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NSW government-funded initiative sees students receive Ether as 'loyalty' reward

Participating staff and students from the University of New South Wales received Ether for every 10 digital 'stamps' their loyalty card received.

Instead of receiving a free coffee or a discount on their next haircut, students from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have been earning cryptocurrency for every 10 digital "stamps" received as part of a project aimed at shaking up the way loyalty programs are run.

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In total, 170 staff members and students from the university were paid AU$10 in Ether for every 10 purchases made at over a dozen on-campus retailers including IGA and Boost, and a handful of eateries near UNSW's campus in Sydney.

For the trial, UNSW partnered with Sydney-based "experimental loyalty" startup LoyaltyX.

"The research results have been extremely positive, with students excited by being rewarded with cryptocurrency that can grow in value, providing a major opportunity to reinvent loyalty programs," LoyaltyX CEO Philip Shelper said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Ether is a floating currency, and over the course of the trial participants saw their Ether balance increase in value by 30 percent. Those that chose to keep their Ether rather than cash it in have seen a gain of over 450 percent. Cryptocurrencies could provide the first major advancement in loyalty program design since frequent flyer programs were launched in the early '80s."

The platform solution utilises technology from Loyaltycorp, as well as Honeywell scanners as checkout terminals.

The New South Wales government supported the initiative, handing over a AU$14,996 "TechVoucher" grant under its Boosting Business Innovation Program.

"Consumers appear to be perceiving certain big loyalty programs have devalued points balances over time to boost their profits. Cryptocurrency can serve to democratise the program design, with the value of the currency being subject to market forces of supply and demand as the program becomes more popular," LoyaltyX explained.

See also: Bitcoin owners and currency exchanges emerging targets for criminals: FireEye

Associate professor Salil Kanhere of UNSW's School of Computer Science and Engineering expects the results from the trial to guide the design of cryptocurrency-based loyalty platforms in the future.

UNSW is not the only tertiary institution in Australia bitten by the blockchain bug, with researchers at the University of Sydney (USyd) building a new blockchain technology, dubbed Red Belly Blockchain, that they believe has the potential to revolutionise the global economy.

In October, USyd announced that its blockchain is capable of processing financial transactions 50 percent faster than first anticipated, noting that its "super fast" speed is outperforming the likes of global giant Visa for worldwide payments.

Furthering research on blockchain technology is also being undertaken by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) establishing the RMIT Blockchain Innovation Hub in September, touted by the university as being the world's first research centre focused on the social science of blockchain.

The RMIT Blockchain Innovation Hub -- led by professor Jason Potts in the School of Economics, Finance, and Marketing -- is expected to develop an interdisciplinary research team focused on the economic, cultural, and social implications and impacts of blockchain technologies.

The hub will also partner with industry to share research, ensure students are work-ready when they graduate, and provide business solutions and advice; develop and implement policy and industry-relevant measures of the size and impact of the blockchain economy; and engage with government, policymakers, stakeholders, and the public debate on the social and policy impact of blockchain technology.

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