I have to admit I don’t use cash much these days. Living in central London, one finds a myriad of ways to pay, from contactless to cardless, to phoneless – cash simply becomes a vague memory in the face of such technological options.
But this weekend past, cash reared its ugly head in my wallet. I visited my dad up in Northamptonshire. We were invited to an old friend’s son’s wedding. The do was to be held in the middle of the countryside, and we were warned to bring cash (for the bar).
On having a conversation with my pa about withdrawing some cash, he noted that he had five old £1 coins, and that he had been to two banks in town to change them – neither his own as he as he banks with an online-only bank – but had been told to take them to the Bank of England instead.
As my dad’s not one for the city, I offered to take them. Plus, it just so happens that Moneywise HQ is a 10-minute walk from the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street.
So once I was back in the office, off I marched to the great institution, to cash in the old coins for new – ‘round pounds’ were replaced with new 12-sided £1 coins on 16 October last year.
The building always strikes me as a statement of intent. Its walls high and windowless – a fortress in the middle of its empire. I walked up to the entrance. The security guard asked me what my purpose was. I showed her my handful of old coins. She shook her head and told me that the bank doesn’t change coins, only notes.
I incredulously asked if she was sure. She told me to go in and check anyway (sounds like I’m not the first to fall into the trap). And lo and behold, it was true. The Bank of England does not take old coins. I left miffed (I wanted to see the inner guts of the place – I guess I’ll have to visit the museum instead some time).
What to do with your old round pounds
What the Bank did impart on me was to check the Royal Mint website, as it is the institution in charge of coins.
This is what the website says: “The round £1 coin lost its legal tender status at midnight on 15 October 2017. However, the round £1 coin can continue to be deposited into a customer’s account at most high street banks in the UK. Specific arrangements may vary from bank to bank, including deposit limits. It is recommended that customers consult with their bank direct. Round £1 coins can also be donated to a charity.”
This presented something of an issue. Being one who spends his time writing about money, and financial products, I am a vociferous adopter of the latest tech. It just so happens that I have three different current accounts. But all of them are online-only banks. So, how do you change coins in-branch if your bank doesn’t have any branches? Especially when according to the Royal Mint, there are still £169 million worth of the old style £1 coins out in the wild.
I looked up from my phone and saw a branch of Nationwide Building Society not 300 yards from the Bank of England. Being a bit of a chancer (read my column on haggling in the August edition of Moneywise) I thought I’d try my luck and see if it’d take the coins off my hands.
The friendly-looking attendant who asked me if I needed help informed me it could only accept old coins from customers, as the bank would deposit the money into the customer’s account so as to record the transaction digitally.
I pleaded helplessness due to the lack of branches from my providers, and after pausing for a moment, the teller took my coins and came back with a nice, crisp, plastic fiver.
And so, I had changed my money and was able to buy my lunch with my dad’s sofa coins.
What can you do if you don’t have a local branch?
What strikes me as odd is that we, as the general public, are ever-more railroaded into moving our financial lives completely online.
But with many providers in the process of closing local branches it is becoming increasingly difficult for customers to engage with their banking providers. In terms of making deposits, the first port of call if your bank isn’t in your hometown is to go to the Post Office.
It says it’ll accept deposits of old £1 coins from the following no-branch banks: First Direct, Cashplus, Smile, and Thinkmoney.
But this leaves providers such as Atom Bank, Monzo, and Starling Bank. Moneywise has approached all three for comment on what their customers should do. While all three declined to comment specifically on the issue, Starling Bank noted that it will be providing deposits through the Post Office from September.