January 2023 marks the 20th birthday of Currency News™, so we thought we would take a quick tour of the last two decades and provide a back-of-the- envelope analysis of the differences in the cash ecosystem, and issues and priorities, between then and now.
If we look back at 2002, the world was in a very different place. The euro had just been launched but, that seismic event apart, the focus and preoccupations were on security, efficiency (in costs, as well as logistics) and the quality of notes in circulation. The content of that first issue, and indeed over the following years, tended towards developments in features, substrates, intellectual property, anti- counterfeiting initiatives and the growing trend by central banks to engage the public with their banknotes.
Other preoccupations tended towards clean note policies and fitness standards, outsourcing versus insourcing models of distribution, the rise of automation for cash distribution. Over capacity was an ongoing concern, and bubbling up now and then, meanwhile, there were concerns about pandemics – SARS scared everyone in 2003, and in subsequent years fears of avian and then swine flu came and went.
So where are we now, in 2023, and what are the issues that are keeping us awake at night versus then?
Well, the above issues are still with us, but in many cases with less emphasis or concern. Apart from pandemics, of course, given that the whole world has now actually had one.
That aside, no-one was talking about the environment and sustainability, but this has now come to the fore, particularly in the last few years. A product that can’t be made, used and disposed of with minimal impact on the environment has a bleak future.
The burning issues of 2002 were largely about the tactical, practical issues of designing and producing secure banknotes and coins and distributing them effectively and efficiently. Access to and acceptance of cash was a given. Although the War on Cash had already been declared a decade before by Visa, it took the invention of the smartphone, much wider internet access, social media, increasing digitisation and the financial rewards provided by the ability to harvest the personal data generated by these tools to turbocharge the move to digital payments and away from cash.
Today, as the world goes digital, governments are striving to provide digital payment capability and capacity in their economies. The question now is much more to do with existential concerns about whether cash will survive, and what to do to ensure its survival.
It was always assumed that the benefits of cash are self-evident. Not any more.
A protracted campaign toward digital payments, the might and marketing reach of payments providers and, until recently at least, disinterested issuers and supine regulators have seen to that.
What we are seeing now, and not a moment too soon, is a broader realisation not just in the industry, but among some central banks and those regulators, not to mention the public, that the societal benefits of cash have to be preserved, and that intervention is required to ensure that payment tools don’t become the monopoly of private, commercially-driven payment companies.
Currency News™, when it first started, was met in some quarters with scepticism – most notably along the lines of ‘nothing happens, you won’t have enough to report on’. That view fell by the wayside pretty quickly. We increased the page count, now routinely 16 or even 20 pages, introduced a weekly news service and now support an e-publishing platform. We also launched a sister publication, Cash & Payment News™ and then, towards the end of last year, Coin & Mint News™ too.
These weren’t just spin-off products designed to piggyback on the brand name of Currency News. They were a response to the nature of our industry and the inability to cover everything without creating War and Peace each month. So much for ‘nothing much happens’.
We have certainly enjoyed the journey. And look forward to another 20 years. That, of course, depends on whether there will be anything to report on in the next two decades. The doomsters would have us believe that cash will cease to exist from 2025, 2035, 2045 (take your pick). We will continue to do our level best to support the community and make sure that, 20 years from now, we will still be writing about our great product.