Time banks emerged in Italy in the 1990s and are now common in many countries. The principle idea is the exchange of services between people, calculated in real time regardless of the nature of the service, thereby placing everyone on the same level of pay. Time banks create space and essentially "time" for equality, social links and activities.
The operation of a time bank is modeled on a real bank. After having subscribed, a member can open an "account", specifying the number of hours they have available and the service they want to give: household shopping, transport (by car, bus, etc.), watering plants, IT consultations…or even: time bank management. In exchange they receive a "cheque book" that allows them to use other voluntary services.
The list of services offered by other members can be seen either at the bank headquarters or over the telephone. This list is maintained by the time bank itself. When using a service, members must give a "time cheque" to the service provider. This is similar to a real cheque, although it is worded in hours as opposed to currency. Once delivered to the bank, the cheque will result in a transfer of “time credits” from the user’s account to the service provider.
The cheque has no cash value and members of the bank commit themselves to remain within a framework that is strictly voluntary-based. The keeping of accounts is therefore purely symbolic. The services provided can be material, psychological or intellectual, and are not governed by any existing structures.