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10/12/2003

Summit looks at monetary possibilities

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER COUNTY — What if downloading music off the Internet was as simple as putting the electronic equivalent of a nickel into your computer for each song you wanted to download?

Or imagine a mega-corporation like Wal-Mart getting into the banking and insurance industry and, to take it a step further, even launching its own form of currency. It would be accepted only at Wal-Mart outlets throughout the world, but with it you could buy just about everything you would need for your entire existence.

Or, more simply, what if you paid for your groceries simply by using your fingerprint to verify your identity?

The latter is already being tested at three Kroger stores in Texas.

“Most of the people downloading songs from Napster would have gladly paid a quarter to download a song — that’s a no-brainer. But there was no place on the front of your computer to put a quarter in,” said Thomas Frey, the executive director of the Louisville-based DaVinci Institute. “I think there’s going to be a huge opportunity for people to sell nickel and dime things on the Internet and make a killing through sheer volume.”

The DaVinci Institute, which Frey describes as a “non-profit, futuristic think tank,” is organizing the first Future of Money summit later this month in Denver, and the roster of attendees is quite impressive — so impressive that Forbes signed on as a co-sponsor, along with GartnerG2, an international business consulting group.

Co-chaired by Governor Bill Owens and former Governor Richard Lamm, featured speakers and advisers include Dee Hock, the founder of Visa; John Naisbitt; author of “Megatrends;” Robert Mundell, 1999 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics; Henrietta Holsman Fore, director of the U.S. Mint; and Michael Klein, director of the World Bank.

The summit’s title comes from a 2001 book by Belgian economist Bernard Lietaer, the chief architect of the Euro.

At the conference, Lietaer will be introducing the “Terra” — what he calls “the world’s first global trade reference currency.”

According to Lietaer, 85 percent of the world’s Fortune 500 companies report that currency instability is their biggest concern in conducting business and trade internationally, and the purpose of the Terra will be to “stabilize the business cycle ... and realign financial interest with long-term thinking.

“Because I believe as long as it is possible to think only for the short-term, we will not have financial stability,” Lietaer said.

The Future of Money summit was more than a year in the making, Frey said, and much of the discussion will focus on globalization — not a new concept.

“Globalization ends up being kind of a dirty word. We have global systems that we already have set up,” such as global news services, a global system of keeping time, and a global telephone system. Global trade was an inevitable extension of all of these, he said.

“What’s interesting in these global systems is that each one represents a multi-billion dollar opportunity, and that will be the carrot that drives people to create,” Frey said.

The Terra is the beginning of the creation of a global currency, he said, adding that what role the World Bank will play remains to be seen.

“We ran a survey, a customer-abuse survey, of what industries are abusing their customers the most, and the banking industry and the credit card industry came up at the top,” Frey said, adding that both of those industries are “ripe for someone to come in and cut the legs out from under them.

“The banking system, as an example, has had record profits over the last four years, and this is at a time when a lot of people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

Frey said that the realm of communications is another area likely to see changes, adding that the so-called Information Age has a lot of kinks to be worked out before mankind takes full advantage of its technological possibilities.

“We’re living in a time when we have no bandwidth left in our heads,” Frey said. “The number of decisions we make on a daily basis just keeps going up. You have to change your mindset.

“The ultimate invention will be one that saves time, saves money and saves bandwidth.”

How to make money on the Internet? That question is working its way through its trial-and-error phase right now. Fingerprint identification? Safety and privacy issues still need to be worked out. But once they are, Frey said, how long before we have vending machines that dispense cans of beer?

That, of course, is small potatoes. But the Future of Summit conference will be addressing these and much bigger issues relating to the state of the world — and the world’s money.

“I’m constantly in learning mode on all this stuff — I just think we really need to begin highlighting all of these changes going on in the money world,” said Frey.

Take pre-paid credit cards, soon to become the next big thing: “Visa has told me that they’re projecting the pre-paid credit card world to be a $4 trillion opportunity,” he said.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.