The making of ‘The Future of Money’: behind-the-scenes of our new exhibition

Read our blog to get the behind-the-scenes details on our exhibition ‘The Future of Money’
This exhibition opens Wednesday 28 February 2024
Published on 23 February 2024

Blog

Jennifer Adam, Curator, Bank of England Museum

Why the Future of Money?

Money and the way we use it has changed in recent decades. Digital and contactless payments have transformed the way we handle money from day to day, and the demands on the systems that handle them. It’s the Bank of England’s job to keep looking ahead, to futureproof the economy. 

It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen in a few months or years and the Bank of England receives a lot of questions about what might be in store. 

So how did we put together an exhibition about the future? 

Curating an exhibition about the future can seem a bit counter-intuitive for a museum: we tend to collect artefacts from the past and present. But gathering these together shows how things have changed in recent years.

To create this exhibition we looked at questions received by the Bank’s enquiries team, at comments gathered during outreach work at the Bradford Science Festival and Citizens’ Forums, and from comment cards in our galleries. This gave us a glimpse into what you wanted to know about, which we then took to experts working on these issues at the Bank.  

So what are you asking? 

The new banknotes with a portrait of King Charles III. Copyright: Bank of England

You want to know what will happen to cash. Banknotes and coins are familiar, fast and convenient. And they’re essential for many people. In 2022, 1.1 million people in the UK were ‘unbanked’ - without access to a bank account or digital banking services, relying completely on cash. Cash also supports the independence of many people who find digital services hard to access. The number of cash transactions may have been overtaken by digital payments, but it remains the second most frequently-used method of payment. The Bank will make banknotes available as long as people need them, making sure they are a high-quality, trusted method of payment. The next development will be the issue of the new King Charles III banknotes – and this exhibition will be your first chance to see them, before they’re officially released.

 


Payment device. Bank of England Museum: 2023/019

You want to know the impact of new fintech (financial technology) innovations on your daily life. Technology will transform the way we do things in ways we can’t predict. When Londoners first started using Oyster cards to pay for transport in 2003, we probably didn’t expect the same technology would be responsible for a quarter of all payments in the UK within 20 years. When smartphones first came out, it was hard to imagine how ubiquitous they would become, and the dazzling array of apps we’d have to choose from – including fintech apps we now take for granted. Now, digital payments appear in all sorts of ways – even cash-based traditions, like giving lucky red-envelopes for Chinese New Year, can be done via an app.

You want to know what a digital pound actually is. Like many other central banks around the world, the Bank of England is currently researching central bank digital currency (CBDC). For the UK, this would be a digital pound – an electronic version of the banknotes issued by the Bank of England - to be used alongside physical cash. It would be a new way to pay, but would also allow for uses that haven’t been thought of yet. The digital pound is still in its early stages, so if the Bank does introduce it, it wouldn’t be for a few years. But creating the systems that will support innovation in the future, starts today.

A prototype bird feeder made with recycled banknotes. Bank of England Museum: 2019/031

And finally, you’re asking about sustainability. Today’s polymer banknotes can be recycled, and shifts towards renewable energy decrease the climate impact of digital payments. The Bank is targeting net zero by 2040, but there’s still work to do.

Visit our exhibition in the Bank of England Museum to find out more about these questions. Can’t visit in person? Visit the Future of Money exhibition webpage for an audio guide, online exhibition, and more.