Central governments have generally shied away from digital currencies because of fears about their security and volatility. However, on a local level, cities are beginning to see the benefits that digital coins can bring to their communities.
One such city is Belfast. The Northern Ireland capital recently revealed it is launching a city-wide digital coin that aims to encourage positive actions by its residents. Digital currency initiatives are already in place in cities such as Liverpool and London, but Belfast Coin is said to be the UK’s first incentive-based coin.
What is Belfast Coin?
Belfast Coin is being introduced later this year as part of Belfast’s work with 100 Resilient Cities – a global network funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. It is an incentive-based digital currency aimed at rewarding positive actions by residents as well as encouraging economic growth and helping to improve the environment.
The coin is being provided in conjunction with Colu, a technology start-up which launched City Currency to enable individual cities to meet their resilience goals. Colu is behind the “Local Pound, East London”, a currency designed for East London consumers and small businesses who want to boost the local economy.
How it works
The coin’s main purpose is to encourage residents to spend money in and contribute to the local economy.
Belfast Coin is effectively a reward or loyalty scheme. It will allow the city to incentivise residents and reward positive behaviours for things like volunteering, recycling, or shopping local. It aims to help the city meet its environmental goals by motivating green activity.
Once the currency goes live later this year, users will be able to download an app and register their details to start earning Belfast Coin. Each coin will be worth £1 and the coins can then be used to buy something in participating shops, restaurants, or businesses.
What is Colu?
Belfast Coin is being developed by a UK and Israeli start-up called Colu. Colu operates digital currencies in four different cities and will be providing the payment platform for Belfast Coin. Colu’s City Currency is a city-wide digital currency which motivates residents towards impactful positive behaviours, including increased local spending, healthy living, recycling, and civic activity.
City Currency provides a rewards mechanism that follows a similar economic logic to frequent-flier miles programmes – except that it promotes city interests according to the city’s specific needs.
Once adopted by a local government, City Currency operates within the Colu payment app and is available to all who live and work in the city as a reward scheme. The digital currency is added to a resident’s Colu wallet in return for actions which help to meet community priorities. The rewards can then be redeemed at public and private institutions that are subscribed to the programme.
Work is currently underway to sign up a range of shops, cafes, and restaurants which will accept Belfast Coin before it is formally launched later this year.
The currency scheme will initially encourage users to shop at independent businesses in the city’s Cathedral Quarter, but the council is also looking to sign up large employers and higher education institutions.
Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey said the city hopes the coin “will give an economic boost to local businesses, as well as helping council achieve other long-term goals, including environmental.”
Lina Liakou, one of the managing directors of the 100 Resilient Cities project, added that Belfast Coin “is an innovative example of how the city, throughout its resilience process to date, has partnered with its public, private, and individual stakeholders to catalyse inclusive economic growth and build a strong future for the entire urban community.”
How much of an impact Belfast Coin will have largely depends on the willingness of local businesses and partners to sign up to the scheme – and its uptake by residents. If it’s well received, it could be a real boon to Belfast’s local economy and its environmental credentials.