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A new €20 bill: behind the scenes of the banknote launch

  • 04.07.2016

When it first appeared on November 25, 2015, the new, strikingly blue €20 bill threw many consumers for a loop. But the adjustment was fast: the new banknote is now part of daily life for millions of Europeans… In fact, its arrival was eagerly anticipated by many banks and consumers! Let’s take a behind-the-scenes look at its launch.

A new €20 bill: behind the scenes of the banknote launch

By decision of the European Central Bank (ECB) on November 25, 2015, a new €20 bill entered into circulation simultaneously in every country across the Eurozone.

In France, the €20 note is widely used: it represents 52% of all bills withdrawn at ATMs. That popularity provided ample justification for the use of high-performance authentication features in order to fight counterfeiting.

Counterfeiters still pose a significant threat: while organized criminal groups are the most common culprits, plenty of “amateurs” equipped with a scanner and printer occasionally manage to deceive retailers. According to the Banque de France, each of us has a 0.004% chance of holding a counterfeit banknote

Advanced security features

Part of the new Europa series, the new €20 bill follows on the heels of the new €5 and €10 bills, which are now also much more secure.

It is characterized by:

  • A complex design: the rich color palette of the stained glass window design, the color scale of the number 20 – all of these details are difficult to reproduce.

  • A hologram: a portrait of the mythological princess Europa presents an immediately visible element along with the number–-whose color varies from emerald green to deep blue–-and a light effect that moves from top to bottom as the bill is tilted. 

  • Raised print: a series of raised lines are printed on the left and right edges of the bill. In addition to the security function, the lines enable the blind and visually impaired to identify the bill. 

    No fewer than 1.9 billion of these new €20 bills were printed by the Banque de France, representing 44% of demand across the Eurozone. Situated in the Puy de Dôme department of France, the Banque de France’s site was a testing center for the new bill, which belongs to the very exclusive club of the top 10% of the most secure bills in the world.


Informing and training users and retailers

But what is the use of rolling out so many new security features if they are not understood and monitored? For that reason, the Banque de France paired the launch of the new bill with an informational campaign: it trained some 26,000 professionals, including cashiers, in how to recognize these security features, as well as the “feel-look-tilt” method for checking the raised lines and identifying the hologram. 

Teaching machines to recognize the new bills

It was also necessary to teach machines (ATMs and other devices that accept cash payments) to recognize the new banknotes. That task was even more complex since the new bills will coexist for a certain period alongside the previous series, as the old bills are gradually removed from circulation.

To accomplish this task, the ECB took action several months before releasing the bill to provide banks with a “toolbox” comprising all the technical information needed to update their ATMs.

Manufacturers and suppliers of machines and automated bill authentication systems also received all the necessary information for updating their devices (including devices in service at customer sites), as well as a bill for performing tests. In the end, the rollout of the new €20 bill went off without a hitch. 

The €500 bill set to disappear

On May 4, 2016, the ECB announced the removal of the €500 bill: it will no longer be issued after 2018. That decision was not motivated by a lack of interest in the banknote. On the contrary, more and more €500 bills are now circulating. But consumers are not the ones using them: in France, a vast majority of people have never laid hands on one. Instead, the €500 bill is the most popular denomination among traffickers, terrorists and other shady characters involved in money laundering, undocumented labor, tax evasion, etc. As the ECB recalls, with these bills, €1 million weighs only 2 kg and can fit neatly into a handbag. Easy to transport, the violet bill replaced the $100 bill as the note of choice among criminals and terrorists. So to keep the euro from becoming the preferred currency of organized crime, the €500 bill is ending its run on the market.