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Canada converting currency from paper to plastic; polymer $100 bill issued

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Polymer bank notes last between twice and four times longer than paper bills, and are more secure from counterfeiters.

Credit and debit cards have long been considered to be "plastic money," but soon, standard currency bank notes may also be plastic as well. Canada has just started issuing polymer $100 denomination notes, and plans to make all of its paper currency plastic within the next two years.

Source: Bank of Canada

The $100 note features a portrait of Sir Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada between 1911 and 1920, on the front and celebrates Canada’s contributions to innovation in the field of medicine on the back.

A polymer $50 note will be issued in March 2012, and the $20 note will begin circulating in late 2012, followed by the $10 and $5 notes by the end of 2013.

Foiling counterfeiters is one benefit, but there are cost advantages as well. The Bank of Canada "established that polymer presented a unique opportunity to combine excellent resistance to counterfeiting with economy," BofC's Charles Spencer explains in an article issued by the bank. "The cost savings derive from polymer’s lower vulnerability to soiling and other forms of wear and tear. Polymer notes are expected to last much longer in circulation than conventional paper notes. Experience in other countries has varied—some claim that notes last at least four times longer—but the team estimated conservatively that in the Canadian environment the notes would last at least 2.5 times longer, on average, than their paper equivalents."

The new polymer bank notes include clear “windows” and stripes of holographic foil. The images on the foil, placed in a large vertical window, are large, brilliant and complex, and the details and colors can be seen clearly from both sides of the note. A second, smaller window contains a frosted area that, when viewed against a single-point light source, shows a circle of numbers matching the note’s value.

The new notes also carry features designed to be seen only by note-handling equipment to ensure that these machines can authenticate the notes.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure