In the small town of Þingeyri, in the Westfjords of Iceland, something very exciting is brewing. There’s a new bank in town that’s as far from a traditional financial institution as you could imagine. It’s a creative bank, with a vault full of ideas instead of currency. It’s Blábankinn—The Blue Bank.
Blábankinn was founded by Arnar Sigurðsson—a co-founder of the Karolina Fund crowdfunding platform—and Arnhildur Lillý Karlsdóttir, who also happen to be married. They were living in downtown Reykjavík when they decided to pack their bags and move to Þingeyri, with their young son, in the fall of 2017. The purpose of their move was to start running Blábankinn, which had been founded in the spring. The decision has already proved to be a good one, in Arnar’s opinion, and he recommends that people try giving up the city lifestyle to live in a smaller place with more human connection.
A new institution
“We’ve been open for a year now,” Arnar explains. “We’re welcoming entrepreneurs and creative people from everywhere, and at the same time supporting local projects within the town. It is good for people to get away from the chaos of their everyday life and enjoy being close to nature and surrounded by creative people.”
Blábankinn has a co-working space, and offers banking services and events on business, arts, and innovation to the community. “It’s a mix of many things,” Arnar says. “One was to do with the institutions, the idea of having more service in Þingeyri like a bank service, a library and union service. But this project goes much further. Thanks to the creativity and motivation of entrepreneurs in town, like the people behind Simbahöllin, a coffee house and cultural centre in Þingeyri, Blábankinn aims to develop more variety within the local economy, and to help interesting projects to be born.”
Understanding and support
Arnar says the response has been great so far, and that the people of Þingeyri have welcomed the family and attended Blábankinn’s events. They’ve opened their doors to artists, entrepreneurs, and scientists alike, to help make connections and ease the project into the local society. The approach makes for an interesting dynamic—on one hand, it’s a social service that looks inwards, and on the other, an entrepreneurial society that looks outwards, seeing things on an international scale. It’s this, in Arnar’s opinion, that makes the Blue Bank unique.
Nonetheless, it’s a challenge to build something new and innovative in a remote area like the Westfjords. “We live with many issues regarding transportation, inclement conditions, and lack of service,” says Arnar. “We’ve felt understanding and support regarding these challenging conditions to try and build up something new. We get support from the Ministry of Transport and Municipality for this trial project.”
The whole package
I wonder out loud of the Blábankinn model could be used elsewhere. “The only way to find out if something has value is to look at yourself, and your village,” says Arnar. “If the Blábankinn way can work elsewhere, then great, but it’s all about the people at this specific location. It’s the energy that builds up, and the atmosphere. You have to look at the whole package.”
With these words ringing in my ears and the cold sea breeze of the Westfjords caressing my face during my afternoon walk, I feel convinced that the future of this region is bright, especially with people like Arnar around.
Visit there Blábankinn website here.