Banking on Time

Concept of being paid for services in hours rather than cash catching on in some countries, but not much enthusiasm locally

To be paid in hours and minutes rather than ringgit and sen for work done is a concept few can grasp, much less subscribe to.

In a nutshell, it is a concept that involves doing work, for instance spending time to care for an elderly person, for a certain number of hours each day or week. It is like volunteering but one is paid, not in cash but in time.

The hours worked becomes a currency that is deposited into a “time bank” as “earnings”. The “time depositor” can withdraw from the account later to “buy” the services of another person.

This is useful for seniors who need someone to care for them in their golden years at a time when elderly care is beyond the means of most people – in terms of cash.

Time banking is not new. It was conceptualised in 19th Century England but was only introduced as a formalised currency in Japan in 1973 by Teruko Mizushima.

The time-based currency is now an established medium of transaction in 34 countries, such as Switzerland, South Korea and Japan, according to president of the Malaysian Wellness Society, Datuk Dr Rajbans Singh.

It can even be the great equalizer. Rich or poor in cash terms, anyone can afford personal care in old age if the person had worked hard enough earlier in life to earn the hours.

It is an incentive for people to engage in volunteer work.

Unfortunately, most local experts do not think that Malaysians are ready for such a concept.

“I agree it would prove fruitful later in life, but will it be easily accepted in the Malaysian context?” Rajbans said.

Most seniors pay dearly for elderly care in privately-run homes. Otherwise, they end up in homes that not only fail to provide proper care but also run the risk of being abused, he added.

Founding president of Third Age Media Association Cheah Tuck Wing cited a study by the Institute of Labour Market Information and Analysis (Ilmia) that shows only 2% of those aged 40 and above are prepared to engage in volunteer work.

“We just lack this sense of community service.”

Cheah said this is a culturally rooted shortcoming and can only be changed by getting the younger generation to adopt a new mindset.

In South Korea, there is a volunteer programme in the curriculum while in Ontario, Canada, a student must put in a mandatory 40 hours of volunteer work before he is awarded his high school diploma.

Cheah said many international schools in Malaysia have introduced volunteerism in their curriculum “to plant the seed of community service” in young Malaysians.

But that is still in its early stages. Ilmia’s data shows volunteer participation among Malaysians is below the international average of 3% for people aged 15 and older.

Cheah attributes the failing to the fact that many Malaysians expect something in return for services they render.

“This shows a major change in mindset is essential if we want to adopt this volunteerism culture in the near future,” he said.

That would make it near impossible for many seniors to afford good elderly care in their golden years.

Cheah said an alternative is to raise the retirement age to 65 to help them become more financially secure. But that could mean those who do not have the cash may end up on the streets.