Why did banks get rid of their coin counters?

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, my dad opened a savings account for me at a small bank within walking distance of my house. He put $100 in the account and the nice bank manager gave me a free red plastic piggy bank with the Fox Chase Bank logo on it. Since that day I’ve been putting nearly all my coins into that transparent red pig, watching the pig fill to the top, then taking the now-very-heavy thing to the bank down the street to deposit them.

I tell this story all the time. I brag about my nearly-all-coins savings account and how one day I am going to use this savings account to buy something extravagant. Like a boat. Or an island. Who knows? It’s not a rainy-day fund, it’s a sunny-day fund.

But then disaster struck. Yesterday when I took my coins to the bank I was told by the teller that the bank, which was recently acquired by Univest, had gotten rid of its coin counter this summer. With much bitterness I told her that free coin counting was the only bank service I actually used. I don’t think I’ve made a single withdraw in the 14+ years.

What to do? Go to CoinStar? They charge 11.9% to turn coins into cash. No thank you. This morning I’ve been researching banks that have free coin counting. I found this list on mybanktracker.com, but most of the banks are very far away, or do not answer their phone. So I’m left to my only option, rolling the coins myself and depositing them at the bank. Tedious, but I’ll do it while watching TV or listening to a podcast.

This sad and rambling story leads me to my question: Why have banks eliminated their coin counters? In my online research, I’ve come to a few main reasons:

  1. Inaccuracies. Last year the Today Show did an investigative report on coin-counting machines that found that the penny arcades at banks were short changing customers. While CoinStar machines were accurate, the ones at TD Bank weren’t. In one case, a TD Bank machine was off by $43 on a $300 coin deposit- that’s 14%, a bigger fee than at CoinStar!
  2. Class Action Law Suit. After the Today Show report, a class action law suit was filed against TD Bank. Anyone who had used the machines since April 2010 was eligible to join. In the end, the bank ended up having to pay out $9 million dollars. Understandably, TD Bank then removed the penny arcades from all its branches. PNC removed its machines and released this statement in April 2016: “PNC made the decision, effective last Wednesday (4/13), to take all of our remaining in-branch coin counting machines out of service. PNC began the process of phasing out in-branch coin counters last year for a variety of reasons, including low customer use. In addition, we have taken recent media reports, calling into question the accuracy of coin counters in the industry, very seriously.”
  3. Declining use. As PNC said in their statement, use of the coin-counting machines has been on a decline. Some experts cite less foot traffic in physical bank branches. In the early 2000s coin machines got a popular serge when Commerce bank used them as a promotion. The coin-counting service was free and came with a perk- users who could guess how much money they’d just deposited within a certain margin got a small prize. This was a marketing strategy to try and sell the coin-counting machine users on other services from the bank. Now people just don’t go to the bank as often, most banking can be done online.

So it seems that despite my annoyance, banks had good reason to get rid of the machines. They weren’t just costing money in electricity and maintenance, they were cost millions in lawsuits as well. We coin-saving people must go back to rolling our coins into those little paper sleeves by hand. In their piece on the issue, Bankrate.com reported that not too many people would really miss the machines.

They won’t be missed, much. That makes sense to Ron Shevlin, director of research at Cornerstone Advisors, a financial services consulting firm. He says it all comes down to one question for the bank: “How many people are we really going to tick off if we don’t bring these machines back?” His guess is, not many. “I’m not saying that the need for these things goes away; it’s just I’ve got to believe that the percentage of customers who are going to be affected by this is minimal,” Shevlin says.

If my lonely voice counts for anything, I’ll say it now: I will miss you, free coin-counting machine. 

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