I've been looking into local pound schemes this week. I'm still as much a fan of money that can only be used in small, independent businesses in a specific town or city, but I came away from the talks with Bristol, Liverpool and London merchants with an expected realisation.
Each trader independently confirmed the same point without knowing that others had made it. Turns out it's Millennials who are most receptive to the idea, not just because they are adept at using their smartphone for transactions -- that's pretty much a given when you contrast how tech savvy they are compared to older generations. No -- traders from each city were clear. You might think that Millennials are digital natives who think globally, and they likely do, but they are also more passionate than previous generations about local. They are more passionate than previous generations about not accepting globalisation as an unavoidable fact of modern-day life. Travel the globe to open your eyes, certainly; accept globalisation blindly, not so much.
There may be an inherent skew in audience here, I have to confess. Local pounds are most commonly accepted by small stores and trendy bars and cafes that want to stand out as independent and unique. These will typically be cool, and most certainly not the chain stores that Baby Boomer parents took us Gen X kids to and that we now frequent.
Yet there is an extremely important observation here. The merchants I have been speaking with report the same observation. It's not only Millennials who know how to use their smartphone to use an electronic, local currency -- it goes deeper. The conversations these guys are having are far more revealing, and it goes something along the lines of the following paraphrased lines. Here goes.
Millennials -- particularly younger Gen Z who are just starting out at college or in their first jobs -- grew up with the financial crisis. It's all they've ever known. Just think about it for a minute. That means they don't take the stability of banks for granted. They're used to banks being disreputable over financial products they sell (sub-prime mortgages in the US, PPI and Libor rigging in the UK). They have grown up with banks being nationalised and bailed out -- something Baby Boomers and Gen X simply would never have imagined. We saw the banking system as concrete and solid, not permeable and needing emergency remedies.
So they are not suspicious of a new idea in money. They are totally open to an alternative to banks -- which, unlikely their parents, they don't consider to be beyond reproach. They also have grown up with high streets that bear the scars of the financial crisis.
Regular readers of this column will know my love of quoting a Liverpudlian "scouse" butcher, and so the feeling is best summed up by one I spoke to this morning about local pound schemes. Young people are not disconnected from shopping with the huge mega supermarkets and then wondering why their high street is full of charity shops, this morning's chat went. Unlike their parent, they actually get it. They're passionate about shopping with independent businesses that will mean high streets aren't just full of a Cancer Research store, a couple of nationwide coffee shops, a Boots pharmacy and the same supermarket you'll find anywhere else in the country.
The observation is timely. As Britain prepares to leave the EU, there has to be an accompanying "Buy British" aspect to future customer behaviour as the public decides to stick by UK companies.
My hunch is that Millennials will take this a step further with buying from and rewarding stores, bars and restaurants that they deem local and prevent their high street becoming identical to every other.