World Coins

Mint Directors Conference includes digital currency talks

World mint officials recently convened in Ottawa to grapple with changing future needs for coins in a world incorporating more digital payments.

Images © Jiri Vaclavek | Dreamstime.com

More than 250 officials from world mints and technical suppliers, as well as coin dealers, gathered in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on Oct. 15 to 18 to discuss the current state of the industry.

It was the 31st Mint Directors Conference, and the first in-person event in five years, as the normal schedule of a gathering every two years was interrupted by the pandemic.

The future of cash amid digital payments was a major point of discussion for an industry that literally makes money making money.

“Digital is not as global as we’d like to think,” said Guillaume Lepecq of Cash Essentials, a consulting firm. According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2019, less than half of the world’s population had not made a single digital payment.

This changed dramatically during the pandemic, but adoption remains uneven. In some countries, people can order on Amazon, but pay with cash on delivery.

The fight for cash in the future requires more promotion, said Martina Horakova, of the International Mint Industry Association.

“Nobody brags about cash because everyone knows about its positive attributes,” she said.

Cash is the only payment instrument that is fair, inclusive and sustainable, according to Lepecq.

“Cash is the only form of money that ticks all those boxes,” he said.

There’s a lot of money to be made in promoting digital payments, he acknowledged, citing the Rugby World Cup sponsorship of Mastercard, and Olympics sponsorship by Visa.

“There’s an incestuous relationship between governments and payment card processing services,” said Lepecq.

Assumptions that young people prefer digital payments is not true, Horakova said, saying that the same percentage (24%) of 18- to 24-year-olds prefer cash as those aged 55 and older.

A Central Bank Digital Currency is “a solution in search of a problem,” said Marc Schwartz, the leader of the Monnaie de Paris, the French Mint.

Privacy is a major concern with digital currency, and privacy is possible with cash already, said Vass Bednar, executive director of the Master in Public Policy in Digital Society program at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

The threat of identity theft and the collection of biometric data are concerns.

Further, she said, “We’re letting private actors set the rules in favor of themselves.”

Bednar pointed to an event in Canada known as Red Friday, when a Rogers wireless outage shelved electronic payment systems, as a lesson in how cashless systems can fail.

One of the challenges facing mints amid the current disruption in traditional payment systems is the ever-growing need to switch to higher denomination coinage to remain relevant.

Aziya Ibrayeva, deputy director of commerce at the National Mint of Kazakhstan, provided an example, noting that her country made the switch from a 200-tenge bank note to a coin of the same denomination, in 2020. The coin has a face value equivalent to 42 cents U.S.

The adoption of higher denomination coinage will challenge mints to remain robust with security features, an area where cash has its challenges as well.

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