Whether they support the Bank of England's (BoE) decision to introduce new bank notes or not, the UK's retailers are preparing their cash management systems for the imminent arrival of the new polymer £5 which is set to begin roll-out on 13 September.

The sandwich chain Eat is readying itself for the changes to UK sterling by following a dedicated internal strategy that it hopes will help ensure a smooth transition when consumers start paying with and receiving change made up of the new-look notes.

Martin Harris, cash controller at the retailer, which operates 117 outlets across the UK mainly located in London and the south-east, says the process has involved getting its cash-counting equipment ready for the change, investing time in staff training, and making provisions for the potential customer confusion when the new notes are circulated.

"We're also planning to display an in-shop electronic message to our customers during the week of the introduction, to make our customers aware of the changes and to avoid slowing queuing times," he explained.

Harris added: "Although 60% of our business is transacted by card, our sector is still handling large numbers of cash transactions.

"We also dispense a significant amount of £5 notes and £1 coins as change, so a lot of customers' first contact with the new fiver could be in one of our cafes."

Eat's cash management partner is Cashmaster International, which has created and distributed to its partners a 'Be Polymer Ready' upgrade pack, which offers guidance on updating their technology to be ready for the new notes. The software update by Cashmaster also means its devices will be suitable to handle the new 12-sided one pound coin which is due for launch in March 2017.

The new polymer notes are smaller than the existing paper versions, and the Bank of Engand unveiled them earlier this year saying they have greater durability, estimating them to last between three and five times longer than the notes currently in circulation. They include various new security features, which the banks says makes them more difficult to counterfeit.

Although the Bank clearly has its reasons for introducing the new notes – and other denominations will be changed over to the polymer material in the coming years – there are estimates that the process could be an expensive one for merchants up and down the UK.

Brendan Doyle, CEO of payments consultancy CMS Payments Intelligence, who has been a vocal campaigner against the new notes, says the costs associated with introducing the new notes into circulation outweigh the benefits highlighted by the Bank.

"Long ago, criminals switched their attention to electronic fraud, so the £5 million worth of annual counterfeit cash pales in comparison to the £236 million burden polymer will place on the economy," he stated earlier this year.

"It seems to me that the BoE is trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist."

Other vendors operating in the UK retail sector have suggested the story is indicative of the vital role cash still plays in the economy, despite the exponential rise in digital payment methods and the continued popularity of debit and credit card payments over the last few years.

Gordon McKie, CEO of Cashmaster International, which has worked closely with companies such as Eat in the months since the Bank's polymer strategy was confirmed, said: "Up and down the country businesses are preparing for the roll-out of polymer notes. It's likely to be one of the key changes facing the UK retail sector this year and beyond.

"Handling cash efficiently is the lifeblood of retailers of all sizes. Effective cash management allows retailers' staff to spend more time with customers and underpins store security and profitability. The number of banks planning to offer polymer is gathering at pace and retailers need to act now to ensure they are ready for the changes."

Meanwhile, in related news, Essential Retail has learnt that Eat is searching for a new chief financial officer (CFO) after Strahan Wilson left the business this week. Following two and a half years with the company, Wilson has taken the role of CFO at high street restaurant chain Côte Restaurants.

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Cashmaster International