The Secret Service: What’s hidden inside the banknote printing industry?

The bank note printing industry works to ensure that every country has a reliable supply of cash. Although its services are indispensable, the industry itself is largely shrouded in secrecy, with procurement tenders conducted without much publicity and announcements made without much detail. This mysteriousness is due to the need to ensure a steady flow of cash and the security of everyone who uses it – let’s try to get a glimpse of how they do this.

Most euro bank note users have heard about the recent news: the ECB is going to introduce new bills. However, dig deeper into any text of the news, and most likely you will find details of the new design. what about the rest? “We are working on a new series of high-tech banknotes aimed at preventing counterfeiting and reducing environmental impact,” said Fabio Panetta, member of the ECB Executive Board. And that’s all the technical details we can learn. The situation is similar to the new pound sterling banknote: everyone is focusing on the King Charles design, with a brief mention of the polymer substrate and compliance with environmental and financial requirements, without going any further.

Notice how all the specifications, be it security features or the type of ink used, are left unsaid. And, of course, it is unlikely that the news will include those who are directly responsible for the creation of banknotes, namely security printers and their suppliers. Like any representatives of industries with proprietary knowledge, they are not very fond of going public about the details of their work – all the more so because the matter here is complicated by the nature of their products.

That everyday banknote that you keep handy in your wallet, no matter what currency it is, seems like a simple and straightforward means of payment. In a way, this is true: cash is still with us today, moving from one hand to another and helping when electronic payments fail. However, ensuring this ease requires major efforts based on the principles of de-risking cash as a strategic asset of the economy. These principles, in turn, are opposed by various factors, which require confidence and the ability to be prudent, as well as technical knowledge, to deal with.

Know-how and industry-specific technologies

Central banks are the only organizations that have the authority to issue money in cash. Most of them do not have or operate their own printing operations, data from the Currency Benchmark 2022 report shows. At first glance, this seems like an inconsistency – a bank is responsible for ensuring cash security, yet it delegates such an important task to someone else. Why would they do this?

“It’s our job to make sure that when you spend a banknote, the person receiving it can be confident in its value. So an important part of our work is to ensure that the banknotes we all use have state-of-the-art security features, because if counterfeit notes are mistaken for genuine notes, it can lead to people losing confidence in their value Will go,” Bank of England. In today’s world, where anyone can purchase a high-fidelity printer, almost any type of paper and ink, and print their own banknote, this seems like an impossible task – but not for banknote printers.

At the heart of banknote printing lies a complex network of specialized equipment and techniques. These technologies are not readily available for purchase, but are closely controlled and kept secret to keep out counterfeiters, as we see in the example of Koenig & Bauer Banknote Solutions (KBBS), a Swiss provider of security printing equipment. : “Despite the availability of high resolution digital printing technologies in the open market, the criminal fraternity is technically unable to imitate the visible and invisible printed features present on bank notes printed on our machines. Commercial printing technology cannot reach these levels of precision and excellence,” explains Eric Boissons, CEO of KBBS.

Another important consideration is the physical characteristics of the banknote. If the quality is poor, and it becomes more difficult to see whether banknotes are genuine, this weakens their effectiveness as a means of payment. To prevent such situations, central banks set their own requirements for the characteristics of new banknotes: “Banknotes must be able to circulate for a significant period of time before being folded or torn, and they must be resistant to soiling. Should be. Like paper and printing, the security features that make it possible to distinguish genuine banknotes from counterfeits must also withstand wear and tear,” says Norges Bank. Banknote suppliers meet such requirements with their patents and protected information. And this creates another danger: no company is able to produce all the components of a banknote from the start, and in many cases, it is necessary to integrate solutions from several manufacturers into a single product. So how do different companies manage to work together seamlessly and still meet privacy requirements?

trust and cooperation

The point here is to work by building trust and cooperation. This approach is unique to the banknote printing industry, as its participants have a shared responsibility for ensuring that their products are safe and cannot be easily replicated, and is partly accomplished through uniform requirements and common quality management systems. is done.

One of the most prominent examples here is the ECB’s banknote printing orders. The bills are printed at eleven highly secure facilities across Europe. A shared quality control system and pooling arrangement guarantees a consistent standard for all euro banknotes, and hundreds of tests are carried out during the production process to guarantee that the banknote remains the same no matter where it is printed.

However, specifications and uniform quality management systems are not enough. In addition to meeting the demands of a wide range of stakeholders, central banks have to deal with a vast array of security feature options and the technical challenges of incorporating them into a single note. Collaboration helps here too, and sometimes companies from different sectors and even competitors have to come together to achieve the same result, as was the case with the Bank of Israel.

Several years ago, KURZ, a provider of file-based security features, introduced an innovative security feature, Kinegram Volume. Later, the Bank of Israel decided to use this feature for its new banknote series. To do this, it held face-to-face meetings with all the major suppliers of the project. This approach of collaboration between companies, some of which were in competition with each other, helped greatly: “The sincerity of the suppliers in addressing these, and their willingness to work as partners, was indispensable in the success of the project. Was,” Kurz said.

Examples like these confirm the importance of working together in a close system. Sometimes such cooperation becomes indispensable in emergency situations: for example, Crane – the substrate provider for US dollars – partnered with the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing to support an unexpected 26.3% increase in demand for dollars during the second year running. Worked together with. Covid-19 pandemic. “This requires the Crane Currency team to work closely with our partners and our supply chain to meet increased demand,” says Todd Neidek, global marketing director at Crane.

Despite the unpredictable nature of requests, almost all industry partners are prepared for such opportunities as interruptions in cash supply and a potential drop in quality are absolutely unacceptable, KBBS says: “Be able to manage the increase in printing volumes for our customers It is also very important to have , especially to meet the increasing demand in many countries, or to prepare for the launch of a new series, without compromising quality.

Transparency and Compliance

The principles of cooperation come into play even in sensitive issues like ensuring transparency. In a way, this all acts as a counterbalance to privacy when it comes to spending public money (since currency printing is typically paid for with central bank funds). The need to keep all secrets under lock and key makes the task even more complex, and the solution comes in the form of joint initiatives and common standards, such as the industry-specific Banknote Ethics Initiative (BNEI) or the ISO 37001 anti-corruption standard. , both designed to protect against the risks of unfair market practices and corruption that are imminent in any closed industry.

There are occasional lapses, but most players are willing to go to great lengths to correct them. For example, this year Swiss high-tech security Inc. and traceability solutions firm SICPA was held accountable for “organizational shortcomings” that resulted in bad actors taking advantage of the company in 2015. Rather than appeal the decision, SICPA chose to accept it. It has a responsibility to adopt ISO 37001 and become an accredited member of BnEI, the company’s CEO Philippe Amon said, citing the mantra of the security printing industry: “Complying with the law and doing business with integrity is not optional”.

Inevitably, we now see that banknote solution suppliers have their own reasons for being mysterious – and a deeper look into the industry reveals that all the secrecy here works for the greater good by ensuring that cash payments remains a reliable and universally accepted means of