Lab Fellowship – our unique incubator for purpose-led financial innovations – is in full swing! In March, we went on retreat to explore the Lab’s model of collaborative leadership, and at the third business masterclass in April we looked at purpose-led product development. This Meet the Fellows blog series is your chance to learn more about each Fellow and the work they’re doing to help transform finance to serve people and planet.
Diana Finch is Managing Director of the Bristol Pound – a social enterprise operating the UK’s largest local currency (£B). The Bristol Pound exists to create a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable local economy in the Bristol area by keeping more money circulating locally.
Bristol Pound launched in 2012 and it has already built up an extensive membership of 575 independent, Bristol-based businesses that accept Bristol pounds and 1,500 individual members. There are currently £B560,000 in circulation! Bristol citizens can become members and purchase £B in sterling by creating and topping up an online account, and then spend them at member businesses by online bank transfer or through the recently upgraded Bristol Pound app. Meanwhile anyone, including visitors to Bristol, can buy the beautifully designed paper notes from ‘cash points’ around Bristol and use them in participating retail and hospitality outlets.
Diana joined the Bristol Pound team in July 2018, with a mandate to make the local currency sustainable (rather than dependent on grants) and increase its social impact. To this end, she is developing a new value proposition for SMEs with the support of academics at the University of Bristol. She is also working with strategic partners and business champions to encourage all businesses and institutions operating in the city to use Bristol Pounds in their supply chains.
So, why is Diana taking part in Lab Fellowship? She explains:
“I applied to be a Lab Fellow because this is my first job in the field of economic innovation and I feel I have a lot to learn, both about existing mainstream financial systems, and about the innovations that others have tried so far. When you’re doing something new, it can feel lonely and frightening. It’s great to be able to learn from others.”
And there’s even more exciting news in the pipeline for Bristol Pound. They will soon be launching a 0% loans product – a truly innovative approach to helping business members to invest for growth. They are also looking to radically improve the digital currency, adding features to make it more frictionless for both consumers and larger organisations, and enabling a more data-driven approach to encouraging and incentivising the circulation of the currency. Diana is working with the other Fellows and wider Lab community to support these new endeavours and build her understanding of data analytics, responsible tech, and good business modelling.
Although Bristol Pound has undoubtedly accomplished great things for Bristol in the last seven years, Diana is clear that there is much more to be done, and that their efforts form one part of a much larger system of change:
“I think about it a bit like recycling. It has taken years of work to get to the point where most people understand their responsibility and power to reduce landfill waste and pollution – and for innovators to create the goods and services to help them achieve that. It will similarly take years of work to get to the point where most people understand their power and responsibility to change our economy to be one in which people have their needs met through a more inclusive and fair distribution of the world’s resources. And it will take lots of Lab Fellows and other innovators to ensure the services are in place to enable them to make those changes.”