Daily Management Review

"Cash is undeniably the most reliable means of payment in all circumstances." Interview with Thomas Savare, Managing Director of Oberthur Fiduciaire


According to a September 2018 study, cybercrime will have generated 1.5 trillion dollars in 2018 and all figures are on the rise. In this context, what is the role of banknotes security technologies?

Digital technology is advancing and with it the means to protect dematerialized transactions. But technology is also advancing for criminals who continue to find loopholes and ways to divert ever-increasing amounts of money. By definition, digital is volatile and well-placed hackers can find themselves in a situation of stealing a lot of money with limited material resources since a good internet connection is often sufficient.

In this context, it seems crucial to me to keep a significant part of our transactions in cash. The tangible security technologies have precisely this advantage of being inaccessible at a distance. Of course, cash theft is possible and counterfeiting still exists, but it is undeniable that in terms of volume the risk is much lower. In addition, counterfeit prevention technologies are also very advanced and the cost of making fake banknotes is simply too high to be worth it. Security ink, forgery-proof paper etc., all these tools have not aged at all.

Yet economists predict the end of cash, how do you see the future of the cash industry?

First of all, not all economists agree on this observation and even less on the question of whether a cashless society is desirable. There are many reasons to fear a cashless economy, starting with the individual's freedom to spend money without going through any third party. In my opinion, even if its importance diminishes in many places, cash will not disappear any time soon!
From a strictly security point of view, cash is undeniably the most reliable means of payment in all circumstances. Carrying out a cash transaction does not require any infrastructure and we have seen in certain difficult circumstances, such as following a natural disaster, that cash is really essential.

Cash also has an irreplaceable cultural and societal aspect. It is an expression of national or regional unity and always carries with it the trace of common history and values.

Finally, in a context of data protection concerns, I see that people are increasingly aware of the value of cash in protecting privacy. So, to answer your question the future of the cash industry is not in danger.

Is the good state of the banknote industry a sign that we have reached the limits of the all-digital world?

I don't know if we've reached the limits of the all-digital world, as you say. It is certain that the digital revolution has not yet reached its full potential. On the other hand, you are right to say that the banknote industry is in good shape. Even in countries that want to adopt a cashless economy such as India, for example, there is an increase in the total number of banknotes in circulation. For instance, according to data in the Reserve Bank of India’s annual report, the quantity of 2000 rupees banknotes fell significantly, but at the same time the number of 500 rupees banknotes increased from 15 million to 21 million between March 2018 and March 2019.

In my opinion, the future lies in the balance and diversity of payment methods. The deployment of mobile payment systems is a real technological progress, but I believe it is still important for everyone to have access to a variety of ways to satisfy different needs and habits. I do not believe that a monopoly of one means of payment or another is desirable.

The banknote industry is unique in that it must not only meet security requirements but also aesthetic ones. Can you tell us how a banknote is designed?

There are consistent requirements when printing a banknote, it must be durable and secure. On the other hand, the use made of it varies considerably from one country to another. The design of a banknote will therefore require first of all a careful listening to the needs and specificities of each client. We engage in an in-depth dialogue with the Central Bank of the country in question and make proposals according to local customs and cultural particularities. As I said, the banknote is not just an economic object, it is a cultural and societal one that must find its place in the daily lives of citizens. The exciting challenge of this craft is to combine art and technology and aesthetics is of the utmost importance to us.

So, design changes according to the country, is it the same for security? Do the requirements differ from one region to another?

The need is always the same: the banknote must be impossible to counterfeit. We have a large number of technological solutions, some of which are visible to the naked eye for immediate control, such as our Arc-en-ciel technology, and others are very difficult to detect, such as the Dualtrack security thred we have created. All these security features can be integrated into our banknotes, making them highly secure.

We meet precise specifications issued by the client, but the development of all these security features allows us to offer our clients tailor-made solutions. Indeed, the use of banknotes according to the country will have an impact on its composition, the longevity required etc.

In order to stay ahead of counterfeiters and competitors you must constantly innovate, what is the place of R&D in your strategy and in your budget?

It is true that our industry does not allow us to rely on our technological achievements. We are constantly innovating, and this innovation is in namely the result of the investment we are making in our R&D department. Research is also completely customer-oriented, which is why our Research and Development team works continuously and in close collaboration with our sales team. Such a strategy pays off and the result is that we file new patents regularly and are very proud of it.

But innovation is not just an in-house process. We are also innovating and strengthening our supply chain by working with high quality manufacturers. I am thinking in particular of the purchase of the Dutch company VHP Security Paper two years ago. The advantage is twofold with such an operation. First of all, we acquire additional technical excellence, as VHP has been a reference in the manufacture of security paper for a long time. In addition, we are thus strengthening the control of our supply chain, which is also increasingly appreciated by Central Banks