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What do you do with your change?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
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A recent letter to the editor got us thinking here at the T&T Guardian about change. Not change like making a difference, but change like the coins in your pocket. 


The letter’s author noted the “propensity of citizens to leave unwanted change behind” when paying bills and making purchases. And so questions arose about the value of the TTD (T&T dollar). Are coins becoming obsolete to our currency? 


According to the Central Bank, they are not obsolete at all. 


“Coins continue to form an integral part of the country’s currency structure,” said banking operation manager Wendy Dabise in an e-mailed response. 


The value of the TTD doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it either. 


Dabise said in the past decade, the TTD has both appreciated and depreciated with coins remaining an important factor. 


The Central Bank mints coins annually with the amount varying from year to year depending on public demand, she added. According to Dabise, the most recent figure for coin circulation was taken in September 2012 when $185 million worth of coins were put into circulation. The bank has an arrangement with a UK manufacturer to mint coins in a tightly secured off-site location. One cent and five cent pieces are made of bronze, while ten, 25 and 50 cents coins are made of curpo-nickel.


Dabise’s sentiments about the continuing importance of coins were echoed by Republic Bank’s marketing and communications general manager, Anna-Maria Garcia-Brooks. 


According to Garcia-Brooks, the number of coins supplied to customers by Republic Bank between 2011 and 2012 had increased by nine per cent. A similar trend was noted in the usage of the bank’s two Easy Change Machines, which convert coins to notes. 


“The continued use of coins and the increase noted could be attributed to the fact that T&T is still very much a cash-based society,” Garcia-Brooks said.


“While the use of credit and debit cards and, more recently, online and telephone banking for bill settlement has increased over the last 23 years or so, many business, particularly small businesses, continue to deal primarily with cash.” 


As president of the San Fernando Business Association and owner of Bartlett Drugs, Daphne Bartlett, puts it, “You can’t run your business without coins.” 


In a telephone interview, Barlett said it was very rare that customers would leave or throw away change. Those who didn’t want to carry coins because of the weight just leave them in the cashier’s till, she added. 


In other stores, unwanted coins are put into donation boxes for different charities. 


Barlett collects hundreds of dollars in coins each week from her bank for in-store operations. 


She added that pricing structures are not rounded to the nearest dollar due to VAT. Barlett did point out, however, that based on her experience, people 25 years old and younger are more likely to leave coins behind than older people. 


Onika Hackett, 38, a vendor on Independence Square Port-of-Spain said she gets approximately $50 worth of coins everyday as payment from customers. 


She does not sell many products that are less than a dollar, however. Hackett said she does not use coins when making purchases but saves the change she recieves from customers and takes it to the bank. 


During a Vox Pop on Independence Square, Port-of-Spain, it appeared that certain coins were privileged more than others. 


Kenilia Benjamin, 26, said she only keeps silver change because copper change “smells bad.” 


Ancillon Alleng, 22, said he only kept 25 cent pieces. The other denominations (1, 5, and 10 cents) would be left with the cashier or put into a charity box. 


Marva Aaron, 45, said she had a piggy bank where she keeps all her change. Aaron added that she periodically gets the coins exchanged for notes at her bank. 


Is a coinless currency possible? 


The growth of technology usage may affect coin usage in the future, but not any time soon. 

According to Garcia-Brooks, “The demand for coins might eventually decrease as electronic commerce makes greater inroads into business and as payment systems become increasingly electronic, particularly with regard to the payment of bills and with online purchases. While coins might be a bother because of their weight, it is unlikely that they would become obsolete in the near future.” 

Dabise said there was only one country she could recall which operated without coins—Laos.



Coins and legal tender in T&T

Below are the Central Bank’s limits on using coins as legal tender in T&T. 

$1 coins—for any amount not exceeding $500 

25 cents and over—for any amount not exceeding $200 

25 cents and under—for any amount not exceeding $100


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