not only allows you to help grow home-grown businesses but also, if you use your B£ electronically, you get an additional 10% spend on your British Pound, thus making your money go farther with an added value local bonus.

One recent additional string to the currency’s bow is that if you work for Lambeth Council (where Brixton is located) you can now request to have a percentage of your wages paid in Brixton Pounds. A fabulous idea that really shouts it support to the civic scheme. Plus staff opting for this will receive the additional 10% bonus on their pound, essentially giving staff a pay rise well above the average local government salary increments.

Lambeth Council workers will also have the option to donate their monies directly from their wages to local charities, community groups and social enterprises of their choice.

By starting schemes like the Brixton Pound and others it allows local neighborhoods to take control of their communities and maintain the fantastic vibrancy and creativity that is unique to their area. In turn positivity breeds positivity, improving lives and environments whilst generating a powerful multiplier effect that extends and creates opportunities for more and more people every time a B£ is spent. That alone is more than reason enough to like, if not love, the Brixton Pound. Get involved and find out more here.

FundingKnight Likes…Streetbank

Following on from recent post, Crowdlending: Just one part of a sharing economy, it seemed only right and natural to further explore some of the fantastic social enterprises mentioned in that article and the New Statesman piece about peer to peer activity and a sharing economy.

One such enterprise is Streetbank, a not-for-profit online organisation that invites users to lend and borrow items to and from their neighbours and local businesses but also in addition, to find and share skills in all manner of areas of expertise from languages through to cooking. In their own words:

Streetbank is a site that helps you share and borrow things from your neighbours. Streetbank is meant for everyone. It is not for private benefit – for individuals to make a profit or professionals to sell their services. It is for the common good.”

With the growth of more philanthropic lifestyles becoming more and more appealing to people in times of financial difficulty, sites like Streetbank reflect a growing trend of hyperlocal organisations striving to make everyone’s neighbourhoods better places to live and work. Co-Founder Sam Stephens explains further:

“People are happier when they are are connected to each other. As we’ve grown richer we’ve become more and more disconnected until now most of us don’t know our next door neighbours. Helping someone out is a great way to make friends and build community spirit.”

Joining Streetbank is free and the possibilities are endless. Garnering some serious press attention with its launch, it shows just how fantastic its promise is, echoing other similarly driven and hugely successful online communities from newbie airbnb or the long-established freecycle.

Of course the ethos behind Streetbank links rather wonderfully to the founding ideas and principles behind FundingKnight’s crowdlending aims and objectives. We believe that similar ventures with a strong, local and community focused outlook are great and the more we can all share in the common good, the better.

Crowdlending: Just one part of a sharing economy

Vintage 'pool it' poster encouraging car sharing (from the US national archives)

When world economies have recovered, our children have grown up and discussions about the global credit crunch are more suited to history or economics lessons rather than making front page news, what will be the lasting legacy of the economic turmoil we’ve all endured over the past few years?

Regular readers might already have seen our collection of inspirational quotes from Youngme Moon’s book Different.  If not, take a look…  it might get you thinking about how to stand out of the crowd, in the meantime, do you agree with the idea that “the storm has refocused us all in some collective way.”

There’s a growing band of people who think the credit crunch will turn out to be far more than a blot on an otherwise upwards graph of prosperity and consumption.

Even people who are managing to ride out the storm well on a personal level seem affected by the general consensus that it’s time to stop prioritizing greed, financial success and growth at the expense of everything else.

If a recent article in the New Statesman is to be believed, the time has come to adopt a sharing, caring attitude…

“So what can peer to peer activity bring to the twenty-first century table where the feast is rapidly diminishing and what’s left is meted out so unevenly?  The answer is an economy based on collaboration rather than individual ownership, trust rather than status, adaptation rather than standardization.  The answer is a sharing economy.”

The article, Collaborative consumption: the new economy, caught my eye for a number of reasons.

First of all it began with a quote from a book I greatly enjoyed as a student, (Don DeLillo’s White Noise), then it continued by exploring some of the themes of the book I’m reading right now, What’s Mine Is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live  by Rachel Botsman.

So, that’s my bookish obsessions satisfied, but why is all this relevant to the FundingKnight blog?

Well, because crowdlending (or peer to peer lending if you prefer) is one of the new sharing activities that Botsman talks about in her book.

When she writes, “The convergence of social networks, a renewed belief in the importance of community, pressing environmental concerns and cost consciousness are moving us away from top-heavy centralized and controlled forms of consumerism towards one of sharing, aggregation, openness and cooperation” she covers many of the values we hold at the core of FundingKnight.

New finance is all about moving away from top-heavy corporations towards leaner, agile networks, which can connect people for mutual reward.

What started out as kids having fun online and morphed into the global giant of social networking now has the power to genuinely change the world for the better, and there is certainly plenty of wastage to start cutting out.

Apparently, the average drill is used for just 15 minutes in its lifetime which is a pretty sad indictment on our consumerist tendencies…

There’s wastage, too, in the financial system.  Plenty of people are seeing their cash dwindle away in easy access savings accounts that barely manage to keep up with inflation – despite its recent falls.

Now, peer to business lending isn’t for everyone.  Yes, there are risks and you shouldn’t invest money you can’t afford to lose and yes, there’s a road to climb before such lending is ready to go mainstream but one thing’s clear, putting cash to use investing in British businesses has the potential to become hugely more efficient for both lenders and borrowers than mainstream finance.

What’s more, crowdlending manages to promote sharing without asking people to give up their individual identities.  Borrowers get more choice and flexibility and can build their own loans, whilst lenders choose where their money goes and build individual investment portfolios.

It’s well summed up by Mark Levine, writing in the New York Times,

“sharing is to ownership what the i-pod is to the eight track, what the solar panel is to the coal mine.  Sharing is clean, crisp, urbane, postmodern; owning is dull, selfish, timid, backward.”

The words are emotive, but there’s something in them.  So many sectors and industries have already undergone a massive shift in power from corporates to customers.  New finance is about the financial sector making that shift.

This is collaborative consumption at its best…“(it)is not asking people to share nicely in the sandbox.  On the contrary, it puts a system in place where people can share resources without forfeiting cherished personal freedoms or sacrificing their lifestyle.”

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A Crowdlending Journey Begins…

Allow myself to introduce myself… my name is Katie Kennedy and I live on planet ignorant. There. I’ve said it and it feels good, thanks for listening.

Now just to get this straight, I don’t inhabit said world of ignorance all the time, it does however certainly apply when it comes to talking about the world of economics, business and investment. It would be true to say I have extensive knowledge of certain, extremely useful things. For example; I like to think I could sing you almost all of Belle & Sebastian’s back catalogue and equally you could test me on reciting large chunks of 1980s John Cusack movies word for word (go on, try me…) So yes, like I said, all useful stuff.

And yet surprisingly, the world of finance, investments, peer-to-peer lending, crowdlending, crowdfunding, kickstarting, starting-up, peer-to-crowd kicklending (and any other terms you may wish to insert here) still eludes me and I am fiercely illiterate in this language. I have no background, experience or helpfully stashed away knowledge to conveniently mine. I know little about what FundingKnight does or certainly could do. I am, you may say, an idiot in the land that you reside, the land I like to call Moneyland.

So while I may be an outsider in your lavishly funded Moneyland, I feel as thought it’s my responsibility, nay, my duty to endeavor to break down knowledge barriers, decipher jargon and become curious about financial practices. Systems that in fact would be incredibly useful to know and become acquainted with to lots of ordinary non-money minded folk who, by all accounts, can benefit hugely from what FundingKnight does and could, potentially, do for them.

I therefore agree to take on the weighty mantle of the economically ignorant and aim to translate what FundingKnight does, what they invest in and whom they lend to.

So please, join me on my crowdlending journey and as I learn a bit more, it’ll hopefully help answer some questions that us newbies need to understand and could actually benefit from. And in return for your esteemed company, I promise wholeheartedly not to sing.

Lights! Carrots! Action!

Following on from our recent posts about the fabulous Muddy Carrot, an online farmers market based in Dorset and the future of marketing for independent businesses [Why content marketing rules the day, 7 September 2012]. It struck us that Muddy Carrot are ticking all the right boxes when it comes to getting closer to customers.

Customer engagement is all about helping people understand what you are about, what you personality is, so how better to get to know the people behind a company than through the use of video.

‘I’m local and I know it…’ ,a two and half minute film, is a great example of how to embrace all the different kinds of people that will visit at your website. A video can engage your audience with a bit of fun and sell your story in a way that your customers will love. Sure, you have to go that extra mile but we think it’s worth it. Check it out here and I defy you not to smile.

Being different. Why even crowdlenders need to stand out from the crowd.

I’ve written a couple of blogs that mention Youngme Moon’s book Different.  Escaping the Competitive Herd.   Her thoughts on how whole sectors can become tired, causing individual brands to merge into one – not very attractive – melting point, seems particularly relevant to the debate on the banking system change.

Then yesterday, some tweets about Finovate – a conference dedicated to showcasing the latest innovation in financial services – mentioned Youngme Moon again, getting me thinking about my favourite quotes from the book.

So, here they are, a collection of thought provoking (I hope!) quotes about why sometimes even crowdlending businesses like FundingKnight need to pay attention to being different, and standing out.  Check out the FundingKnight slideshare profile for more presentations.

Business finance: A load of shylocks or simply a sector dying to change

street sign for 'Change Alley'

I read an interesting article this week from Nasir Zubairi, Head of Product Marketing at the Currency Cloud.  His post, Selfish Shylocks, published via the Huffington Post, takes a look at the state of innovation – in general – and the lack of innovation – specifically – in the banking sector.

He makes some really good points, explaining that:

  • Innovation improves the status quo and substantially alters it
  • Innovation focuses on making things better for customers

But he also laments the fact that, in general, UK banks have a. forgotten to share the benefits of innovation with their customers and b. tried to avoid any sort of innovation that promotes anything other than higher profits.

In seeking to explain why the big banks get away with it, Zubairi quotes the stark statistics that prove how remarkably un-elastic customers are when it comes to financial services.  “Out of 64 million bank accounts in the UK”, he tells us that “less than 0.1% have voted with their feet and shifted banking provider in the four years to the end of 2011.  Even then the likelihood is that the switch was to one of the other three big banks.”

The rest of the article rightly applauds some of those at the frontier of new finance.  I agree that new entrants such as Bank Simple, Holvi, Movenbank and The Currency Cloud represent the future of finance but it’s probably also worth asking why now? What needs to change?  What will make people vote with their feet?  Why will things ever be different?

And to answer those questions, I’d add another point to those above describing innovation.

Innovation frequently happens when developments in products or services coincide with some bigger, more important change in the way we collectively live our lives.

The i-pod didn’t create digital music.  The i-phone didn’t invent the smartphone.  Rather they are examples of great product design that came along at just the right moment to capture the public imagination.

It might seem ridiculous to think that something similar could happen to the banking industry, to a sector characterised by complexity and – let’s be honest – boredom.

But, honestly, I really do think something is starting to happen.

Over the summer, I read a book by Harvard professor Youngme Moon called Different. Escaping the Competitive Herd. Standing out in a world where conformity reigns but exceptions rule.

 

Apart from being amused by the very length of that title, I was struck by how relevant the last bit is to what new finance is trying to achieve.

“Standing out in a world where conformity reigns but exceptions rule”

Surely, that sums up where new finance is at right now?

Moon makes some fantastic observations about why the time for change is now, and has already begun.  She notes that many “businesses have forgotten the point of it all – which is to create meaningful and compelling product offerings.”

So can banking – lending or borrowing money – be meaningful?

Yes.

I’ve already explained why I think new finance is more than simply a romantic notion and I wholeheartedly agree with Moon that the global recession has set the wheels of change in motion; “the storm (has) refocused us all in some collective way… even those who were financially secure have begun rethinking their most basic consumption patterns… the age of abundance is over. Not because things are no longer abundant, but because abundance has lost its status as our reigning aspiration.”

So, new finance.  Innovative?  Yes.  Meaningful?  Yes.  Poised to take advantage of being in the right place at the right time?  I hope so.

Creative commons photo source