This Editor's Letter was published in STIR Winter 2022: Whatever Happened to the Future of Money?
Nearly ten years ago we published an issue on The Future of Money, during a relatively energetic and optimistic period in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Even at the time, many were already starting to question if this ‘movement’ was over-promising any significant change in our financial sector. In the issue we published an article on bitcoin, an organisation ‘printing money on Twitter’, and Positive Money’s proposals for reinventing finance. Ten years later, we are still waiting for the launch of a series of regional mutual banks, a National Investment Bank for the sector is still only a policy ambition, and we’re still experiencing the negative outcomes of the Co-operative Bank’s attempt to create a "supermutual", which ultimately forced it to lose control of 70% of the bank to hedge funds. We are still largely and unsurprisingly undercapitalised as a sector.
If there’s a positive story, it’s been the decade of ‘community shares’. Relatively unknown in 2010, more than £180M has now been raised by communities to secure local assets and businesses. In her article, Isla McCulloch argues that innovation in the sector should not emerge from the ‘field of social investment’, but more organically from the needs of communities themselves. To get beyond the limited constituencies that have used community shares for pubs, shops, and energy, McCulloch says we need to expand the market by engaging a ‘greater diversity of people’. It will be an interesting few years for the community shares market as it widens participation in capital-light communities and explores initiatives such as shariah compliance.
We’re at a point where we have to be both modest and ambitious in how we approach democratic finance. We must continue to explore how we can transform our financial system, but also hack the same system to more effectively support a democratic economy over the next ten years. If the 2010s were a decade of financial experimentation, the 2020s really need to focus on patiently institutionalising these advances.