The SA Reserve Bank blocked eBucks from being a fully-fledged currency

eBucks is known as a leading rewards programme which gives FNB clients funds back for doing everyday things like buying groceries or shopping online.

What most people do not know is that the initial idea behind eBucks was to launch a fully-fledged currency, which would have been stronger than the rand.

To launch an eBucks currency was the brainchild of Paul Harris, who came up with the idea while on his Christmas holiday.

“I clicked. I sat down and then I wrote a strategic document on how this thing could work. I still have the document,” Harris told CNBC Africa in 2016.

Former FNB CEO Michael Jordaan told MyBroadband that eBucks was to be a new, electronic currency with superior purchasing power on the back of negotiated deals, thanks to bulk purchasing power.

“The idea was that people could earn these eBucks by being customers of FNB, but also purchase them as a way of getting access to great deals,” said Jordaan.

The plan was to also let people sell eBucks for cash – in this case rand.

The first advertisement for eBucks was all about it being a new electronic currency issued by a bank.

“It would be easy to transact as it was all electronic. This was in 2000, in other words still the early days of the Internet,” said Jordaan.

The call from the SARB

The plan to operate eBucks as a new electronic currency came to an abrupt end, however, when the South African Reserve Bank instructed FNB to desist from issuing its own currency.

Jordaan said he received a call from then Deputy Governor of the SARB Gill Marcus, after they launched eBucks as a currency.

“I am the sole issuer of currency in South Africa – the rand – and you shall desist,” Marcus told Jordaan.

FNB stopped its new currency plans, and the concept of eBucks then pivoted to a rewards programme – which is used by millions of people today.

A pity it was done in Sandton

While the eBucks currency was centrally issued by a bank, in contrast with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin which are decentralised, it was revolutionary at the time.

Considering that Bitcoin was only created in 2009, and eBucks was launched in 2000, it was groundbreaking with tremendous potential.

Jordaan said he was sad that they started the idea of a new currency in Sandton, and not Silicon Valley.

“Who knows where it would have been today,” said Jordaan.

Now read: FNB unveils new eBucks Travel offering

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The SA Reserve Bank blocked eBucks from being a fully-fledged currency