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The Banco de la República is in the process of releasing its latest family of banknotes, with three denominations – a new high value 100,000 peso and 50,000 and 20,000 peso notes – having already been released this year.

The remaining three denominations – 10,000, 5,000 and 2,000 pesos – are expected to be released by the end of 2016. The 1,000 peso note from the current series is not being replaced, a new 1,000 peso coin having been introduced in 2012 when the country’s new coin series was issued.

With the current family of Colombian banknotes in circulation since 1995, the Bank decided in 2011 that the time had come to update these to ensure their security was up to current standards, and so that the notes would continue to be accepted by modern verification and cash processing technologies. Whilst the level of counterfeiting in Colombia was – and still is – low, it was felt that an update to the banknotes would help to maintain the public’s confidence in their cash.

The decision for a new high value note

The new $100,000 banknote (worth around US$35), was added to the new family following statistical analysis by the Bank to determine the denominations required by the Colombian economy. The main variables evaluated by analysts were income per capita and the minimum wage within the country, which in turn had an impact on an increasing transaction value and subsequently the demand for high value banknotes.

Since 2000, when the $50,000 banknote was introduced, the Colombian per capita GDP has more than tripled and the minimum wage has more than doubled. As a result, the demand for the $50,000 banknote increased by 18% per year until 2014, compared with an average 5% increase of other denominations within the family. The demand in 2015 was significantly higher at 21%, more than three times that of the other denominations. The analysis included an assessment of the potential impact on cash demand of alternative payment options, and whether this would have any impact on the need for a higher value banknote, particularly as the Bank has previously encouraged electronic payments within the economy, such as the National Interbank Electronic Clearing for low-value payments.

However, the results of a survey by the Bank in 2014 found that Colombian citizens had a strong preference for cash and, as such, the decision was made to add the $100,000 denomination to the new family. As well as increasing efficiency in cash transactions, the new $100,000 banknote is helping to lower production, transport and distribution costs for both the central bank and associated agents.

100 mil pesos note - obverse
100 mil pesos note - obverse

Designing the new family

The project started with an assessment of security features, the most important criteria for the selection of which was their ease of authentication, proven ability in circulation, difficulty to imitate, and durability in circulation. The chosen security features also had to be compatible with the Bank’s existing processes. In particular, the Bank analysed withdrawn counterfeit banknotes to identify patterns with the aim of avoiding problems in future. A particular focus was composite counterfeits (whereby security features are taken from an authentic banknote and placed on a counterfeit high value banknote). Of all the counterfeits retrieved by the central bank, 98% were created by offset printing, with the remaining 2% created by either digital or composite printing.

However, since the biggest impact on the public comes from the composite counterfeits (and major problems in processing also come from this type of counterfeit), a number of design modifications were made to avoid composites. Straight lines have been avoided, as irregular shapes are difficult to register. Security elements that are likely to be removed by counterfeiters have been distributed across the whole banknote area, with the aim of making their extraction and/or placement easier to identify. Serial numbers have been added to both halves of the banknote, (ie. both the left and right), so that cash users can identify that each side of the note belongs to the same banknote. Other design considerations include having a common theme among the denominations, all of which have a concept of biodiversity achieved by illustrating Colombian landscapes, fauna and flora.

The main design feature on each note is a portrait of a leading Colombian figure in culture, science and politics (former president Carlos Lleras Restrepo for the $100,000, the Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez for the $50,000 and another former president, Alfonso López Michelsen, for the $20,000). Each of the banknotes, be they high or low value, have common security features to assist the public and other cash handlers to authenticate them. These include intaglio print, complex offset patterns and irregular shapes, latent images, watermarks with electrotypes, see through features and microlettering, along with SPARK® Live and colour shifting threads. The Bank, which printed the notes, put the design out to tender in 2014. The contract was awarded to Crane.

100 mil pesos - reverse
100 mil pesos - reverse

Public education campaign

The Bank has facilitated an in-depth public education campaign alongside the release of the new banknote family, including a film on its website and an interactive smartphone app, advising users on the five ways of authenticating a banknote, (ie. Check, Turn, Raise, Touch and Look), providing information of how each security element should be authenticated.

Such processes started with the launch of the $100,000 and have been repeated with the issuance of the $20,000 banknote in June followed by the $50,000 banknote in August this year. They will continue with the release of the remaining banknotes in the series, which are expected to be issued by the end of 2016.


Award-winning design

In June 2016, the 100 mil pesos note was the recipient of a Special Achievement Award at High Security Printing Latin America, which took place in Mexico City. The award recognised the successful and innovative public education campaign undertaken by the bank for the release of the banknote in March.

High Security Printing Latin America is an annual event dedicated to exploring the latest developments in the secure document landscape. With a programme covering banknotes, ID and travel documents, it attracts around 300 secure document experts around the region and beyond. Each year, the gala dinner plays host to the Best Regional Banknote and ID Awards, recognising outstanding projects which have been implemented throughout the region in the last 12 months.

In 2017, the conference will take place from 19-21 June in Guatemala City. More information on the event, including a review of the most recent conference, can be found on the HSP Latin America website.