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India's Cash Journey

Nowadays when you arrive at Mumbai airport the first thing you notice when you hit the tarmac is the new passenger terminal officially opened by India’s PM in January. Having travelled to India on numerous occasions in the last two decades I feel that this is a welcome addition to the city’s infrastructure. I’m sure that the roads which lead to and from the airport will also be improved soon – hopefully removing the bottleneck that tends to form at the most inopportune moments, like when you’re rushing for a last minute flight for example! 

If ever there was a symbol of India’s accelerating prosperity, then Mumbai’s airports’ new terminal is definitely it. In these past 20 years I’ve noticed massive changes across India in terms of infrastructure and technology investment – very much living up to tagline of the tourist boards’ latest adverts: incredible India.

When I think back to my first visit to India it was a very different experience. I met a branch manager who was the very picture of ecstasy as he had received two machines that day: the branch’s very first computer and its very first currency counter. Today, with around 140,000 ATMs now installed, India has clearly come a long way since then.

The cash cycle in India has changed too under the stewardship of the Reserve Bank - providing a good example of how long term planning by regulators can pay dividends. As a result of their work, the rupee is now a cleaner, more secure currency that reflects the changes India has gone through and supports the economy.

From the addition of paper capacity for the printing of notes, through to implementation of a ban on the practice of stapling bundles of notes together (try stapling 100 rupee banknotes now – not easy) and then the gradual, methodical and planned automation of the cash cycle, India’s currency is now in a good place.

The RBI leads the way having adopted currency sorters for its currency chests, desktop currency devices for the many thousands of smaller currency chests of vaults, and it is now instrumental in ensuring that the majority of the 100,000 or so bank branches across the country have the right tools for authentication and desktop sorting of banknotes. This, which has been a mammoth project to realise, is something which I and my fellow cash management professionals have been working on in India for some time.

And this brings me full-circle to my reason for being in India in the first place: to attend a trade fair and present at a conference on cash. Speaking alongside the Secretary of Finance it was a great opportunity to focus on the use of technology to bring about better customer experience as well how providers are tailoring technologies for the Indian environment. I also spent a lot of time talking with customers and other vendors keen to know the secret of how to be successful in India: the answer? The right people with the best localised solutions and support behind them.

Funnily enough, whilst I was in Mumbai the RBI announced that a series of notes last printed in 2005 would be withdrawn from circulation by 31.03.2014.  A wise move, this will help to purge the system of any suspect notes and more than likely prompt a rush of deposits and perhaps a mini consumer boom as money emerges from mattresses. This being so, it’s clear that whilst India’s work on the cash cycle has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, as its economy continues to grow the work of cash management is never finished.


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