Royal Canadian Mint – Looking to the Future of Coins

Marie Lemay joined the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) as its CEO in 2019. With nearly four years now under her belt, half of which were during COVID, Coin & Mint News spoke to her about how coins are circulated in Canada, design and the importance of numismatics, sustainability and plans for the next Mint Directors Conference, which the RCM is hosting this October in Ottawa.

Marie Lemay

Q: Looking back over the last couple of years, Canada seemed to have less issues with coin circulation than many other countries. Would you attribute this to the Mint’s data analytics and forecasting system?

A: The Mint manages Canada’s circulation coin ecosystem in collaboration with its partners from the National Coin Committee (NCC) (financial institutions and armoured car carriers), and leverages its proprietary software to obtain a real-time view of circulating coin inventories. With a keen focus on ESG, the Mint prioritizes the re- circulation of coins over the production of new coins.

Given the unique COVID-19 situation, there was no precedent for forecasting demand and deposit levels. New coin sales requirements depended on demand and deposit rates, which had variable outcomes. Fortunately, the Mint is well practiced in managing the full coin lifecycle, in fact, the best example is the phasing out of the penny.

The Mint’s capability to directly monitor the inventory of financial institutions across the nation increases its responsiveness and ability to move coins from regions in surplus to those where coins are urgently needed. The Mint develops its own production forecast, which directly influences production at its vertically integrated Winnipeg facility, this results in fast turnaround for newly minted coins if and when they are required.

Q: Following on from this, what is the Mint’s position on ensuring access to cash?

A: The Mint is more than just a coin manufacturer, it is mandated to both produce and distribute Canada’s circulation coinage. We continue to efficiently manage an entire ecosystem that is essential to supporting daily Canadian trade and commerce.

The Mint fulfills an important social responsibility in actively managing the national coin distribution system. We know that as e-payments continue to usher in a ‘cash-light’ future, the Mint has a duty to ensure coins are available to all Canadians, when and where they want or need them, and that includes the more vulnerable, cash-dependent groups of Canadians. These groups include the elderly, underbanked, BIPOC, those living in remote communities and new immigrants/ Canadians.

Q: Congratulations on winning two Coin of the Year (COTY) awards this year. Can you tell us a little about the process behind designing and minting these coins?

A: We are fortunate to have an incredible Product Development team that works year-round on researching themes, as well as collaborating with our R+D team, to create coins that tell the story of Canada in new and exciting ways. We have produced several gold and black rhodium-plated coins that produce a dramatic black and gold contrast and really brings our coin designs to life.

In the case of the 2021 $20 Fine Silver Coin – Black and Gold: The Grey Wolf, artist Claude Thivierge beautifully captured the feared and admired personality of a top Canadian predator in a yin and yang portrayal. The entire Black and Gold series has become a favourite of our customers.

For the other award, Bluenose’s 100th anniversary in 2021 gave the Mint the opportunity to celebrate in style. We re-imagined the Bluenose design with the help of Nova Scotia marine artist Yves Bérubé and added colour to our smallest circulating coin for the very first time.

Built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Bluenose was a fishing schooner that won the International Fishermen’s Race in its maiden year and remained undefeated for nearly 20 years. This icon of Canadian know-how had graced our 10 cent circulation coin since 1937 and we were thrilled to showcase the Mint’s know-how by demonstrating the precision of our own pad-printed colouring technology, which has attracted numerous foreign customers seeking a unique and unforgettable way to enhance their own commemorative circulation coins.

Q: How important is it to focus on the numismatics side of the industry, and bullion, in addition to circulating coins?

A: Through its bullion business, the Mint plays an important role in adding value to the domestic and international minting and financial industries. The precious metals portion of our business is also critical, seizing opportunities in a cyclical and volatile market. Today, we continue to focus on the agility that proved to be key to the Mint’s strong performance over the last two years.

Through its circulation and numismatic activities, the Mint commemorates and celebrates Canadian history, heritage, diversity and artistry. It is also a respected maker of medals honouring Canadians and their achievements, with clients including the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General of Canada and the Department of National Defence.

Q: Can you speak a little about any plans for updating the nation’s coinage, including the transitional effigy featured on the new $2?

A: For 70 years, Queen Elizabeth II gracefully served as Canada’s head of state. And, until her passing on 8 September 2022, she was the only sovereign many Canadians had ever known. This $2 circulation coin is a solemn tribute to Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022) that marks the end of a historic reign.

Like a mourning band, the black outer ring surrounds the polar bear design at the centre of the coin’s reverse. The same effect carries over to the obverse, which features the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II.

While we await the Government of Canada’s official announcement on a choice of design for the new obverse of Canadian coins, we have a team and process in place to implement their decision in a timely manner.

Q: How is the Mint considering sustainability as part of future plans to update circulating coins?

A: In spring 2022, the Mint developed its new ESG commitments and a roadmap for the organization, describing where the Mint should focus its ESG efforts, the specific actions and investments required to position the Mint as an industry leader in ESG, and the benefits and impacts of successful implementation.

Approved by the Mint’s Board of Directors in June 2022 and published in March of this year, our ESG commitment, which we call Minting with Care, focuses on three areas with clear goals, measurable outcomes and timelines for each.

The Mint’s commitment to investing in solutions that reduce our carbon footprint, improve waste diversion and minimize the environmental impact of our operations has big implications for our circulation coin business. We have, in fact, committed to making our Winnipeg facility carbon- neutral by 2030. Advances with geothermal technology are already contributing to the achievement of that goal, allowing warm water from deep within the expansive grounds surrounding the facility to be extracted and used in manufacturing operations, reducing natural gas and electricity consumption. Wells are being drilled and pipes are going in the ground as I speak.

We are strengthening our governance and accountability through responsible sourcing and manufacturing, which touches every single one of our business lines.

And, of course, diversity, equity and inclusion factor into our commitments. By committing to developing a healthy, safe and caring workplace for employees that is grounded in a culture of inclusion, our circulation products are socially responsible as well.

International circulation business customers can work with the Royal Canadian Mint knowing that they can secure not only the best combination of technology and service, but also deliver responsibly sourced and produced coins to their users.

Q: In addition, would you be able to speak a little on single-mine sourcing and the Responsible Metals Program?

A: In the precious metals space, responsibility comes with new expectations from customers for greater transparency in how metals are sourced and from where. Investors want to know they’re buying products created under fair environmental and social conditions.

These are expectations the Royal Canadian Mint is not taking lightly — and the proof is in the bullion. Last year, working in close partnership with Agnico Eagle, Canada’s largest miner of Canadian gold, the Mint created a first-of-its-kind bullion product from a confirmed single source: the Meliadine Gold Mine located in the Kivalliq District of Nunavut. Using a strict segregation protocol, the Mint refined the Meliadine gold to produce a commercial volume of $50 one-ounce, 99.99-percent pure Gold Maple Leaf (GML) coins.

Responsible sourcing is a cornerstone of the Mint’s new ESG Commitment, formally declared in 2022. That commitment sets out objectives and targets for environmental, social and governance performance across the organization, bringing ESG considerations to literally every Mint activity.

(Ed: more details about the Mint’s ESG activities and targets can be found in the summary of its ESG report here).

Q: The next Mint Directors Conference is set to be held in Ottawa later this year. Can you tell us about the Mint’s plans for the event?

A: Steeped in history, the Royal Canadian Mint facility in Ottawa is where our team produces world-renowned numismatic coins, medals and bullion products. Our plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is where our foreign and domestic circulation coins are struck.

When we meet in Ottawa this coming October, it will have been five long years since the last MDC conference and we are looking forward to share, collaborate and learn together face-to-face.

The 2023 Conference will focus on sustainability and future readiness as the coin ecosystem evolves to meet the changing demands. I am very exited about how the program is coming together. The second day will center on sustainability as we look at opportunities the sustainability lens creates when we contemplate the future of coins.

We are working on a vibrant and complete program that looks at the evolution of minting today, to help create a better tomorrow.

Q: What will be the key themes/topics?

A: They can be summarised as:

  • Future of circulation coinage in a digital world: what is the future of circulating coins in a payment ecosystem disrupted by digital technologies? How can mints evolve to remain relevant in this new reality?

  • The social inclusion role of cash in an increasing digital payment environment.

  • How can mints build brand engagement through innovative marketing?

  • How can mints be leaders in sustainability? Exploring the concrete actions that mints can take in a world that demands an increased focus on ESG.

  • Rethinking numismatics – appealing to the new collector. Challenges and opportunities facing the business of coin collecting.

  • Bullion, sustainability and appealing to new investors.

  • The business imperative of social responsibility. How socially responsible practices enhance employee and community engagement, and build customer confidence.

Q: Given that it will have been over five years since the MDC was last held, have you got any surprises for the delegates?

A: Our program is taking shape, starting with our recently announced keynote speaker, Stephen Poloz, Former Governor of the Bank of Canada.

The conference will be interactive, and delegates will have the opportunity to share, collaborate and push the limits.

Everything presented will tie into our Minting for the Future theme with thought- provoking meetings and presentations.

Q: What do you hope that the RCM will achieve by hosting MDC? And what do you think the delegates will achieve by attending?

A: After five years since our last face to face conference, the challenge and the opportunity of hosting the MDC is something we look forward to.

So many things have changed since we last met. Our goal is that participants will engage and shape the conversation. We will build on the traditions from past MDC conferences, as we create a conference focused on the future.

It will be an opportunity for Canada to host the world. We are excited that delegates will have an opportunity to explore Canada’s National Capital Region, to see the vibrant colours of the autumn season, to meet the diverse cultures who call Ottawa and Canada home, and to learn more about Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. The Royal Canadian Mint is also looking forward to delegates visiting the Mint and learning more about the Mint’s innovative processes, creative products and to meet some of the employees that make it all happen.

Q: Will it be an opportunity to revitalise coins, and the minting industry? And if so, how?

A: We are planning an agenda that includes speakers who will help us plan for the future, creative panel discussions that will help us think outside the box, and technical presentations that will showcase innovation.

Throughout the conference there will be opportunities for networking between mint directors, suppliers, numismatic and bullion coin dealers, central banks and many others involved in the future success of the minting industry.

I am thrilled with how things are coming together and I look forward to showcasing Canada to our delegates.