Currency - Definition, Types & Uses

DailyForex.com Team

Currency refers to the standardization of money in various forms like banknotes and coins. It is a medium of exchange, enabling day-to-day transactions and domestic and global trade, and fulfills a central role in today’s interconnected world. Another way of looking at currency is that it is a system of money within a country or monetary union.

The three monetary systems for currency are:

  • Fiat currency, issued by a government but back by nothing more than a promise and widespread belief that the value printed on a banknote or coin represents the actual value
  • Commodity money, for example, gold or silver, has a genuine value derived from the value of the commodity, meaning it remains backed by an actual asset rather than a promise or government declaration
  • Representative money, which has no value but represents the value printed on banknotes and coins, which in today’s system includes most fiat currency, blurring the lines between them
It is essential to differentiate between currency and money when looking at the currency definition. While currency is a medium of exchange, money refers to a verifiable record accepted as payment for goods and services, repayment of debts, and taxes. The money supply of a country consists of currency and bank money.

What is currency?

  • Medium of exchange
  • Cannot store value
  • Has no intrinsic value
  • Currency is tangible
  • Does not measure value
  • Currency is any form of money in legal circulation

What is money?

  • Store of value
  • Has intrinsic value
  • Money is intangible
  • Measures value of goods and services
  • Quotable in any currency
  • Money is any item or verifiable record accepted as payment

What is bank money?

  • Money held in commercial banks, known as demand deposits or non-confidential money
  • Accounts for a significant portion of the money supply
  • Withdrawable without prior notice
  • Bank money and currency represent the money supply in today’s economies

What Does Currency Mean?

Currency is a form of payment generally issued by governments for use in their jurisdictions to purchase goods and services, service debt, and tax purposes. The value of a currency fluctuates constantly relating to other currencies, and the Forex market operates 24/5, offering traders an opportunity to profit or lose from price action. Forex trading emerged following the end of the gold standard in 1971, allowing currencies to float, creating the most liquid financial market, decentralized and efficient.

A Brief History of Currency and Who Invented Currency

The earliest traces of currency date back to approximately 3,000 years. It was a receipt for grain stored in temple granaries in Sumer, located in modern south-central Iraq and ancient Egypt. It formed the backbone of the trading system for 1,500+ years. 
Coins initially weighed and stamped from copper, gold, silver, and bronze entered circulation, creating a new unit of account, aided by Archimedes’ Principle, which protected coins against counterfeiting, leading to banking.
Pre-modern China, starting with the Tang Dynasty, was the first known usage of paper money, as early as 618. It was not until the 12th century before government-issued paper money became the norm in China. The Islamic world expanded paper money between the 7th and 12th centuries, and Sweden became the first European country to introduce it in 1661.
Paper money created inflationary bubbles as the notes had no intrinsic value, but gold and silver remained legal tender, especially by governments for tax purposes. The gold/silver exchange rate instability grew, and by 1900, most governments relied on the gold standard, where paper money remained backed by gold reserves until it was abandoned by 1971. Today, fiat currency remains nothing more than the promise by the issuing government of its worth, backed by nothing else but the belief by society that claims are valid. Governments print paper money as they please, fueling dangerous bubbles and financing militaries. 
 

What is Currency, and How Does Currency Work?

Currency is a medium of exchange and refers to any form of money in legal circulation. It is available as bank notes, coins, or digitally. Throughout history, humans used various items as currency, which fulfilled a central role in society for over 3,000 years. Currency is also a substitute for goods and services. Understanding the currency meaning is essential and results in countless examples of its importance, from day-to-day transactions to the global economy.
Most transactions revert to currency usage, from receiving salaries to buying goods and services, saving money, servicing debt, investing, trading, entertainment, renting an apartment, or paying a mortgage. Everything involves the exchange of currencies for each transaction. 

How does currency work?

One party has something the other party wants and will exchange it for an agreed amount of currency.

How many currencies exist in the world?

The UN recognizes 180 currencies, but only 130 remain independent.

Different Currency Types

There have been plenty of changes to currency since its first known usage 3,000+ years ago, and today, they usually belong to one of the four types below.

The four primary currency types are:

  • Commodity Currency - backed by a commodity, usually gold
  • Coins - First used around 640 BC, falling out of favor following the collapse of the Roman Empire, and resurging during the Renaissance
  • Paper Money - Developed in China, used throughout the world after a Swedish bank issued it in 1661
  • Electronic Money - It sends information electronically and does not require a physical exchange, and Sweden leads the push for a cashless society

Currency Trading Explained

Currency trading is the exchange of one currency for another currency. In the Forex market, currencies exist as pairs, for example, the EUR/USD or the GBP/CHF. Forex trading remains decentralized as an over-the-counter product and primarily conducted online in the interbank market, operational 24/5, accessible via online Forex brokers.

How Does Currency Trading Work?

Currency trading, or Forex trading, consists of buying and selling currency pairs. For example, if a Forex trader believes the Euro will strengthen against the US Dollar, the trader would buy the EUR/USD. Alternatively, selling the EUR/USD suggests the trader speculates a weaker Euro versus a stronger US Dollar.
 
Currency pairs trade in lots, and one lot equals 100,000 currency units. Forex brokers usually allow a minimum transaction size of 0.01 lots or 1,000 currency unity. Forex trading relies heavily on leverage and requires strict risk management.

A Look at Currency Exchange and How it Works

A currency exchange allows market participants to exchange one currency, for example, the Euro, for another, like the US Dollar.
How does currency exchange work?
The currency exchange provides quotes for all available currency pairs, consisting of a bid price, the sell value of the currency, and an ask price, the buy value. For example, a GBP/USD quote of 1.1820/ 1.1821, where a trader can buy this currency pair at 1.1821 or sell it at 1.1820. In other words, a trader will get $1.1820 for £1.0000. The price fluctuates constantly based on economic or political events. 
Most non-Forex traders engage in currency exchange when they travel, at the bank, or in exchange offices, where less favorable quotes and higher fees remain common.

Currency Conclusion

Knowing the currency definition allows one to understand its importance and differentiate between currency and money. Currency established itself as a fundamental medium of exchange in human society 3,000+ years ago, and without it, our world would not function as it does today.

FAQs

What is the difference between money and currency?

Money is a store of value, intangible in value, and possesses intrinsic value, representing the actual value of goods and services, quotable in any currency. Money remains an essential part of today’s economy and performs various functions. 
Currency cannot store value and remains tangible without intrinsic value. It is a medium for day-to-day transactions but not a measure of value. Currency can refer to any form of money that is legal and in active circulation.

Is gold a currency?

Gold meets the definition of a currency under the free market system, but since the end of the gold standard in 1971, governments are no longer allowed to peg their currency to gold. Some argue that gold is the only valid global currency, call it the other currency, as it is universally accepted as payment and has value, which fluctuates based on economic conditions and supply and demand. Therefore, gold is the only currency that is also a commodity, giving it more actual value than any government-circulated fiat currency.

What is the importance of currency?

Currency is a medium of exchange, comes in various forms, and allows for swift transaction and trade. Companies sell goods and services, and most generally believe that currency has value, which is why they exchange items for it. It replaced the barter system and created a more efficient, globalized financial system and economy. It also has problems, as governments print money across all currencies without backing the numerical value by assets. Currency enables day-to-day necessities, but without currency, our world would not function as it does.
DailyForex.com Team
The DailyForex.com team is comprised of analysts and researchers from around the world who watch the market throughout the day to provide you with unique perspectives and helpful analysis that can help improve your Forex trading.

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