The WIR Bank, formerly the Swiss Economic Circle (GER: Wirtschaftsring-Genossenschaft), or WIR, is an independent complementary currency system in Switzerland that serves businesses in hospitality, construction, manufacturing, retail and professional services. WIR issues and manages a private currency, called the WIR Franc, which is used, in combination with Swiss Franc to generate dual-currency transactions. The WIR Franc is an electronic currency reflected in clients' trade accounts and there is no paper money. The use of this currency results in increased sales, cash flow and profits for a qualified participant. WIR has perfected the system by creating a credit system which issues credit, in WIR Francs, to its members. The credit lines are secured by members pledging assets. This ensures that the currency is asset-backed. When two members enter into a transaction with both Swiss Francs and WIR Francs it reduces the amount of cash needed by the buyer; the seller does not discount its product or service.
WIR was founded in 1934 by businessmen Werner Zimmermann and Paul Enz as a result of currency shortages and global financial instability. A banking license was granted in 1936. Both Zimmermann and Enz had been influenced by German libertarian economist Silvio Gesell; however, the WIR Bank renounced Gesell's "free money" theory in 1952, opening the door to monetary interest.
"WIR" is both an abbreviation of Wirtschaftsring and the word for "we" in German, reminding participants that the economic circle is also a community. According to the cooperative's statutes, "Its purpose is to encourage participating members to put their buying power at each other's disposal and keep it circulating within their ranks, thereby providing members with additional sales volume."
Although WIR started with only 16 members, today it has grown to include 62,000. Total assets are approximately 3.0 billion CHF, annual sales in the range of 6.5 billion, as of 2005. As of 1998, assets held by the credit system were 885 million and liabilities of 844 million, i.e. the circulating WIR money, with equity in the system of 44 million. These WIR obligations being interest free have a cost of zero. Income from interest and credit clearing activities were 38 million francs.
The currency code is CHW as designated by ISO 4217.
The WIR Bank was a not-for-profit entity, although that status changed during the Bank's expansion. It has a stable history, not prone to failure as the current banking system is. It has remained fully operational during times of general economic crisis. The WIR Bank may even dampen downturns in the business cycle, helping to stabilize the Swiss economy during difficult times.
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