The process begins when the Federal Reserve places their annual order with the U.S. Mint for coins and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for currency. Like any organization that deals with inventory, the Federal Reserve will estimate its order based on a projection of demand.
Inventory management for the Federal Reserve requires them to know how much currency is in circulation, how much will be required based on world-wide economic factors, and what would be required to replace the current currency supply. Since the Federal Reserve ships U.S. currency world wide, especially the $100 Federal Reserve Notes, someone has to project what the world is going to demand based on economic factors that it has no participation in.
Not only does the Federal Reserve has to track the amount of money in circulation but they also have to account for the different denominations in order to replace torn and worn notes. For instance, it was once estimated that 90-percent of the order for $1 Federal Reserve Notes were delivered to replace worn notes in circulation.
Once the order is placed by the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing work to fulfill that order. The U.S. Mint strikes the coins and has they placed in one-ton ballistic bags for delivery. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing bundles the currency in packs. Multiple packs make a brick. Bricks are then piled on pallets that are used for delivery.
From Philadelphia and Denver, the coin bags are loaded onto secured trucks and transferred to the Federal Reserve for distribution. A similar transfer happens at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington and Fort Worth where the pallets are shipped to the Federal Reserve.
Although there may be a few warehouses and other distribution processes involved, the coins and currency are shipped to one of 26 “cash rooms” around the country based on need. These cash rooms are special warehouses operated by the Federal Reserve branch that store the physical currency before being distributed to the member banks.Since the New York Federal Reserve Bank processes currency orders for overseas shipping, they order the most currency of the 12 regional banks. San Francisco provides banking services for Alaska, Hawaii, and other transactions throughout the Pacific Rim, orders the second most amount of currency.
Before currency can enter circulation, a member bank places an order with the Federal Reserve. It is then delivered to them from the closest cash room with the appropriate inventory necessary to fulfill the order.
Your personal bank is like the corner store in the ordering system. When the shelves are bare or threatening to go bare, they order the inventory of currency they need. The corner bank just do not order money from the Federal Reserve. Banking companies work on behalf of their branches to manage inventory. The big bank may have their own cash management operations that help ensure that they not only have the appropriate amount of currency available but they do not have too much in storage. Like product inventories, idle money is not good for business.
Many banks hire logistics companies to help with the flow of their currency inventory. These companies are the ones driving the armored trucks you see around town that delivers currency on order. While these logistic companies are registered currency distribution services and have permits to pick up inventory from the Federal Reserve cash rooms on behalf of the member banks, they also provide storage and delivery services.
Although your corner bank has a vault, each banking company limits the amount of currency they keep on site because of security concerns. When they need additional currency or have an excess that needs to be stored, they call the logistics company to physically move the inventory.These logistics company do not take the currency and put it on the shelf until the bank calls back and asks for it to be returned. If a bank deposits a bag of quarters with the logistics company but another bank asks for bags of quarters, that bag could be transferred to another bank. Banks may order currency from the Federal Reserve or smaller banks from other cooperating banks, the logistics companies fulfill the orders from existing stock before accessing new stock.
Depending on how fast the currency is needed to circulate by your corner bank, existing currency can circulate through the logistics processing center long before the new inventory is placed into circulation.
During the recent downturn in the economy, the banks’ inventories of coins increased as people emptied jars, jugs, and bottles of coins for necessities. As the coins were returned to the bank the inventories rose beyond what they needed for circulation reducing the requirement for the banks to order more coins from the Federal Reserve. This is why it was not surprising that many people did not see current year coins until as early as April.
It is more difficult to gauge when currency reaches circulation unless there is a change in the series designation. The Series of a note is the date followed by a letter indicating that there is a change, usually to the autograph of the Treasurer or the Secretary of the Treasury. Although there is no rule, the Series date changes with an administration and the letter is added and changes as the autographs changes. Sometimes, the series date changes with the design of the currency. These are recent conventions and not the rule. All printing and design decisions are made by the Federal Reserve, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the U.S. Secret Service as a team.
If you want to know when the 2016 coins will reach circulation, the answer is “I don’t know.” Considering the economy is in better shape than in years past, money continues to circulate, and the U.S. Mint has produced more coins in a single year than any other in its history, if you have not seen a 2016 coin in your pocket change soon, then my best guess will be in mid-February—if the weather holds up!
- Eccles Building image courtesy of the Federal Reserve.
- Federal Reserve Bank of New York building courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
- Image of the Federal Reserve Bank Baltimore Coin Room courtesy of NPR.
- Image of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank Cash Operations courtesy of Glassdoor.com.
- Armored vehicle image courtesy of Prinéa.