Technology: banknotes, a real concentrate of innovation

High-tech anti-counterfeiting, virucidal innovations capable of eradicating Covid-19 – among other things – the banknotes we use every day are technology concentrates. All manufacturers are fighting a real battle to create the perfect banknote.

Oberthur Fiduciaire in France, Orell Füssli Security Printing in Switzerland, De La Rue in the United Kingdom, Giesecke+Devrient in Germany, Crane Currency in the United States… Welcome to a very small circle of banknote printers working under contract with central banks around the world . This obscure sector has never known the crisis – or almost never – and in recent years has begun a frenetic race to raise safety and hygiene standards to unrivaled levels. If “zero” risk does not exist, the banknote industry is getting closer and closer to it. All of these players have established research and development departments at the forefront of modern technology. Something to calm our anxieties as daily users.

The health crisis didn’t get through it

Spring 2020. The whole world is stunned by the health crisis, fake News and warnings flood the media. One of them concerns banknotes, which are too quickly accused of transmitting Covid-19. The entire press then went there with their article to check whether or not this fear of transmission: Can banknotes transmit the coronavirus? worried Echo April 9, 2020 The answer is no. And this is not entirely accidental. Contrary to popular belief, banknotes are not particularly toxic pollutants. Moreover, in 2009, some manufacturers have already reacted because of the H1N1 pandemic.

The French company Oberthur Fiduciaire seems to have taken a good step forward with their Bioguard solution, which even works against the Covid-19 virus. Bioguard comes to protect the banknotes of central banks that request it. Its mission: to reduce the risk of transmission of pathogens such as viruses to virtually zero. ” In March 2020, at the very beginning of the Covid pandemic, an independent laboratory tested our Bioguard treatment and found it to be particularly effective against coronaviruses. promoted by Etienne Couelle, Deputy CEO of Oberthur Fiduciaire. Samples tested showed that Bioguard eliminated 99.9% of human coronaviruses. […] The medical and economic crises have demonstrated the resilience of Oberthur Fiduciaire, allowing us to invest 100% in our work. Our daily goal is to constantly innovate, especially security features. The success of our Bioguard treatment against Covid-19 has proven that innovation must remain at the heart of our business. According to the French company, the Bioguard process makes it possible to divide the number of viruses by 500-1000 in a few hours without changing the appearance of banknotes made from paper. Thus, ten billion banknotes in circulation around the world will be “biologically protected”, including one billion issued since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Now the aim is to “prepare as best as possible for the next pandemic”, explains Étienne Coyel, because the question is not whether there will be a new pandemic, but when it will be.

Across the English Channel we also have ideas. With a strong international presence, the British company De La Rue has also developed a process with properties similar to its polymer (plastic) banknotes, Safeguard, first used in 2012 for the pound sterling, UK market original from this manufacturer. ” Our privileged relationship with the Bank of England and our operations at our Debden facility are the cornerstone of our banknote printing growth strategy. says Clive Vasher, CEO of De La Rue. We are trying to convert our customers around the world to polymer banknotes with Safeguard technology. She recently signed contracts in Thailand for the circulation of the new 20 baht polymer banknotes. If the British company has relied on plastic material for its production, then, according to Ruth Yuling, chief executive of De La Rue, 84% of banknotes in circulation are made of paper.

Endless fight against fakes

Another problem for the industry is obviously counterfeiting. “ The counterfeiter is one of the oldest professions in the world. Even in the days of the Roman Empire, fakes were minted. “, notes the Central Office for the Fight against Counterfeiting (OCRFM) in France. While methods of protection against unauthorized access have become infallible, the human factor, that is, user negligence, remains a loophole through which counterfeiters continue to thrive. Last March in In the United Kingdom, an alert has been raised by the Birmingham police over the circulation of counterfeit £5, £10 and £20 notes.” We have been alerted to an increase in the use of counterfeit banknotes in the city centre. “, – explained the representative of the business district of Colmore, one of the commercial centers of the city. A memo for the population has been launched, suggesting residents of the region to check whether the holograms included in tickets are reflective by changing the angle of view. But not everyone has this reflex.

In the United States, every $1,000 bill will be a counterfeit, and the industry is largely supported by the Peruvian mafia. Anti-counterfeiting is also one of the cornerstones of banknote manufacturers’ work. ” As manufacturers of highly secure banknotes, we monitor how people use these banknotes and how security threats develop.explains Tod Niedek, CMO of Crane Currency. Cash transactions typically take between 10 and 22 seconds, while most people only check for a fraction of a second. The counterfeiters are aware of this and aim to reproduce the most obvious signs. To combat counterfeiting, the American manufacturer, which also has a subsidiary in Sweden, relies on its Rapid HD system, which can be checked with the naked eye, intuitively for everyone. We still need to think about how to do it.

It is obvious that the main companies in this sector do not reveal their production secrets and all their anti-counterfeiting devices. And because of the competition, and especially because of the counterfeiters, who also show ingenuity. ” We must be one step ahead of not only our competitors, but also counterfeiters and counterfeiters against whom we are in a real race for speed.warns Thomas Savare, current president of Oberthur Fiduciaire. Secure and trusted printing is an industrial activity with a very high technological content. True, paper money has existed for centuries, but today’s banknotes have almost nothing in common either with the banknotes of past years, or even with those that were put into circulation a few years ago. They are a true concentrate of technology and the fruit of constant innovation. Thus, Oberthur developed high-tech traceability and security processes called Pulsar, Avalon, Diaphan or even Labyrinth. Thus, in the field of combating counterfeiting, the European territory seems to be better protected than the United States.

And there is a result. In 2021, the European Central Bank noted a marked decrease in the number of counterfeit banknotes in circulation (-24.6%) in Europe: “ 12 counterfeits detected per 1 million genuine banknotes, historically lowwelcomes the establishment. Therefore, the likelihood of getting a fake is very small. While some futurists have predicted a cashless society, banknotes seem to have a bright future ahead of them. ” Contrary to what one might think, cash has been widely used during the pandemic.says Ralf Wintergerst, CEO of German manufacturer Giesecke+Devrient. While digital payments have grown strongly, we are convinced that cash transactions continue to play a vital role in the economy. It is in our power to develop and produce banknotes with very effective anti-counterfeiting systems. To recognize a real banknote, daily users can limit themselves to “TRI method: touch, look, tilt”: follow the video guide.

Olivier TaylorInformation technology specialist