A new pound coin and the need to adapt

6 February 2017

United Kingdom

Paul Race



Our round pound coin seems to have been around for ever, but actually it’s only been 34 years.  Up until 1983 we used paper one pound notes, but it was felt that their declining value made a coin more appropriate.

In fact the notes weren’t completely withdrawn until 1988.  At the time it was stated that whereas the average note lasted nine months the coins could on average last up to forty years. Now it’s time for another change.

Of course, whenever there is a change in the way we pay this will have implications for how transactions are processed and I am reminded of one occasion when a friend of mine wished that change had come sooner.

The television programme ‘First Dates’ has become very popular in the UK, where people who have never met before are put together in a restaurant environment.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it goes horribly wrong.  Whenever I watch it I am reminded of a story my friend once told me of his most embarrassing first date.  It took place in a Greek restaurant in London in the early eighties.  The evening was going well until the appearance of the entertainment – a belly dancer.  The dancer made a bee-line for my friend’s table and as the dance progressed his date took great pleasure in pointing out that the tradition was to place a ‘tip’ in the dancer’s costume to express your appreciation of the performance.  Having frantically searched for a one pound note he attempted to hand it to the dancer but the offer was rebuffed and she pointed to the costume.  By this time my friend’s predicament was causing great hilarity to his fellow-diners and particularly his date.  When he finally and rather awkwardly completed the manoeuvre it was greeted by raucous cheers and guffaws.  After that, he explained, it was a case of asking for the bill and leaving.  There wasn’t a second date.  “If only they’d got rid of those pound notes earlier she’d have had to use a money belt or purse’ he opined.

More than thirty years on, I’ll confess ignorance as to the way such dancers are paid, though a check on the internet reveals they are still thriving.  Whether that particular dancer adapted her costume or collected one pound coins in a hat I cannot relate as my friend never returned to the Lord Byron restaurant and it has long since closed.

What is more obvious, and is perhaps the moral of my story, is that the imminent introduction of the new coins requires adaptation on the part of retailers if they are to continue processing the still large volume of payments made using coins.

The latest change is primarily for security reasons.  There are currently around 1.5 billion ‘round’ one pound coins in circulation and it is estimated that 45 million - or one in thirty - of these are fake.  Its replacement has been dubbed ‘the most secure coin in the world’.

Back in October last year the Treasury warned businesses that they would need to adapt their equipment and train staff in preparation for the introduction of a new twelve sided one pound coin in March.  As is always the case when such a change takes place, there will be a period, in this case six months, when you will have to accept both the old and new coins.  It could be worse.  As we’ve seen above, in the eighties one pound notes and coins co-circulated for five years.  The Royal Mint has stressed the need to be prepared for the imminent change and we at Glory have been working closely with customers to ensure a smooth changeover.  The volumes involved demonstrate the continued popularity of the one pound coin and there will be a need to process transactions involving both new and old coins in retail and gaming environments at least until 15 October 2017.

The new coins are very distinctive (being of two colours) and incorporate a number of new security features, including a hologram that changes from a pound symbol to the number 1 when seen from different angles.  The twelve sided coin (the first since the old three pence coin) will no doubt give rise to comments about colleagues needing a spanner to get them out of their pockets, but will also have other implications.  As we saw with the dancer example, every change presents a challenge.  It has been noted that the “new 12-sided pound coin has no constant diameter which will prove rather tricky for vending machines”.  Such challenges we can deal with.  As long as you plan ahead the automation of coin acceptance provides huge opportunities and will continue to do so for a while yet.

As a footnote, the answer to the question, when was a pound coin first introduced in the UK?’ is not 1983.  Gold sovereigns valued at a pound were in full circulation until 1932 and were first minted in 1817.  If you wanted to be pedantic, of course, you could argue that the original sovereigns were issued under Henry VII in 1489!  There is no record of how his jester was tipped, however well he danced.

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