Alternative currency

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A complementary currency is a currency or medium of exchange which is not a national currency, but which is thought of as supplementing or complementing national currencies. Complementary currencies are usually not legal tender and their use is based on agreement between the parties exchanging the currency. According to Jérôme Blanc of Laboratoire d'Économie de la Firme et des Institutions, complementary currencies aim to protect, stimulate or orientate the economy. They may also be used to advance particular social, environmental, or political goals.

When speaking about complementary currencies, a number of overlapping and often interchangeable terms are in use: local or community currencies are complementary currencies used within a locality or other form of community (such as business-based or online communities); regional currencies are similar to local currencies but used within a larger geographical region; and sectoral currencies are complementary currencies used within a single economic sector, such as education or health care. Many private currencies are complementary currencies issued by private businesses or organizations. Other terms include alternative currency, auxiliary currency, and microcurrency. Mutual credit is a form of alternative currency, and thus any form of lending that does not go through the banking system can be considered a form of alternative currency. Barters are another type of alternative currency. These are actually exchange systems, which only trade items; thus without the use of any currency whatsoever. Finally, LETS is a special form of barter which trades points for items. One point stands for one worker-hour of work.


Complementary currencies are often designed intentionally to address specific issues, for example to increase financial stability. Most complementary currencies have multiple purposes and/or are intended to address multiple issues. They can be useful for communities that do not have access to financial capital, and for adjusting peoples' spending behavior. The 2006 Annual Report of the Worldwide Database of Complementary Currency Systems presented a survey of 150 complementary currency systems in which 94 respondents said that "all reasons" were selected, among cooperation, micro/small/medium enterprise development, activating the local market, reducing the need for national currency, and community development.

Aims may include:

  • lifeboat currencies
  • to increase financial stability.
  • to reduce carbon emissions, by encouraging localisation of trade and relationships
  • to encouraging use of under-used resources
  • to recognize the informal economy


Some alternative currencies devalue rapidly (they are called Schwundgeld); this increases monetary circulation. The Miracle of Wörgl is an event that showed the potential of this increased spending through the introduction of a local currency known as Freigeld. Local currencies also have the benefit that they cannot be spent abroad, and thus the money always keeps circulating locally, benefiting only the local economy.

Alternative currencies are reported to work as a counterbalance for the local economy. They increase in activity if the local economy slows down, and decrease in activity if the local economy goes up.

As a commercial tool within a business, as opposed to a geographical social tool, a complementary currency can open a business up to a preferred source marketplace whereby they can sell their otherwise devalued or worthless spare capacity in exchange for the complementary currency. By selling their spare capacity (empty hotel rooms / under utilised staff hours / blank diary slots / excess stock) the business is able to harness the otherwise lost value gaining some key benefits such as :- Improved profits; stronger balance sheet; enhanced cash flow; more customers and a growth in market share.


Alternative currencies promoted as local currencies that cannot be spent abroad have limited use.

According to professor Nikolaus Läufer, the use of local currencies such as Freigeld can only increase economic activity temporarily. Lengthy use of a local currency will ultimately result in a decline in economic activity and lead to a destabilization of the economy. This is due to the increased circulation velocity of the money as the amount in circulation decreases (as currencies as Freigeld reduce in value rapidly).


Often there are issues related to paying tax. Some alternative currencies are considered tax-exempt, but most of them are fully taxed as if they were national currency, with the caveat that the tax must be paid in the national currency. The legality and tax-status of alternative currencies varies widely from country to country; some systems in use in some countries would be illegal in others.


Complementary currencies describe a wide group of exchange systems, currencies or scrips designed to be used in combination with standard currencies or other complementary currencies. They can be valued and exchanged in relationship to national currencies but also function as media of exchange on their own. Complementary currencies lie outside the nationally defined legal realm of legal tender and are not used as such. Rate of exchange, scope of circulation and use in combination with other currencies differs greatly between complementary currency systems, as is the case with national currency systems.

Some complementary currencies incorporate value scales based on time or the backing of real resources (gold, oil, services, etc.). A time-based currency is valued by the time required to perform a service in hours, notwithstanding the potential market value of the service. Another type of complementary monetary systems is the barter, an exchange of specific goods or services is performed without the use of any currency.

In 1982, the most widespread auxiliary currency system, the Local Exchange Trading Systems, was created. It regulates the exchange of goods and services between the members of the cooperative. Examples for an investment system of complementary currency are the Automatic Social Financial Network (ASFN) and the international crowdsourcing and crowd-funding community Evolution whose members use their own complementary virtual currency "Сyber-gold". The introductory fee paid by the new association members is subsequently directed toward investments in a variety of commercial projects.

Some complementary currencies take advantage of demurrage fees, an intentional devaluation of the currency over time, like negative interest. This stimulates market exchanges in the devaluating currency, propagates new participation in the currency system and forces the storage of wealth (hoarding) ability usually reserved for currency into more permanent and better value-holding tools like property, improvement, education, technology, health, equity securities, etc., all of which are sheltered from the currency-based demurrage fees.

Other experimental complementary currencies use high interest fees to promote heavy competition between participants, and the removal of wealth from long term wealth holding structures (natural/material wealth, property, etc.) to aid in the process of rapid industrialization, mass production, automation and competitive innovation.

Monetary speculation and gambling are usually outside the design parameters of complementary currencies. Complementary currencies are often intentionally restricted in their regional spread, time of validity or sector of use and may require a membership of participating individuals or points of acceptance.

There are some complementary currencies which are regional or global, such as the Community Exchange System, WIR and Friendly Favors, Tibex in the Lazio region in Italy or the proposed global currency Terra.

A community currency is a type of complementary currency that has the explicit aim to support and build more equal, connected and sustainable societies. A community currency is designed to be used by a specific group.


Some complementary currency activists are Belgian ex-banker Bernard Lietaer, British economist Hazel Henderson, Dutch STRO-director Henk van Arkel that developed Cyclos, Qoin initiators Edgar Kampers and Rob van Hilten, Paul Glover of Ithaca HOURS, Margrit Kennedy from Monneta, LETSystem inventor Michael Linton, Time Banking inventor Edgar S. Cahn, Complementary Currency Resource Center coordinator Stephen DeMeulenaere and many others. Lietaer has argued that the world's national currencies are inadequate for the world's business needs, citing how 87 countries have experienced major currency crashes over a 20-year period, and arguing for complementary currencies as a way to protect against these problems."Bernard Lietaer Urges the Growth of New Currency", Bank Technology News, Jul. 1st, 2004.Lietaer has also spoken at an International Reciprocal Trade Association (IRTA) conference about barter.

List of complementary currencies

Name Type Country Region Active Website
Brixton Pound Local currency United Kingdom Europe
Bristol Pound Local currency United Kingdom Europe
BerkShares Local currency United States North America 2006–present
Baltimore BNote United States North America
Bulgarian lev Regional currency European Union Europe
Calgary Dollar Local currency Canada North America 1995–present
Chiemgauer Local currency Germany Europe 2003–present
Croatian kuna Regional currency European Union Europe
Czech koruna Regional currency European Union Europe
Danish krone Regional currency European Union Europe
Eco-Pesa Local currency Kenya Africa 2010–2011
Exeter Pound Local currency United Kingdom Europe 2015
Fureai kippu Sectoral currency Japan Asia 1995
Hungarian forint Regional currency European Union Europe
Ithaca Hours Local currency United States North America 1991–present
Lewes Pound Local currency United Kingdom Europe 2008
Polish zloty Regional currency European Union Europe
Romanian leu Regional currency European Union Europe
Sarafu-Credit Local currency Kenya Africa
Swedish krona Regional currency European Union Europe
Tibex Local currency European Union Europe 2013–present

Others include: .

  • American Open Currency Standard(AOCS)
  • Commercial credit circuit .
  • Community Exchange System (CES) – global exchange network.
  • Detroit Community Scrip.
  • Digital gold currency.
  • Eusko – used in parts of the Basque Country.
  • Fourth Corner Exchange
  • Kelantanese dinar(gold) in Malaysia
  • Dirham(silver) in Malaysia.
  • Local Exchange Trading Systems(LETS) – an example of mutual credit, is a type of local currency used in a number of small communities worldwide.
  • NuBits – the world's first stable value digital currency.
  • Rábaközi Tallér
  • Sardex, alternative currency used in Sardinia.
  • Stroud Pound.
  • Tumin (currency)|Tumin]] – alternative currency in El Espinal, Veracruz, Mexico
  • Toronto Dollar is another example of a backed local currency.
  • Ven (currency)|Ven]] – a digital currency used in Hub Culture, a private social network.
  • WIR Bank – founded in 1934, oriented towards small and mid-sized corporations

See also

Further reading

External links