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After 90 years, First Trust scraps licence to print its own money

First Trust Bank will stop issuing its own-denomination notes from next year, though they will remain legal tender until June 2022
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE near-century practice of all the north's main banks printing their own-style banknotes will end next year when First Trust becomes the first to scrap the practice.

First Trust will switch to dispensing Bank of England currency from its ATM network in 2020, and then from June 30 2022 the distinctive notes cease to become legal tender.

The bank said the decision was a commercial one, taking into account the increasing use of digital payment methods and mobile technology.

But it comes at a time when Danske Bank, Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland are all in various stages of issuing their own polymer £5, £10 and £20 notes.

The north has had its specifically-issued currency regulated by the Bankers (Northern Ireland) Act 1928, though technically the notes are not legal tender anywhere except their region of issue.

However, the notes all contain the word 'sterling' in the small-print so can still be spent in Britain, though consumers often had to argue their case for having their notes accepted in shops, restaurants, bars and taxis.

First Trust Bank's specific banknotes account for 11 per cent of paper money in circulation in Northern Ireland and 0.4 per cent of those in circulation across the UK.

None of the local banks have ever revealed the financial benefits - if indeed there are any - from having their own notes, which are printed by De La Rue in London alongside those issued by the Bank of England.

But the local paper money has been part of the fabric of northern society, literally in people's hands, purses and pockets, for 90 years, and banks would say it offers them visibility and good PR.

And it has also given them the opportunity to showcase prominent local individuals and attractions - from footballer George Best and inventor John Dunlop to the Bushmills Distillery.

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