It’s a common habit. I tend to store mine in an antique jelly mould. But did you know that hoarding coins can lead to an eight year prison sentence plus a fine in the Philippines? Now that may seem a bit harsh for trying to avoid bulging pockets, but with 28 billion coins in circulation in the UK, for example, you can see how it might become a major issue, not just for governments but for banks and merchants that have to process coins on a daily basis. Whereas many banks don’t like dealing in coins, TD Bank in the US has seized the initiative by introducing coin counting technology with interactive screens at child and adult height at its branches. Coin collection has become a feature of its brand and customer experience and in 2012 the bank counted 29 billion coins, 49 percent of which were pennies. For retailers too, counting coins doesn’t have to be a chore these days.
So why do people hoard coins? Well any basic text will tell you that as well as being a means of exchange, a prime function of money is as a store of value. Of course some things used as money were more easily stored than others. Hanging over my desk at home is a set of 1905 Mitchell cigarette cards entitled ‘Money’. Among the items displayed are spear heads, knives (seven inches long) cloth money, beads and a whale’s tooth. You can see how coins caught on after their introduction in Britain around 200 BC.
We need to distinguish between hoarding and collecting, something that’s been going on since Roman times when Emperor Augustus gave ‘presentation packs’ to friends. In the Philippines much of the hoarding has been attributed to the rising value of the core metals (there’s that store of value thing again) but in the vast majority of instances hoarding is down to inertia. The relatively small value of individual coins makes us reluctant to bank them or to carry large amounts, rather emptying our pockets when we get home. Of course it’s not been helped by 99p bargains (or as some of us will remember, nineteen shillings and eleven pence). I’m not sure whether this is an urban myth but I was once told that the original reasoning behind these strange prices was not so much that they could be marketed as ‘under a pound’ but rather to ensure that all transactions went through the till. From the consumer perspective there’s also an element of laziness – it’s easier to proffer a note rather than count up the right amount. I tend to do this even more when the coins are unfamiliar to me. On a recent trip to Amsterdam a café owner asked me if I had any coins as she needed change. On emptying my pockets I found I was able to pay the €28.21 bill without resort to notes!
I was delighted that the café owner was prepared to count the coins for me. But then of course paying by coins can be easier, and quicker, at automated retail outlets. These days all you have to do is drop in your spare coins and the machine does the counting for you. Perhaps it’s time to empty the jelly moulds.
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