With the change of top management at the Royal Mint this year, the 1,100-year-old institution is in transition as it looks to diversify activities and services away from just traditional coin production. There has been a significant change to numismatics from the products alone in terms of production and design, circulation coins, marketing, theme and concept, the range of products, and of course. . . cost. Ultimately, the continued existence of the Royal Mint — or any mint — will depend on providing the right products and services to a buying public who want what the Royal Mint provides, and it is this transition we are currently witnessing. This change is occurring all in the name of profitability, which many mints must realise if they are to continue, least of all in their role as a supplier of the nation’s circulation coins in the face of a growing trend of electronic means of payment for daily purchases.
Anne Jessop joined the Royal Mint with an impressive CV that included experience in human resources and manufacturing for blue-chip companies ranging from Proctor & Gamble to Rolls Royce. She has been with the Royal Mint since 2008 and in September 2015 she was named as the director of the Commemorative Coin Department which she held until her appointment as CEO when the British Treasury made the announcement in February this year.
Ultimately, the Royal Mint, as with many other national and private mints, faces many challenges ahead as it looks to adapt to the conditions prevailing on the ground. As a result, collectors may see their logo on other products and services not previously associated with the expressed function of coining money, which is already underway. If the Royal Mint is to continue as an entity and not suffer the same fate as that of several other noted European mints, different directions in terms of business models are going to have to be considered or explored. This, of course, should not interfere with the core function of the beloved millennium-old institution.
MA: The last time we spoke in 2016 at the World Money Fair in Berlin, you were recently appointed head of the collector/commemorative coins division, I think it was your first chance to meet collectors face to face and get firsthand feedback from them. They can sometimes be overwhelming with excited and enthusiastic collectors, which I can include myself in this description on occasion.
AJ: It’s really important to actually meet collectors. Often, you’re in an office and you’re thinking about what people will want but actually meeting them and really listening and understanding that there are different sorts of collectors and the Berlin show is absolutely fantastic to do that. These types of encounters really spark off some of the thoughts in my mind about our collector services. In discussions with yourself and other collectors, I come to understand that there are some people who want to buy commemorative coins and then some people who really want to collect maybe historic coins and less packaging. I remember we talked about some products not being packaged and that was one of the things that started us thinking about actually introducing our collector services business which is selling historic coins. It’s this sort of discussion with collectors that I think is so important to keep us grounded about what our customers really want.
MA: There have been so many events at the Royal Mint since we last spoke, from the opening of the Visitor’s Centre, the Royal Mint Experience, to the many coin series and programmes which have really caught the attention of the coin-collecting public. I’d like to ask, “Is the Royal Mint aware that there have been so many new members of the public who have taken up coin collecting?” It seems as though the mint may be a victim of their own success when the e-webshop crashes after a product is launched and ultimately a lot of potential customers are left disappointed when they can’t buy what they’re after
AJ: There are two parts to your question there, first, the website crash occurred with Beatrix Potter and the A to Z 10-Pence Set and what we have started to do is each time we’ve launched something and think might really be successful, we carry out a lot of work in terms of what could make the website crash, what could go wrong, and how this scenario might let our customers down. When there are times when we’re selling out a particular item and people on our team are saying “Oh, it’s great news,” however, I’m saying “Well, it’s not great news” if we’re letting customers down and that has been our big focus in the organisation about how we can make sure that we don’t let customers down.
It’s been our absolute strategy to try and create more coin collectors because we think it’s a fantastic hobby. People are collecting coins from their change, both children and family collections, and really bringing people together. Adults and their children may be collecting now, the children may not continue for a couple of years but when they become adults, they begin again and we’re aware of some real-life examples of those scenarios. What this all means is that we have had a couple of times when we could not predict how successful something would’ve been until the time when it’s launched.
What advice I can offer for when we do have limited mintages, is to make sure you register your interest which we do include on the website, and then we’ll always go back to the people who’ve already registered their interest ahead of a campaign that we’re launching. We have been working on our system and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that this won’t happen again when we have 20,000 people going onto the website. I don’t think any website can scale up for that amount of traffic, but not being successful to make a purchase is absolutely no good at all.
MA: The popularity of the Beatrix Potter coins took everyone by surprise and I suspect the programme was inadvertently expanded to include the last four characters this year. The recent Paddington Bear series, the latest James Cook and RAF £2 series and more importantly the project of the A to Z 10-pence coins took a lot of collectors by surprise. How did this set come about? Who’s idea was this? I’d like to give them credit where it’s due.
AJ: I’d say the A to Z set it was a team idea. We wanted to put something together that would allow people to collect out of their change and that’s why we chose the 10-pence denomination because we appreciate people can’t always take a pound or two pounds out of their change because this inevitably becomes expensive. We wanted to celebrate British life and we as a team thought that across the world people have launched other programmes which included a large number of coins and we, as a team, got together and came up with this idea and we’re really pleased with it. It’s gone incredibly well and got people talking about coins and that was a primary goal — for people to talk about coins.
MA: I think it has created new collectors in the same way the United States did with the 25-cent State quarters coins, though I’ve not seen a single 10-pence coin in circulation myself. I have heard repeatedly that one of the frustrations with new collectors is that they “can’t find the coins in circulation” and have to buy packaged pieces from coin distributors at an increased price. With the success of the Royal Australian Mint and their arrangement with Woolworth’s which functions as a supermarket in Australia to distribute collector coin sets — would this be something the Royal Mint might consider?
AJ: As you’ll appreciate, the Treasury approves circulation coins which have a commemorative design, they order them from the Royal Mint and they tell us how many can be placed in circulation. I think as coins are ordered less in the future, there may be different ways that we can work on having different types of sets and how we can get them out to interested collectors. This is something that Nicola Howell’s (Director of Consumer Business) team is working on, she has taken over from me in the collector coins division and whether that includes a supermarket for instance as a direct point of sales, I can’t say, but it’s very much about thinking of different solutions.
Going back to the A to Z set, and listening to collector’s comments about packaging, when collectors ordered the coins directly from the mint, we didn’t use a lot of packaging which resulted in the least expensive option that was really quite reasonable. I think there are different ways we can think about that alternative in going forward.
MA: With those successes, there are the projects which haven’t been as popular and I hear plenty of criticism about “too many products” and “far too expensive” in terms of just the base metal items, not to mention the gold and silver issues. I think there have already been five or six £5 crown coins issued so far this year and the most recent £5 crown is in celebration the 70th birthday of the Prince of Wales. Quite simply, are so many products really good for the Royal Mint?
AJ: We’ve talked about a number of different types of customers as I mentioned earlier during our interview and quite simply if we want to create more coin collectors, we need to appeal to different types of customers and they have different interests. It’s very similar if you had a retail outlet or a business and you have only two or three sorts of ranges. Because we have many different sorts of customers, that’s how we’re thinking and it is really important to us because if we appeal to a collector who’s got a specific interest, for instance, someone who has bought a Beatrix Potter coin, they may not buy from the Queen’s Beasts range or a royalty-themed coin. With a very limited range, we either say “goodbye” to that collector or let’s create a lifetime collector and as you go through life, your interests may also change. You may want to buy from a variety of the different ranges.
There are some people who may not want to buy anything during a particular year. Probably what we need to do is try and almost signal what can be in collections because I think collectors sometimes get fraught if they can’t acquire the whole collection for the year. What we could do to help with that is almost put a collection within a collection so that as a customer of Royal Mint coins, please feel that it’s OK if you’ve only got five coins issued during the year, don’t feel fraught that you’ve not bought the 10 coins that include Beatrix Potter if it’s not really your interest.
MA: At the same time, quite a few collector’s I’ve spoken with and including myself were terribly disappointed that there were no coins to mark the 50th anniversary of the first striking and issue of the decimal 5 and 10 new pence coins from 1968 and with the 50th anniversary of the iconic seven-sided 50-pence coin coming up next year, will there at least be a collector coin to mark this numismatic event next year?
AJ: I’m sure you know that the Royal Mint Advisory Committee decides what themes to look at and in particular years, there are lots of things that they choose between and therefore, this particular anniversary wasn’t chosen. But, we are going to actually have a historic coin set that’s part of our Historics line which launches in the near future so great feedback on your part, and never say never regarding the 50-pence coin anniversary.
MA: Regarding bullion, there has been quite a success with Royal Mint Bullion services from the production of bars and coins as well as the storage of buyers own reserves and now the Royal Mint’s brokering of vintage and rare coins. But, the core of this and most mints is the production of circulation coins, what does the mint believe is the long-term future of coins bearing in mind much of the public are moving to electronic payments. Do coins still have a future and is there a contingency plan in place?
AJ: Yes, we do see a decline in circulating coins happening and we see it also declining in some of the countries across the world but it’s actually increasing in some other countries across the world. So in the long term, circulating coin is going to decline. But how quickly, to what level, and when it’s going to happen — if only I had a crystal ball — we just don’t know.
Over time, we know it’s going to be on the downward decline but as the Royal Mint’s been here for 1,100 years and we’ve only existed for all this time because we’ve changed as things have changed in society. Therefore, we need to change and develop and it really is our aim to reinvent ourselves for the 21st century and make sure that we can develop and still be here at the end of the century. That’s why you’ll see us going into new business areas developing, for instance, the collector services mentioned earlier.
MA: When you say new business areas, do you mean away from coins? What kind of business areas?
AJ: For instance, on-site here we have a vault, but we also have a new safety deposit centre which is I think one of the most secure in the UK, we’ve got a number of new business opportunities in our precious metal area. In October, we also launched our gifting business that sells gifts aligned to the Royal Mint. A few of them may be linked with coins but a number of them won’t and will have to do with precious metal or celebrating our art collection which has grown over the years and we see that expanding significantly, we’ve got a number of other areas that we’re looking at as well. But as you know, coins are at our heart, so what we’re trying to do is to think about what are the opportunities ahead and what people really value from us, and that is our trust, our authenticity, our quality, our beautiful art, and craftsmanship. The fact that we’re really British means the gifts will be and that also means we will make some here but the gifts that we don’t make here on-site will be sourced from British-crafted businesses.
MA: With all this in mind, is it still profitable for the mint to continue the production of one-penny and two-pence coins? I take it this is ultimately the decision of the Treasury but the public uses these denominations very infrequently and the Bank of England have recently voiced some comment on the subject.
AJ: You’re absolutely right, it is the Treasury’s decision about the pennies and I know recently at the Trial of the Pyx our finance minister confirmed that actually, the pennies would be carrying on and it is still profitable to mint them. I think a lot of people still feel affection for the penny, I guess that’s why the minister made this decision.
MA: As “the boss” is there a specific project you would like to see carried out at the Royal Mint during your tenure? Are you looking to implement either a numismatic or other project. And if so, what might this be?
AJ: For me, it’s really about “How do I help the Royal Mint reinvent itself for the 21st century?” How do we develop new businesses that customers really want and the collector services as I mentioned? We started it about 18 months ago, it’s on schedule and performing really well. An increase of new customers, we’re starting our first auction, the gifting business, and really, the other businesses to come.
MA: I usually wrap up my interviews by asking my guest if they are coin collectors, as the Chief Executive of the Royal Mint, can you can share with my readers if you are indeed a coin collector or have become one?
AJ: I am one of the coin collectors who buy Beatrix Potter and I loved the coin issued to mark the representation of the People Act, which granted voting rights to women which was issued earlier in the year, and what I tend to buy is something that I think is really beautiful. I’m not a collector insofar as I’ve got to have all of this or all of that, but I tend to buy coins that I really think are beautiful. I do buy for my great nephew as I’m trying to get him into coin collecting and bought him the A to Z set the other day.
MA: Your great-nephew is very lucky to have a relative so close to the “top position” in the Royal Mint, as a coin collector, I’m quite envious! That’s our interview concluded, Anne Jessopp, Chief Executive of the Royal Mint, thank you very much for your time today.
AJ: Thank you, it’s been great.
My thanks go to Nicola Howell, Director of Consumer Business, Sara Templar, Executive Assistant to Anne Jessopp, CEO, and Alyson Ridley, PA, Consumer Business Director, for their kind assistance and behind the scenes preparations which made my interview possible. It is greatly appreciated.