By Beth TancrediWhen retail businesses started shuttering their doors in March due to the coronavirus, the Federal Reserve Bank had the foresight to know that coin circulation was going to be an issue.
“As people changed their shopping habits, moving from cash purchases to online transactions or card payments, their pocket change stayed home with them,” says Steve Kenneally, SVP for payments policy at the American Bankers Association.
The Fed jumped into action to create the U.S. Coin Task Force, made up of representatives such as Kenneally from banks, merchants, credit unions, industry groups, the U.S. Mint and armored car services, to provide options for banks and businesses to increase the flow of coins.
The task force highlighted the real risk that businesses will be unable to complete cash transactions if they do not have sufficient coin to make change. “This could potentially limit the ability of millions of cash-reliant and cash-preferring Americans to buy necessary goods and services,” the task force points out.
The group announced recommendations in August. Through a big social media push under the hashtag #GetCoinMoving, the task force delivered a set of strategies and encouraged marketing campaigns to get coins back into circulation.
The Fed called; banks answered
Taking the suggestions of the task force, many banks formed their own plans for executing programs either within a singular branch to test the waters or across multiple branches within a region.
Heartland Bank and Trust in Illinois tested out a two-week charity drive at nine of its locations. They started with a program that was easy enough to launch and could be rolled out to all 57 branches if they wanted to expand.
The bank communicated their efforts to customers via social media and through leaflets in the lobbies of participating branches.
“We were trying to come up with ideas because of the coin circulation issue,” says Diane Lanier, EVP and chief retail officer at Heartland Bank and Trust. “We had seen some programs where the bank would just have people bring their coins in, but we realized that if we could encourage people to bring in their coins for a contribution to a nonprofit, we could help everyone.”
For their initial charity drive, it chose the United Way of McLean County.
“In our two-week Coins for Community campaign,” says Lanier, “We have had an increase of 173 percent of coins over our typical intake during COVID months! We are pleased with that outcome and to be able to donate $1,000 to our county’s United Way.”
First Security Bank and Trust in Iowa took an educational approach.
Prior to entering the banking industry, Matt Bradley, VP and marketing and communications manager at First Security Bank and Trust spent years as an anchor, reporter and producer for local television outlets. When the call for #GetCoinMoving went out, Bradley immediately reached out to his network of media contacts to help dispel the myth of what some were calling a “coin shortage.”
The reality, according to the Federal Reserve Board, is that the U.S. Mint has been operating at full production capacity and continues to be on track to mint 1.65 billion coins per month for the rest of the year. As the U.S. Coin Task Force points out, there is more than $40 billion in coin already in circulation, most of which is sitting dormant inside America’s 128 million households. As people have changed their spending habits, and coin-intensive businesses and bank branches have been less accessible, the nation’s coin is pooling in change jars, in car cup holders and in shuttered businesses, making it difficult for businesses to get the coin that they need to support cash transactions.
In short: the nation has a coin circulation problem—not a shortage.
“We wanted to get ahead of the story, so we got local news outlets to do a piece about the clogged artery,” says Bradley.
Bradley used the opportunity to start spreading the word that anyone (customers and non-customers alike) could come to First Security Bank and Trust to exchange their coins without incurring any fees.
First Security’s educational campaign worked as well. In the weeks prior to the COVID closures, First Security Bank and Trust took in $6,319.86 in coin. One month after starting its awareness campaign, the bank increased the coin exchanges by 75 percent.
During the campaign, Bradley and his team got together to create a video spoofing a 1988 Saturday Night Live sketch as a thank you to his community. “My big thing is to have fun with whatever you’re doing and to have some personality,” says Bradley.
“When everything settles, I would like to put together a collage or video slide show of the customers who participated,” he adds.
First National Bank of Bastrop in Texas hosted a 6-week coin drive that incentivized people to bring their change in to select branches to get a free spin on their prize wheel, with the chance to win small prizes such as local restaurant gift cards, outdoor folding chairs and branded key chains. Many customers, though, just wanted to do their part—whether they would win a prize or not.
“Everyone has a spare change stash tucked away but are seldom encouraged to bring it in,” explains Connie Juarez, marketing officer at First National Bank. “Once we put the word out on social media, our website and in our lobbies that explained the circulation bottleneck and mentioned how other customers and businesses are affected, people started coming in.”
The promotion was open to anyone, and all fees for redeeming coins were temporarily waived for non-customers per regulatory standards.
“We wanted to provide some sort of incentive to encourage customers to participate, while also being mindful of prize costs and regulatory guidelines,” Juarez adds. “A Prize Wheel was a fair way to offer larger and smaller prizes. In addition, the promotion had to be turnkey and simple enough for each branch to execute with a small staff and fluctuating workloads.”
Anecdotally, Juarez says that across the board, the event has been a success. “The results aren’t in yet, but we have had hundreds of participants and a significant influx of coins since we started,” she says.
Kenneally points out: “Banks really need to think through their options when finding a program that works best for their particular bank.”
When looking into programs that encourage coin circulation for your bank, consider the following:
- Are you targeting consumers or businesses? And if you have a consumer-facing program, does someone have to be an existing customer to participate?
- Can your bank support lobby traffic given your state’s current COVID-19 guidelines?
- Will appointments be necessary?
- How will you accept coins—loose or rolled—and what safety protocols should participants use?
- How will you communicate about your campaign?
- What type of program (incentives, charity, coin drive) will resonate best within your community to bring in coins?
As the U.S. Coin Task Force continues to build its list of recommendations to #GetCoinMoving, Kenneally acknowledges that they have already seen improvements. “The Fed has increased its allocation to banks over the past few weeks,” he says. “That’s a step in the right direction.”
Beth Tancredi is a New Jersey-based writer whose focus is financial services, advertising technology, healthcare and the media.