Innovation

Beyond cash: Secco is bringing bartering into the 21st century

By Oliver Smith 7 September 2016
Summary

It’s like a blend between Pokémon Go, and Facebook.

Chris Gledhill has a bold vision to change our world, get rid of money, and create a new social network.

All of these ideas are part of his business Secco and their first app Aura, which is in the early stages of development.

“99% of the Fintech industry is just trying to optimise 20th century banking by building a sexy app or a nice interface… but what if we could conceptually change banking?” asks Gledhill.

Secco is doing this in a rather roundabout way, by creating a type of real world social network, one where people can barter for digital and real goods.

With the eventual goal of replacing money itself.

The fashion industry is one of the first examples Secco showed of how its tech could work.

Switching on your Aura

The chatter in finance over the past few years has been whether upcoming challengers like Monzo, Tandem, Starling, et al, pose a clear and present danger to traditional banks.

What if everyone switches from Lloyds Bank to Atom Bank?

These challenges present themselves as ‘serious’ contenders, Atom having raised $160m and hired over 200 staff.

Read more: Are you ready for Britain’s challenger banks?

When Chris Gledhill, a former innovation technologist at Lloyds Banking Group, showed me an early build of Secco with its Pokémon Go-stylings, real world social network and basically told me ‘this is the future of banking’, it’s a little hard to take him seriously at first.

But Gledhill knows what he’s doing.

He’s been named one of the most influential minds in financial technology (Fintech) multiple times, and brings with him over a decade of experience watching the technology sector as an analyst and consultant.

And that playful game-like interface? All part of his plan.

21st century bartering

Launching Aura you’ll see your avatar on a map, moving as you walk around (just like Pokémon Go). You’ll also see other people running the app as they wander through the streets nearby.

By tapping on people you can see their ‘tokens’, icons that represent things or services they have, or details about them.

For instance, one of the first examples Gledhill showed me is how Secco is planning to target the fashion industry.

Say you’re wearing a Burberry jacket, maybe you’d have a token showing this off. People could tap it to see more details, rate the jacket, and maybe look at buying it.

It’s like taking eBay to the streets.

Burberry could even give the wearer a kickback for the sales they generate, and a discount for people who buy via people on Secco.

“So they find their jacket is now earning value for them because people see it on them and are buying it, and the retail store gets a whole new sales channel,” says Gledhill.

Or at a networking event, you could quickly see how many CEOs, accountants, or journalists are around, filtering the results based on the tokens people are carrying.

No more aimlessly wondering around handing out business cards.

But these ‘social networking’ features are just the start, by letting people create their own tokens Gledhill imagines these digital vouchers would start to represent value.

Money machine

“We realised we can start messing with some of the rules of banking,” he says. At the moment banks decide what money is (pieces of paper, coins, etc), they issue money, and they hold money.

“We thought, let’s turn it around and give everyone the ability to define their own money or value, hold their own value on their smartphone, and create their own value.”

“Say I need to leave the pub early, I could create an IOU token for a pint and give it to my pub mates,” he says.

If that sounds bonkers, replacing money with digital tokens, remember reward points and loyalty schemes have already done this in the private sector, and are worth a combined $48bn in the US alone.

And in the world of video games, tokens, vouchers and digital items have long held substantial value.

“A token could be backed by sterling [that you would promise to pay back in the future], it could be a discount voucher maybe for a free coffee, or it could be a service that you’re willing to offer.”

What’s next?

Big questions remain for Gledhill’s bold vision for Secco and Aura.

While Pokémon Go has proved that people are interested in proximity-based apps, are we ready to embrace Aura’s bartering and trading system?

If it is a success, will people really start trading digital tokens, and even use them as a replacement for money?

Finally, the app is still in the very early stages of development. Gledhill is currently raising Secco’s next funding round and in early 2017 he hopes to launch a Beta test of the app next year (which you can sign up to be part of here) with a launch date still in the distant future.

Will Aura live up to its big promises, to create a new hyper-local social network, get rid of money, and maybe change our world?

For now, it’s still just too early to tell.