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Small change

According to Saturday's SCMP (subscription required), shops are now reluctant to accept small change because the banks charge them so much for depositing coins.  If you try to pay with 10 cent or 20 cent coins they will not be happy. 

A South China Morning Post reporter who tried to pay for a HK$2.50 steamed cake at a Quarry Bay bakery with a HK$2 coin and three 20-cent coins was told the shop had not accepted small coins since last year.

"You can give me HK$3, and I can give you 50 cents' change instead," the saleswoman said.

I have to say that this sounds quite bizarre.  If an item costs HK$2.50, then surely the shop has to accept HK$2.60 and give change.  If they refused to accept my HK$2.60, I'd walk out of the shop.

In October last year, HSBC imposed a service charge of 2 per cent of the value of deposits of 500 or more coins, with the minimum fee for 500 coins being HK$50.  Bank of China (Hong Kong) charges HK$1 for every HK$20 in 10-cent or 20-cent coins deposited, and the same for every HK$50 in other coins.

Funnily enough, I remember a time (maybe 9 years ago?) when there was a big fuss about the shortage of small change. According to the SCMP, this problem goes back a few years:

Back in the 1970s there was a shortage of the tiny coins because people hoarded them to have the exact change for newly installed cash boxes on buses. Before that they had been able to buy a ticket from the conductor and get change.

"People needed a lot of 10-cent coins but the government had not made enough," coin collector Cheng Po-hung said. "The bus fare was about 70 to 80 cents and people had to prepare the exact amount to put in the box. People fought for 10-cent coins. Some restaurants even gave 10-cent stamps for change because there just weren't enough coins."

Mind you, 10 cents was worth rather more in the 1970s.

These days, most people use an Octopus card to pay fares on public transport, and increasingly in 7-11 and other retail outlets.  I suppose that it's actually cheaper for the retailer to accept payment by Octopus than to take cash, and it's easier than messing about with coins, so what's not to like about it?

I remember that Visa tried to launch a card for micro-payments, but I don't think it ever caught on. Octopus came at it from a different direction - once everyone had got used to using it for public transport they extended it to 7-11 and beyond, and now you can automatically add value from your credit card account when the stored value goes negative.  I think it's very clear who has won that battle (in Hong Kong, at least).

Meanwhile, the hot story on the TV news at the weekend was that some people had tried to add value to their Octopus cards using EPS, and although the transaction had failed their bank accounts had still been debited.  Cable TV even despatched a reporter to Kowloon Tong station to talk about this big story.  Except that there were only two reported cases, and both had received refunds. 

Comments

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Vince Loden

Have you got their price list?

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