x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Great UAE mystery of the disappearing fils

Where do all the little fils go? Nobody, the Central Bank included, seems to know.

There are Dh7m worth of small coins in circulation ... but where are they?
There are Dh7m worth of small coins in circulation ... but where are they?

ABU DHABI // It's the Dh7 million question nobody can answer: where have all the small fils gone?

Rounding up bills that feature 1, 5 or 10 fils is common in shops and supermarkets. Most customers accept it as one of life's little annoyances, although experts say it costs shoppers Dh41m a year.

And while the Government insists there is no need to tolerate it - shops are legally obliged to offer correct change - retailers say they have no choice, and blame the Central Bank for inadequate supply.

But the Central Bank is adamant there are plenty of small-value coins in circulation: as of last month, three million 1 fils, nearly 40 million 5 fils and 45 million 10 fils coins, worth nearly Dh7m in total.

So where are they all?

Rasid Al Fandy, the bank's general director of banking operations and minting, said that if shops were short of the coins it was because they weren't asking for them.

He suggested this reflected a lack of demand from consumers.

Shoppers, he said, "tend to ignore" whether they received the correct change, which discouraged retailers from counting and sorting small coins, as the effort involved was "not worth it".

"Maybe the cost of doing this is more than the value of the service of having the coins," he suggested.

If retailers don't ask their banks for the coins, said Mr Al Fandy, the banks have no reason to approach the Central Bank for more.

Chiraz Labidi, a finance professor at UAE University, agreed that the attitudes of retailers was partly to blame. Such places "want to get rid of the coins, as they know people will not bother asking for them", she said.

But she also said that there must not be enough of the coins in circulation.

"If there are, where can we find them?," she asked. "Not in the banks or the supermarkets."

The coins are also rarely seen in charity boxes, usually a rich source of coins of lower denominations.

Dubai Islamic Bank said it always had sufficient supply of the coins to meet demand, but demand was low.

According to the bank's spokesman, it would approach the Central Bank for the coins "should the need arise".

HSBC also said they had a "ready supply" of the coins for their customers "as they are required", but a spokesman also noted that keeping low denomination coins in circulation was "a challenge in any market" as the demand for the coins "fluctuates month by month".

Mr Al Fandy admitted he could not remember when the coins were last minted, but said it was done only when there was a need for them.

"We have enough at the moment, but when we go below a certain number, we will have to mint them again," he said. He said he expected the bank to do so next year.

Mr Al Fandy was not able to say how much minting the coins cost because the price of copper fluctuates.

"Tomorrow will be different from today's value; you cannot monitor it," he said.

The price of copper has risen by 4.8 per cent this year and at the moment is Dh27.19 a tonne.

However, he said this had no effect, as the Central Bank's role was "to mint these coins, regardless of the price".

Others point out that the disappearance of the coins need not be a reason to mourn.

Yahia Mahmood, a history professor at UAEU and an expert on coins, said the coins decreased in value as the population's quality of life increased.

He said it was not long ago that the small fils coins were widely used.

"Now, nothing is being sold for less than Dh1, so there is no need to use the small ones," he said.

He said as the population's quality of life continued to improve the coins would fade further from view.

"No one can say where they have disappeared to," he said.

molson@thenational.ae