airBux launches digital currency for small businesses

The danger with following people in a certain industry on social media i.e. fintech, is you end up with a very warped view of the world.

If I just went by what my Twitter feed algorithmically displayed to me, it would seem the current flavor of the month is all things ICO. Is everyone just going slightly nuts for these right now? Speaking of ICO, whenever I see that acronym, I can’t help but think of Frank Underwood’s version of ISIS from House of Cards…

Yesterday someone even joked on my Twitter feed that ICO was also the new ‘we’ll be in touch’ from VCs. While we may not have we reached ‘peak ICO’, my gut tells me we are somewhere on the spectrum.

But ICOs aside, digital currencies are certainly here to stay. And one startup in Australia looks to be finding a hybrid payment/loyalty application for them in the small business space.

airBux went to press this week with news they had started a pilot of their non-blockchain digital currency platform with a pilot group of businesses in Cairns, a city most famous for it’s proximity to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

More than 35 business owners are taking part, allowing shoppers to pay for goods and services entirely with airBux , or a combination of cash and/or card and airBux.

The platform even looks to be integrated with a few point-of-sale systems, meaning there isn’t some annoying ipad next to the till that the cashier has to separately input the order into, or the customer has to tap or scan a QR code. airBux are also generated per transaction, similar to a traditional loyalty program.

There is serious merit to the concept of being able to use your reward points across various businesses, especially offline. And unlocking liquidity, a central premise of ICOs in particular, is long overdue for the loyalty space. I have so many points languishing in various rewards programs that I would love to be able to make them cross-purpose and actually get some real benefit. Of course, to get a big brand to agree to do this is near impossible (no chance those Emirates points are going to become Virgin points anytime soon). But in the small business space – where loyalty programs today amount to not much more than a punch card or software slightly more sophisticated than Excel – well, that is possible.

But scale is of course key, as is getting the pricing right. Today airBux looks to put the cost burden on the small business owner, which is always a tough one to sell (especially around payments). However if the utility is there and the value can be articulated, then instead of my local café putting up a sign telling me they’re surcharging my $8.50 purchase, maybe soon they’ll be asking me to airBux it – and for less.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Jessica Ellerm is a thought leader specializing in Small Business.

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