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Coins: Goodbye and Good Riddance

A major benefit of mobile payments is removing coins from the equation.

Coins are a pain. I seem to be a magnet for them, with my coin pocket full on silver and bronze by the end of the day. At least once a week, I make a trip to a supermarket with a self-checkout machine just so I can just throw all the coins in the hopper. In the UK that's Tesco. In the US, it’s either Fresh & Easy or CVS.

As I mentioned before, coins also confuse me. In the US, the one-cent and five-cent pieces are both bigger that the 10-cent piece. Makes no sense. (OK, sure hundreds of years ago when the coins’ worth was tied to the metals they were made from, then relative values explained the size of a silver ‘dime’ vs. a nickel ‘nickel’ vs. a copper ‘penny’. But now it makes no sense at all.)

When I travel to the US, the Starbucks app is a lifesaver, as it means that I escape for at least one transaction each day. Indeed, that’s one of the biggest benefits of mobile payments for me: No coins.

I'm not the only one who has dreamt of a future with reduced coinage. In the first episode of Doctor Who, "The Unearthly Child", the problem of coins was a key plot element.

The two teachers, Barbara and Ian, are discussing a pupil, Susan Foreman (who will be soon revealed to be the granddaughter of the Doctor).

(At 6:39 in the link above.)

BARBARA: But her homework…

IAN: Bit of an excuse, really, isn't it? I've seen far worse. The truth is, we're both curious about Susan, and we won't be happy until we know some of the answers.

BARBARA: Well, you can't just pass it off like that. If I thought I was just being a busybody, I'd go straight home! I thought you agreed she was a bit of a mystery.

IAN: Yes, but I think you'll find there's a very simple explanation to all this.

BARBARA: Well, I don't know how you explain the fact that a teenage girl does not know how many shillings there are in a pound.

IAN: (Surprised.) Really?

BARBARA: Really! She said she thought we were on the decimal system.

IAN: The decimal system?

How truly exotic and provocative the dialog must have seemed when the show was first aired back in November 1963. Then UK was still using 'old money' and the late 50s and early 60s saw the rise of the 'teenagers' who could be seen either in coffee shops and record stores counting out and spending their pocket money. Whilst the Timelords had conquered time and space, the pre-decimalisation UK monetary system was much more of a challenge! They would need to wait until 1971 and the third regeneration of the Doctor to see the decimal system come in to affect.

Coming back to reality, it has been suggested that the lack of small denomination notes in Japan was a contributing factor to the success of FeliCa.

I'm not quite ready to completely get rid of cash—well, at least not the 'folding' kind—but if mobile commerce can get rid of coins, then I'm all for it.