India might not yet have cracked the G8, but it is joining an equally select financial group: those economies whose currencies have their own symbol.
A year-long quest to give the rupee its very own symbol should soon be resolved. After a countrywide competition was launched last April, a government panel is now considering five finalists.
Only a small group of currencies currently bear their own symbols: the dollar, the British pound, the yen and the euro among them. To date, the Indian rupee has been simply stated as Rs or INR.
The move to give the rupee its own symbol is a reflection of the country’s burgeoning economic importance, with growth of about 8 per cent a year.
“The fact that the government is now considering creating the symbol is a precursor to the growing importance of India in the global world order,” says Shubhada Rao, chief economist for India’s Yes Bank. “It is preparation for the medium-term, the next five to 10 years, when the rupee will become one of the basket of reserve currencies.”
However, as so often in India, these things take time. The committee charged with picking a winning design has been silent ever since announcing it would make a decision two weeks ago. Nevertheless, a resolution is expected soon, although no one can say for sure just when.
The shortlist is the result of an India-wide competition, open to professional designers and civilians alike, indeed anyone willing to pay the 500 rupee (€8) entry fee. All are along similar lines, variations on the letter R, many featuring the double horizontal bar that is seen on other currency symbols.
The winner is to receive 250,000 (€4,000) rupees, and will surrender copyright over their design to the government. In his budget speech last year, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee announced the need for such a symbol, “[one] which reflects and captures the Indian ethos and culture”, he said.
If deciding on a symbol is proving laborious, actually introducing it could prove an expensive exercise. For starters, hardware manufacturers will need to update computer keyboards to accommodate the rupee, while type foundries will need to update their font families. It reportedly cost European companies more than €40bn when the euro symbol was introduced in 1999.
For India, the time, effort and costs involved will be worth it. “Typically stronger currencies are the ones with symbols,” says Dr Rao. “So even though the rupee is not a convertible currency. This goes to show that Indian security is becoming more important in the eyes of the global investor.”