Bank of England issues new £20 polymer note as cashless payments rise

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The Bank of England issued a new polymer £20 note into general circulation at a time when consumers are increasingly eschewing cash in favor of digital payments.

The £20 note is made from a plastic-like polymer that the Bank of England considers to be its most secure cash note ever. The note includes two see-through windows and a two-color foil which makes it more difficult to counterfeit.

The Bank of England predicts that half of all ATMs across the U.K. will be dispensing the note within two weeks.

“Moving the £20 note to polymer marks a major step forward in our fight against counterfeiting. I am very grateful to everyone across the cash industry who has made this transition possible and I hope the public enjoy using their new Turner £20s,” said Sarah John, chief cashier at the Bank of England, in a press release.

The release of the new note is the first one to have John’s signature since she joined the Bank of England in this role in June 2018.

The image on one side of the note is a self-portrait of the famous British artist J.M.W. Turner, painted circa 1799. The opposite face of the note features a portrait of the queen of England, whose image adorns all of the British notes but varies in color based on the value of the note.

The new British note comes at a time when many consumers in the U.K. and across the globe are moving their everyday payments to mobile phones and contactless cards. In 2018, British consumers reached the tipping point where half of all in-store transactions were conducted using contactless forms such as cards or mobile devices.

Many politicians fear that the trend toward digital payments will hurt unbanked and low-income underbanked consumers. As a result, some U.S. cities and states have enacted cashless bans or proposed bills to do so in places like in New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Despite the move to a cashless economy in the U.K., the Bank of England reported that the amount of cash used and in circulation is double the amount in 2020 as it was 10 years ago.

There are over 2 billion paper £20 notes currently in circulation and the Bank of England reported that it will provide six months’ notice ahead of its withdrawing the paper note from legal tender status. Banks, the Post Office as well as the Bank of England will accept old notes in exchange for new ones.

The £20 polymer note joins two other British polymers notes currently in circulation — the Sir Winston Churchill £5 and the Jane Austen £10 notes. A new £50 note featuring Alan Turing will be issued next year.

In an effort to drive consumer awareness of the new £20 polymer note, the Bank of England has worked with Snapchat to create a lens or filter that allows the public to see their cash in a new dimension through augmented reality.

Other security features of the £20 note include a silver foil patch with a 3-D image of the coronation crown, a purple foil patch containing the letter T and based on the staircase at the Tate Museum, and a metallic hologram which changes between the words Twenty and Pounds when the note is tilted. There is also an ultraviolet inked numeral 20 that appears at the top of the note in green and red.

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Cash Fraud prevention Bank of England U.K.
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