Have you seen a one-fils coin lately? A five-fils or even a 10-fils piece? If you have seen it, chances are you have given it little attention. These coins are of slight use to anyone - few shop clerks want to be paid with a mountain of tiny coins, they are awkward to transport in quantity, retailers must make extra effort to obtain stocks of them, and they're so small that they're easily lost. The time has come for the UAE to phase them out.
As The National reports today, most stores round off prices ending in say, 22 or 67 fils, to the nearest quarter- or half-dirham amount. The UAE Central Bank insists that small coins are available, and no doubt they are, but few retailers have much interest in using them.
Some shoppers fret that stores seem to round amounts only in their own favour, and our report includes the striking news that if each UAE resident forfeits 10 fils a week this way - a plausible assumption - then grocery stores alone are taking in an unearned Dh41 million a year.
But in the context of the UAE's Dh28.3 billion annual grocery bill, that Dh41 million is a minuscule fraction of one per cent. If stores stopped profiting this way they would need only to raise a price or two by a dirham or two to recoup the loss. And how much longer would we all stand in cash-register queues, already exercises in appreciating the meaning of eternity, while cashiers and customers fiddled with tiny coins?
Small coins are also costly to produce, so that some countries are moving away from them, now that minting each one costs more than its face value. Canada for example is doing away with its one-cent coin, worth about 37 fils; abolishing the three smallest coins in this country would still leave us with 25-fils and 50-fils units.
After all, doing away with the smallest coins is properly understood as part of a broader change in the very nature of money. Plain old cash is losing market share around the world, as credit and debit cards, services such as PayPal, and other forms of electronic transactions become more and more prominent - including at the grocery store.
In all transactions of those types, prices down to the last fils would not have to change; only cash transactions would be affected.
Small coins have, so to speak, dwindling currency. They're more trouble than they're worth, and the time has come to phase them out.