In Canada, the future of money is now.
The Royal Canadian Mint announced April 10
that the long-awaited new $1 and $2 coins, featuring security measures
for an increasingly digital world, would begin entering circulation
the following day.
That announcement regarding the evolution of
Canadian currency followed the unexpected jolt March 29 when the RCM
announced it would end production of the 1-cent coin sometime in April.
Sandwiched between those announcements was an
invitation to software developers to create a digital mobile payment
application as the RCM works to bridge the gap between physical and
New $1 and $2 coins
The new $1 and $2 coins are being struck from
the RCM’s patented multi-ply plated steel alloy, which has already
been in use for the 1-, 5-, 10- and 25-cent coins for about a decade.
The composition features a steel core with
alternating layers of metals such as copper, nickel and brass. The
resulting coins are more durable and secure than other compositions
and more economical to produce, according to the RCM.
The change to the plated alloy has long been
anticipated — Canada’s Ministry of Finance announced plans for the new
coins on March 4, 2010, with adoption expected in 2011. The timeline
was moved forward to 2012 to address concerns from the vending
industry that are now satisfied.
The change to Canada’s pocket change is all
about saving money for the Canadian government: the move will save a
maximum estimated $16 million a year for the Canadian government,
according to RCM documents filed as the RCM sought approval.
The savings are estimated at a present value
of $107.5 million over 10 years. That estimate of savings is based on
a projected demand of 30 million of each of the $1 and $2 coins for
each of the next 10 years, with some of the production needed to
replace coins that are withdrawn from circulation and melted through
the RCM’s metal harvesting program. The RCM reported in the 2010
annual report that using a multi-ply plated steel blank for the $1
coins would save 30 cents per coin.
The requested change in composition was also
an opportunity for the RCM to add security features to make the coins
even more resistant to counterfeiting.
The security features range from those that
are evident to the unaided eye — laser marks, virtual images, edge
lettering — to the alloy change, which will not affect the coin’s appearance.
The $1 coin is being struck from multi-ply
brass plated steel, while the ringed bimetallic $2 coin will have a
center of multi-ply brass plated aluminum bronze surrounded by a ring
of multi-ply nickel plated steel.
Though the main designs are not changing, the
$1 coin does sport one striking change, the addition of a single laser
mark of a maple leaf positioned within a circle on the coin’s reverse.
According to the RCM, this laser mark is produced during the striking
of the coins using a contrasting pattern micro-engraved on the coin
Three changes are visible on the $2 coin,
including the addition of two laser marks of maple leaves, each within
a circle, at the bottom of the coin’s reverse. In addition, a virtual
image of two maple leaves appears at the top of the coin — a different
image is produced as the coin is turned from side to side. The virtual
image is produced by engraving different patterns on each side of
two-sided grooves on the face of the coin.
Another visible security measure on the new $2
coins is edge-lettering of the words CANADA and 2 DOLLARS.
The coins will retain their standard diameters
of 26.5 millimeters for the $1 and 28 millimeters for the $2. However,
they will be slightly lighter; the previous $1 coins weighing 7 grams
are being replaced by coins weighing 6.27 grams, while the existing $2
coins weigh 7.3 grams, slightly heavier than the new ones at 6.92 grams.
The thicknesses remain the same.
“The difference in weight is so negligible
that they will not feel noticeably lighter when handled,” according to
The weight should also make little difference
for vending machine acceptance, but despite working with vending
equipment manufacturers and operators to give them time to make
upgrades to adapt to the changes, some machines do not accept the new
coins, according to the RCM. The RCM indicated only a small number of
machines do not accept the new coins.
Both coin versions will co-circulate but the
older versions will gradually be removed over “several years,” the RCM
said, and melted.
Perhaps the most tantalizing aspect of the new
coinage, and the area that could be the most misunderstood, is a
patented process that has been branded as Digital Non-Reactive Activation.
The RCM first publicly acknowledged the DNA
technology in background information buried at its website with the
April 10 announcement about the new coins, where it discussed the
debut of the technology despite the fact that, according to one
spokesperson, it is not ready to be fully implemented.
Alex Reeves, senior manager of communications
for the RCM, on April 12 cautioned that the full infrastructure is not
yet in place to implement the broad reach of the DNA technology as of yet.
The RCM worked with Signoptic, a digital
security technology provider, to develop the DNA process, which reads
the unique surface structure of every coin to create a unique digital
“fingerprint” by using an algorithm.
If the system were to be implemented, this
data could be stored in a database and used to confirm the
authenticity of every coin manufactured by the RCM even as the coin
experiences normal wear during its life cycle.
The RCM discussed the DNA process with
industry professionals during the 2012 World Money Fair in Berlin.
Hieu Truong, executive director of research
and development at the RCM, spoke Feb. 2 about the technology during
the technical forum. According to Truong, the DNA process reads or
“gives” the coin a signature that has the uniqueness similar to
cellular DNA so that, if the RCM desired, the coin could be traced to
the die it was made from and the time and date it was made.
Under the system, the coins would go through a
machine that registers the DNA at a rate of 700 coins per minute,
according to the RCM.
A manual table-top machine is being built for
use in the Winnipeg Mint in the pressroom for quality control
purposes, Truong said, while a large-scale industrial machine for
registration of coins at the Winnipeg facility, at a speed of 400
coins per minute, became operational in July 2011.
A second large-scale registration machine,
able to register coins at a rate of 700 per minute, began operating in
November 2011, and according to Truong, the RCM was set to put into
operation four new high-speed machines in April “to meet the demand of
coin registration for foreign circulation coin business.”
Peter Ho, RCM executive director, told
Coin World in Berlin that the algorithm has multiple points
of data so that a damaged coin could still be recognized when it is
scanned, and that new data would override earlier data.
According to Truong, the RCM subjected
registered coins to a lengthy wear test to see how the process held
up, placing coins in tumblers for many days, taking them out at
various stages. “We tested it extensively, where the coin was so
damaged it does not look like any coin that is in circulation, and it
recognized it,” he said.
Two other countries are about to launch the
DNA technology as a part of their coins, Ho said in February, though
it is unclear whether that has yet happened.
“It’s going to explode — it’s going to come
fast,” Ho said. Once the system is implemented, an individual will be
able to take a picture of a coin with a phone to determine whether it
is genuine, Ho said, illustrating the process by pulling out a smart
phone and snapping a picture. “A shopkeeper can use this.”
The DNA technology can be applied to
previously struck coins and can thus be employed for coins that are in
museum or institutional collections, for instance.
“A collector who loans out their coins to
museums wants to make sure he gets them back,” Ho said.
Reeves said that when the RCM promotes the
technology for commercial use, it will be targeted at merchants as Ho
suggested, so they can ward against counterfeits.
The mechanics of a system for commercial use
by merchants and others — the machinery and associated costs — have
yet to be determined, Reeves said, noting it’s much too early to
discuss those matters. “There’s no visible system in the marketplace.
We have developed the technology — it depends on us taking it to the
This technology can be used to authenticate
all manner of circulation, collector and bullion coins, and mints and
central banks could use the registration and authentication machines
for their operations, according to the RCM.
Ho and Signoptic’s general manager, Yann
Boutant, invited attendees to the RCM’s suite at the 2012 Berlin show
to register a blank with their name, and then watch as table-top
machinery recognized the item within nanoseconds.
“It’s a living system,” Boutant said during
What kind of life it has, and the kind of
effect it has on the future of money, remains to be seen.
The future of Canadian money, for the time
being, still includes the 1-cent coin, though the Ministry of Finance
began authoring the obituary for the denomination with the March 29
release of the new budget.
After more than 150 years, the denomination
will pass away, the victim of inflation and rising metal prices, and
the George Edward Kruger-Grey Maple Leaf design that has dominated the
reverse canvas since a 1937 redesign will be displaced from circulation.
But the maple leaf’s prominence on the
security measures debuting on the $1 and $2 coins means that, despite
the end of production for the 1-cent coin, and eventual withdrawal,
the maple leaf symbol is by no means disappearing from Canada’s coinage.
RCM officials have been unable to confirm when
the final day of production for the 1-cent coin will be, other than to
confirm that it will be sometime in April, with the final distribution
in the fall.
RCM officials have still issued no word as to
how that will affect collector products.
Eventually all cash payments will be rounded;
electronic payments (including checks that are cleared electronically)
will not be affected.
Electronic payments represent the next
frontier for the RCM in the future of money. Sandwiched between the
other news was news of a software development project related to
digital money payment systems.
On April 4, the RCM announced it was launching
a program for 500 software developers in North America seeking to test
and challenge a digital currency technology and to determine its
applicability to the current marketplace.
The MintChip developer challenge, which will
accept submissions through Aug. 1, is part of the RCM’s ongoing
research and development efforts.
According to the announcement, MintChip uses
innovative technology, for which the Mint has prototypes and five
patents pending. It uses a secure chip to hold electronic value and a
secure protocol to transfer electronic value from one chip to another.
The MintChip Developer Challenge will be
conducted by ChallengePost and is open to North American software
developers, who are invited to create innovative mobile payment
applications using the MintChip technology. The challenge will test
the robustness and applicability of the technology with industry
experts and help to guide its further development and testing by the marketplace.
A Best Overall Application will be selected,
with a grand prize and second- and third-prize winners to be named.
Winners will also be named in three other categories — Best
Person-to-Person app, Best Business-to-Consumer app and Best
Micropayment app. In addition, members of the public will vote for a
Popular Choice Award. All of the winners will be announced in the fall
Full details of the Developer
The winners will share a reward totaling 31
ounces of gold (a combination of wafers and Maple Leaf bullion coins),
with the grand prize winner in the Best Overall App category receiving
10 ounces, the category’s second-prize to be 6 ounces, and all the
remaining winners splitting the rest.