QUESTION: Why does there appear to be a shortage of coins? Convenience stores and other stores in Alamance County that I’ve been to lately are asking for exact change because, they say, they don’t have any coins.
ANSWER: Mark Greene, senior vice president for the Piedmont-Triad region for State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU), which has three locations in Alamance County, offered two likely explanations this week for the apparent coin shortage.
“We’ve seen the coin shortage here, as I think most places have,” Greene said Tuesday in an interview with The Alamance News. “I think a lot of places, because of COVID-19, do not want to deal with cash because of the worry [about] it being contaminated. I think a lot of it is that, and the way society is now, with online transactions, there’s less cash.” While demand for currency has declined in the U.S. financial industry in general, Greene said he doesn’t see cash going away anytime soon.
The pandemic has led to significant declines in coin deposits from banking institutions and disruptions in “normal circulation patterns,” at the same time that the U.S. Mint has decreased production levels to protect its employees from potential exposure to the coronavirus, the U.S. Federal Reserve announced last month. The Federal Reserve announced last Friday that it has established a task force to address the coin shortage.
SECU, which has three branches in Alamance County and nearly 300 across the state, isn’t currently experiencing a coin shortage, and isn’t offering to buy back coins from its members, Greene confirmed for the newspaper. “We have a coin sorter here for our members,” he said this week. “It’s always been used quite a bit; we see it a lot during summer vacations and [before] Christmas. People are still bringing it in [but] it is a fact that coin is not as prevalent now as it was at one time. Whether this is foreboding of a cashless society, I think not, just from what I’ve seen over 38 years.”
Sweden became the first country in the world to transition away from currency in 2018; the United Kingdom, China, and other Asian countries are expected to follow suit during the next few years, according to multiple news reports that have been published. A nationwide survey conducted for the Swedish central bank in 2018 indicated that approximately 87 percent of Swedes preferred cashless payments (such as debit and credit cards, as well as online payment systems); approximately 30 percent of Americans preferred cashless transactions, according to a similar survey conducted in 2018 by the Pew Research Center.