How the History of Money is the central clue to the Future of Money

Throughout human history one facet of human society has been consistently present – when one individual has something another needs or wants there needs to be a mechanism to support the transfer of value from one to the other.

At the dawn of civilisation we used to do this by barter. I had goats and you had chickens. We discussed it and agreed that my goat was worth three of your chickens. We swapped, and both went away satisfied. For thousands of years (most of human history) this worked. But, in time, we began to congregate and form communities where we lived together. Soon it wasn’t an immediate assumption that both parties would produce stock for trade.

One day, around 600 BC, a farmer arrived with his goats and instead of being handed 3 chickens he was given a disk of copper and told it was worth as much as three chickens, or his goat. The benefit was that he could use this coin to get anything from anyone else in the community as they all agreed on its value. Stunned, the farmer went to the fishmonger and was allowed to redeem a portion of the value of the disk for a few fish, and given several smaller disks to balance out the value of the copper disk and fish. Amazed, he wandered through the town, by the time he returned home he also had a basket of beans, some maize, and feed for his other goats at home – all from one goat…. it was so much better than just having three chickens.

The swap from barter to coins worked because the whole community, and society, agreed to assign the same value to the disks and to drop a literal value ratio for barter between goods.

A few thousand years later it was beginning to get a bit cumbersome carrying these metal disks around.  A community in China decided enough was enough, probably after one strained back too many, and decided to bundle a whole lot of coins together and reflect the value of this group on a piece of paper. Someone held the coins in a central spot and supplied a piece of paper in their place – at any time it was possible to come swap the paper for the coins, but few people felt the need to, as they all agreed on the relative value of the paper…. besides it was just so much easier to work with. Around a thousand years later someone in Sweden saw this working and printed the first paper money in the western world.

At about the same time, society entered the industrial age as we harnessed the power of steam and machinery. As a consequence we began to produce more things than ever before, and using paper money to pay for it made the Industrial Revolution so much more practical. It may even be surmised that without paper money the Industrial Revolution would’ve been more painful and tumultuous.

In 1946 some smart people created the first digital device, a computer called ENIAC. Shortly thereafter the first credit card was created by Diners Club in 1950. For the first time in history nascent digital technology made it possible to transmit value from one person to another without anything physical or tangible to swap, or use to represent relative value. Cash was no longer a critical, or assumed, part of a value transaction. Money had changed its form and moved from tangible to intangible. 66 Years later we live in a modern world where only 6% of the value of the global economy is represented in tangible cash – for the rest of it, money in its historical form no longer exists.

The diagram below tracks a broad evolution of money and value transmission through human history.

The Future of Money

 

At each inflection point where human society changed, the way in which we transmitted value changed. In the diagram, consider the number of changes to our financial landscape, and the pace at which they are happening since we transitioned into the digital age. Just as we have seen before, society is changing and money is changing with it.

The future off money is digital, intangible, and instantaneous. The digital revolution has generated the expectation of being able to connect or engage anywhere, anytime, on any device, in any situation. The future of money is linked to a similar revolution.

The Fintech industry, populated by Blockchain, Bitcoin, Robo-Advisors, Crowd-Funding, Peer-to-Peer Lending, Mobile Money, Insurtech, and other areas of innovation and development is retooling and “rebooting” money.

The history of money shows a Chicken-Egg dynamic. As society changes money changes. Because money is so intimately woven into the fabric of society, as money changes society changes more.

We have moved into the Digital Age – Society has changed….money is following, and shortly society will change further.

5 Questions to consider about how the Future of Money will impact the Future of your Business.

  1. How is your business value chain structured? Do you currently allow for seamless virtual and online transactions?
  2. Consider the opportunities being offered through crowd-funding for new entrants into your market, are you able to respond / defend your market effectively?
  3. When money changes and becomes predominantly digital how will it impact your ability to do business effectively?
  4. Are you running a business for the future digital age, or are you still reliant on industrial age thinking?
  5. What is the equivalent in your world of someone giving you a copper disk instead of two chickens for your produce? Are you ready and able to thrive / just survive the change?

 

The TomorrowToday Global team are excited to unveil a timely new white paper entitled “FinTech & the Disruption of Banking”, supported by our latest keynote presentation / workshop called the Future of Money. The paper will be officially launched later in October – you can  sign up here and we’ll be sure to email you the paper as soon as it is available.

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