2,362 crowdsourcing and crowdfunding sites
Back in the '80s, a credit card was a glamorous thing: A rectangular plastic key to a world of champagne, first-class travel and designer shoulder pads. Now, managing credit is a part of everyday life. These days consumers spend hours combing the small-print, switching from card to card just to shave a little off the weekly grocery bill.
With so many truly terrible cards on the market, it's no wonder that consumers are growing wary. But what if you could, like Batman, create your own credit card and write the small print yourself? That's what Barclays are promising with the launch of Barclaycard Ring, its new 'crowdsourced credit card.'
After applying for a Ring card (which is, disappointingly, rectangular), cardholders are given access to a dedicated social network. This community – a kind of Facebook for the super-thrifty – can discuss, suggest and vote on changes to the card. Members gain badges and status by paying their bills on time, recommending Ring to friends (which involves forwarding them a short promo film called The Ring), and otherwise helping to keep the card profitable.
The project is a marketing master stroke on the part of Barclays. By invoking crowdsourcing and its image of transparency, fairness and rationality, they get to distance themselves from the negative image of big financial institutions. But is the Ring card a real piece of crowdsourcing wizardry, or just a clever piece of marketing?
So far, the omens are mixed: discussion is encouraged, but Barclays have yet to implement any of the crowd's ideas. At this stage, it's not really accurate to describe the card as 'crowdsourced' ('potentially open to suggestions' may be closer to the truth). However, it would be unfair to judge the idea too early: Barclays are providing detailed financial data to cardholders, and Ring staff are joining discussions, providing information and feedback.
Sunlight may be the best disinfectant, but in embracing a more transparent approach, Barclays may have opened one too many windows. It already has a crowd of shareholders to please. By revealing how much of a return the bank makes for its investors, Ring effectively pits cardholders and shareholders against each other.
Of course, any self-respecting crowd would immediately drop the interest rate to zero and put a picture of a kitten on the front of the card. Barclays has attempted to counter this by saying that in the future cardholders may receive a share of the profits (it is careful not to promise this, however).
But why settle for the possibility of a share when you can have a lower annual rate? Far from distancing itself from the controversy surrounding profits in the financial sector, Barclays may find itself in the crossfire.
Only time will tell whether Ring will be good for consumers, Barclays, and the market as a whole. Despite its lofty goals, to date the crowdsourced lending industry is struggling to gain a foothold. But if Barclays can balance the interests of shareholders and cardholders, Ring may still provide a template for a more transparent credit system.
And as long as Barclays stays committed and makes full use of the power of collaborative reasoning, it's only a matter of time until the crowd gets round to sorting out that name (seriously, Barclays, it's a rectangle, not a ring).
- Ville "Wili" Miettinen is the founder and CEO of Microtask. He is a serial entrepreneur and investor, with 15 years of professional experience in software engineering and computer graphics. Wili was one of the founders of Hybrid Graphics (later NVIDIA Finland), a pioneer in real-time 3D graphics technologies. He has also been involved with the evolution of various open standards. Over the last few years Wili has been active in the Finnish early-stage technology investment scene, and holds board positions in a number of companies in the industry.