Reports that banknotes could increase the spread of Covid-19 resulted in widespread concern in many countries last year. Central banks, as a result, sought assistance from their banknote service providers on how best to approach this communication challenge. Crane Currency was one of those firms.
“The fear of transmitting Covid-19 via banknotes began to grow, and caused many questions in the international media,” says Ravjin Sarantsetseg, director-general of the currency department at the Central Bank of Mongolia. “Crane kept in touch with us, informed about the contingency plans and provided information on how the virus survives on banknotes. They also asked us whether we had any Covid-/cash-related issues, and said they would be ready to help if asked.”
In the Bahamas, Crane also provided information regarding its health and safety strategy. Derek Rolle, deputy governor at the Central Bank of the Bahamas says this information supported “downstream business continuity efforts”.
But it was not just a challenging communication environment that central banks had to navigate. In some jurisdictions, demand for cash increased rapidly, threatening to deplete banknote stores following the closure of borders and restrictions on logistics.
In the US, demand for dollars increased to levels not seen since more than a decade earlier. According to a print order from the US Federal Reserve for 2021, the number of banknotes increased from 7.6 billion to 9.6 billion – a 26.3% increase. Crane – the substrate provider for the US dollar – worked closely with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to support the rapid increase in dollar demand.
“This required the Crane Currency team to work closely with our associates, rapidly on-board and train additional associates, and work closely with our supply chain to meet the increased demand,” says Tod Niedeck, global marketing director at Crane.
Because of the location of its production sites, Crane’s motion-optics technology, paper mill and banknote printing operations remained largely unaffected, allowing it to deliver on all its commitments to customers around the world.
“We did not experience any significant issues with our supply chain, and our procurement of materials from our suppliers have thus far been uninterrupted,” says Sam Keayes, president of Crane.
Crane took additional measures to minimise the risk to its operations. Key among them was to regularly review tier-one suppliers to ensure they had what Keayes describes as “a clear line of sight” to all risks associated with the supply of materials sourced from affected areas.
Crane also increased safety stocks of critical supplies to ensure the company was not only able to meet existing commitments, but also respond to new orders from central banks needing new stocks of cash.
“Our aim was to anticipate and mitigate risk by taking the appropriate actions to avoid health impacts and disruption of our operations and deliveries to the fullest extent possible,” says Keayes.
Changes were also made within Crane’s own business operations to reduce the chance of the virus being spread within the workplace. This included remote working for non-production staff, separation of shifts and isolation of key processes, as well as additional cross-training of skills to improve resilience and intensive cleaning regimes. To date, Crane has not lost a single day of production at any of its sites because of Covid-19.
Despite the pandemic, Crane was also able to work with its customers to launch new banknotes in 12 countries during 2020. One of its achievements was with the Central Bank of Mongolia, a new client since 2018.
“Although our collaboration has only been short, Crane Currency has proven itself [to be] a professional and reliable partner, and provided currency services at the highest level,” says Sarantsetseg.
The central bank introduced three new banknotes, all with new security features including Crane’s Motion Surface technology, which was designed exclusively for the 20,000 tugrik banknote. Sarantsetseg says this feature has become the “strongest” public feature of its banknote series and “has performed very well”. As of January 2021, no counterfeits have been detected.
Crane also assisted the National Bank of Ukraine in upgrading its new banknote series, with the inclusion of its Rapid micro-optic thread. This security feature has also been integrated into the Central Bank of Bahamas’ banknotes.
“Crane’s solutions are forward-thinking and public-focused,” says Rolle. “The quality of the features aligns with our own high-standard banknote strategy.”
New management, new investment
Crane has operated within the banknote industry for decades – but owes much of its recent success to its takeover in 2018, when it was bought by the aptly named Crane Company.
“The partnership with Crane Co has given us much greater insight into how banknotes are being used and processed in retail settings – and, therefore, how to optimise banknote design for cash handling in small and medium-sized businesses all around the world,” says Niedeck.
Crane Company already had a foothold in the payment area due to its payment innovations business (CPI), which has carved out a leading position in point-of-sale cash validation and acceptance machines.
The first product that emerged after the merger of the two businesses was an inexpensive and secure machine-verification tool, embedded in Crane’s micro-optic Motion and Rapid threads.
“Since the takeover, we have become more operationally driven. Our research and development spend has increased, which has impacted the amount of resource we can dedicate to new securities features and cash processing technology,” says Niedeck.
In July, Crane presented its new Breeze technology in the market as an alternative to colour-shifting threads. The new micro-optic security feature can be integrated in both high- and low-denomination banknotes.
“Over 20 years ago, colour-shift films were seen as exotic. Today, these are available on an industrial scale, thereby eroding the confidence and security of banknotes,” says Nick Pearson, senior currency technologist at Crane.
“It was time to let go of a material that leaves the door open for counterfeiters and fakes.”
Breeze is an extension of Crane’s existing micro-optics business, and is created using the same design and production process. The idea came from an existing client that wanted to modernise its banknote designs with features that could move – away from the traditional static or colour-changing options available. The 3mm-wide thread displays moving images in three set shapes, and is available in four colours. What sets it apart is its ability to be embedded within a window on a banknote.
Crane Currency received its first order for the new feature in December 2020. While the selection process was delayed because of the pandemic, the central bank hopes to shortly integrate Breeze into a new mid-value banknote.
The Central Banking Awards were written by Christopher Jeffery, Daniel Hinge, Dan Hardie, Rachael King, Victor Mendez-Barreira, William Towning and Alice Shen
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