Here, where we live on old Al-Ardah, we have become used to the convenience of modern banking. The recent covid related changes have encouraged an accelerated adoption of contactless technologies, a little like the money-tags in the Third Horizon. But our world is small, the distances tiny and complex transactions don’t take long to travel. Now, most of us carry a computer in our pockets that can send money to a friend on the other side of the world, seemingly instantaneously.
Each world in the Third Horizon may have networks and transfer technologies that are just as quick. I am sure it takes moments to transfer money from Coriolis itself to the Monolith on Kua for example. But when the start talking about transfers across systems, or between systems, the speed to light becomes an issue. Money can not break the laws of physics. Instantaneous communication of data is just not possible. So the modern banking systems that we think of today just aren’t up to the job.
However, the Third Horizon has access to a tried and tested alternative. One that started in 8th century India when communications along the Silk Road were just as slow as would be across the Third Horizon.
Havaleh basically works like this: it is the day of settlement, and your group must facilitate their regular payment on their ship loan, but they are three portals away from their generous benefactor. All they need to do is find a local Havaledah or money broker, give them the birr, and the details of who it is intended for. If their creditor needs the money on that day,. they will visit their local Havaledah, who will give them the sum, on trust that the group’s will have paid another Havaledah somewhere in the horizon and effectively, they are owed the money by that Havaledah. Trust is an important factor here, and there is very little paperwork involved. Indeed the word “havaleh” is synonymous with the word “trust” in many languages. It is considered somewhat rude (but not entirely unacceptable) to even ask for a receipt when you make your deposit with a Havaledah.
Sometimes however, there does need to be some security and passing of authentication between different Havaledahs. The first level of security is to chose your havaledah from your trusted network. All firstcome factions maintain their own havaledah networks, and among the Zenethians, only the Consortium and Hegemony mistrust the very concept of havaleh. All the faction networks are interoperable, and money can be exchanged between them. The largest and most used, especially for inter-faction exchange is that of the Syndicate. Indeed, there are those that say that without its havaleh network the Syndicate would be nothing more than local criminal gangs and crime lords, and thus the Syndicate IS is havaleh network. The consortium tries to maintain what it calls “a civilised banking system” via the Bulletin’s communication technology but to do any real business it resorts to havaleh, and is the Syndicate’s biggest customer. The Zenithian Hegemony however generally does not use havaleh, and its propagandists like to talk about the way it enables crime, tax evasion and political unrest.
The second level of security is a complex system of verbal code-poetry that havaledahs use to authenticate their own communication. While generally the system works on trust, sometimes one may have to resort to a distant havaledah one has not worked with before, so send someone to a havaledah they don’t know – and of course that havaledah is unlikely to hand out money to someone who comes in off the street. So, sometimes, a creditor will be a given a code-phrase to use to identify themselves as the legitimate recipient of the money. By necessity, given the slow speed of travel between systems, such phrases are exchanged among havalehs in advance, and usually they are two-part cyphers, to ensure that if a transmission of codes is intercepted, it can’t be used on its own to defraud the havaleh for whom it is intended. Traditionally, the two parts of the cypher are sung, not written down, and for generations families of talented song-poets have served the havaledah community as code couriers called angadias.
What happens when it goes wrong? When the intended recipient doesn’t get their money? Well, first of all, the recipient always gets their money. The debt is between two havaledahs. And the havaledahs don’t cheat each other, not even when two different factions are involved. So they work together to see where “failure of communication” (as it is euphemistically known) occurred. They will likely enlist investigators to help. The nature of these investigators varies by faction. The Free League and the Nomads use private invetsigators, but most of the firstcome factions have their own investigative systems. The Syndicate is unusual, they use their own angadias, who possess not only beautiful soprano voices, but the tools and authorisation to collect the debt by any means necessary. The very least anyone who is caught cheating the havaleh system can expect is ostracisation, loss of faction standing and previous friends and allies turning their backs to them. Of course they are no longer able to use the havaleh network to move birr, and for most sensible people this is deterrent enough.
Debtors are rarely killed, its more difficult to get your money back from dead people, but that does not mean and anyone who owes birr to the Syndicate can relax on the Day of Settlement.