We were recently given a €500 note from a customer during a conference in Ireland. I didn’t know such notes existed until I was holding one in my hand. Like notes of any currency that aren’t in pounds sterling, I have a sense of unreality when handling them and even after mentally converting them into something I use and understand, they still feel strange and toy-like.
Back in the UK a few days later, I went into town to bank the euros. We have sterling and euro accounts with a well-known high street bank (who shall remain nameless). The woman behind the glass screen was very pleasant: “Yes of course you can pay euros into your euro account. I shall take them for you now.”
It takes ages. Several people were served at the till next to us and leave. An alarm of some description goes off twice behind the glass screen. It’s bearable for us, but deafening for the cashiers, judging by their faces. Then there’s another problem with the magnetic lock on the bank’s front door – it activates and locks the customers inside while a queue forms outside of people who can’t get in. “Are we hostages?” asks someone. No, thankfully not. The bank is not under seige. The branch manager appears and the alarm stops for the second time as the door is released. Great.
But now there’s definitely a problem. The bank can’t accept my €500 note. It’s not a forgery to their knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with the note itself, but there’s no button to register it as received. Sorry about that. They suggested another bank. It’s irritating. I can’t argue, because if the branch manager doesn’t know what’s happened to the €500 button and can accidentally make hostages of half a dozen people, then I’m not sure shouting at anyone here will help.
I tried an alternative bank, which was equally unable to help, especially since I’m not even a customer of theirs. I rang the business helpline of the bank and was informed it’s a national policy to not accept €500 notes. Ever. Even if you have a Euro account. “No, I don’t know why that is or when we made that decision. Sorry.”
Well, this explains the missing €500 button. Some software engineer has been paid to disable it. So we reverse the problem by making it not ours. We send the note back to the customer and debit his account and – here’s the clever bit – offset the change we have already given him at the registration desk against his flight expense, which pretty much matches his claim, bar an additional €4, which is now my fee for fannying around all morning. Result.
But still annoying. And kind of fascinating. Having a note of currency that you are unable to pay into a bank account of that same currency kind of emphasizes that there’s nothing intrinsically valuable about it in the first place. The only thing that makes money have value is that a bunch of people all got together and decided it did. Then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – in both directions. So if people get together and collectively decide that a particular note is no longer bankable, then so be it. (Although they could have told the rest of us.)
“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or worse – stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” (Matthew 6:19-21, Message)
Yay! Go Jesus. Except stockpiling treasure in heaven is a rather abstract thing. Even for Christians who claim to believe in and live by this stuff. If we can’t see the immediate short-term effects of investing in a particular cause, then it’s harder for us to get excited by it. The principle works for other things though, so the logic should be transferrable. We understand the value of an athlete avoiding pizza before a competition or putting up with morning sickness in order to grow a baby. We just need to think a bit longer-term than a 25 year mortgage or [insert own example of longer-term thinking here].
it’s like Jesus is saying: “Don’t store up treasure in €500 notes because these ultimately can’t be sold on. Didn’t I mention it while I was there? All earthly kingdoms will crumble eventually, so the Euro will inevitably follow the Roman denarius, the Sudanese dinar and the franc into oblivion. Sorry about that. However my currency’s performing really well, so invest in that instead.
“Just take whatever money, time or skills you have and use them for things that straddle this world and the next one. Grab those opportunities. They’re everywhere if you look properly. And I don’t need much to make it happen, because my interest rates will blow your mind. I can take the smallest act of kindness or courage and multiply it beyond anything you thought possible because your thinking is small and I am big.
“I take your little trinkets of paper and metal, or “1s” and “0s” on a computer screen, and expand my kingdom one life at a time when you faithfully give to a cause bigger than your own immediate comfort. You make heaven touch earth in a million tiny ways when you choose to forgive someone who hurt you, write to your MP or buy a Big Issue. Tell your mates. My treasure holds its value indefinitely and I’m always looking out for new investors.”