Banking

Slow money comes to San Francisco with Bernal Bucks

Bernal Bucks window promo

Bernal Bucks welcome here

You’ve heard about slow food, but what about slow money?

Slow money is exactly what Arno Hesse hopes to bring to his Bernal Heights, San Francisco neighborhood with Bernal Bucks. The goal behind Bernal Bucks is simple: More money circulates locally when spent at locally owned businesses, which in turns contributes to the local economy.

Here’s how it works:

  • Individuals get Bernal Bucks stickers by making a donation to a local charity
  • Bernal Bucks is not its own currency but rather a sticker you place on existing $10 bills (Because the sticker is removable, you’re not defacing currency, which is illegal) Each $1 donated buys you one sticker
  • Use the currency at local businesses and get rewarded — a free apple at the grocery store, $5 off your massage, etc.

I first met Arno at BarCampBank San Francisco (where the spark behind the project ignited) and asked him to elaborate on the motivation driving the project:

Arno Hesse

Bernal Bucks is our pilot project for a new model of community finance. It aims at keeping the money in local circulation, and to use the intra-community money flow to grow the neighborhood’s prosperity.

In some way, the financial crisis has highlighted the urgency for communities for more resilience against (inter)national finance mess-ups beyond their control. While the local conditions have been developing positively in many places, the big banks have throttled credit and thus money inflow, due to their problems.

A mere five months after launching, 50% of local businesses representing about 70% of the transaction volume in the market. The beauty of the project is at the same time in its simplicity (no new currency or payment methods to get adopted) as well as in its power to reshape local economies. With more and more businesses giving rewards to FourSquare users for checking in it stands to reason that giving rewards for Bernal Bucks — where you can reward actual transactions — has the potential for even wider adoption among merchants.

What’s next for Bernal Bucks? Organizers are working on launching a local shopping card for sometime this year. This should make adoption even easier for everyday individuals while maintaining universal merchant acceptance. And everything being tested is with an eye towards scalability in other local communities.

What do you think about the idea behind Bernal Bucks? Would you use it in your community? Please share your reaction in the comments below.

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