Luminescence Sun Chemical Security on the future of security inks

23/03/21

The digital revolution that has transformed some sections of the identity market over the past two decades has not dampened the appetite for high quality, custom-made security inks at a government level.

This is particularly true for banknotes and identity documents, but the rise in calls for a “cashless society” and for mobile ID suggest that change could potentially be coming.

Security Document World took time out to speak to Paul Cooper, President of Luminescence Sun Chemical Security, and Gerben van Wijk, the company’s Sales and Marketing Director, about the company’s innovative plans to meet such challenges, and the impact of COVID-19.

What trends in the security printing industry are shaping your R&D initiatives?

PC: Developing new and innovative security features is our primary driver for R&D, but it doesn't really stop there. There are a lot more things that contribute to the strategic decisions on the direction we want to be moving towards as an organisation.

Firstly we are looking at sustainability, which is a very important matter for us and our parent companies Sun Chemical and DIC. A lot of the efforts in R&D that we are doing is based around making more sustainable products. This is particularly true for our larger sectors such as bank notes, but we see this trend going right through the security document industry.

From our customer’s side we see a push for using high-security inks already incorporated in the substrate at manufacturing stage instead of at the convertor of the bank note or document. Using this layered approach adds additional barriers against the counterfeiters so for us it is important to develop our products so they work at all stages of the supply chain.

The final drive is really value for money. In the security industry this really wasn't a benefit that people used to focus on in the past, these days however it is becoming more and more of a driver for customers to base their vendor selection decisions.  

Fraud seems to be constantly evolving. Is it possible to develop new solutions at a rapid enough pace to counter this?

PC: I have been in the security industry for over 30 years and I have personally always believed that there is never one single solution. It is not just security taggants, holograms, watermarks or any one single feature or device that can fully protect a security document, you need a methodical and, as mentioned earlier, layered approach to securing documents

I have heard before where people have stated that putting an electronic security chip into a document is enough to protect it. History has shown that this will never be the case. We would never make a similar claim about security inks, even if the role security inks play is a major one.

In order to protect a document there needs to be an integral approach involving materials, design and technology. On the materials front you look at the substrate with features like watermarks, fibers and security threads. Materials also include security inks, which offer a great flexibility as they can be a carrier for Level One (visible to the naked eye), Two (seen with the support of an easy to use tool) or Three (only visible with specialized equipment) security features in a cost-effective way. If utilized correctly in a true secure design this forms a very effective barrier against counterfeiting.

When you succeed to create a physical document that has got all of those layers of protection working together - then you' have got something that is very hard to copy in this day and age.

Most of the fraudsters focus seem to focus on the technological aspects. I believe it is a lot easier for someone to hack someone’s bank details and transfer money out of their account than it is for them to successfully duplicate a passport that has got a polycarbonate data page and all of the mentioned security features incorporated in it.

GvW: The counterfeiter will always focus on the easiest way of making money, and as long as we, as an industry, do our work right, they will look elsewhere. Personally I think that everything is developing in line with how the fraudsters are developing and we are still one step ahead. At the moment, the physical document, I feel, is a more secure medium than the pure digital solutions that have been put forward. These may be secure when they first come out, but it seems to be quite a short time before people get past those digital barriers. And let’s not start  about what happens when all the systems are down….

What impact has COVID-19 had, if any, on supply lines, operations and of course, business outreach?

PC: Strangely enough for us, as a business, COVID hasn't had a major impact on the operations side, and we have kept going relatively strong all the way through so far.

We have not used the UK government's furlough scheme. We did stand some people down on a rotational system for a short period, just to enable us to get the social distance and correct processes in place, there has really not been any major disruption to the business on that front.

Where we have really seen the challenges for us, has been the lack of conferences and exhibitions as physical events to attend, this is really where we get our name and product offering known in the industry and where everyone can really network with the rest of the industry and make new contacts. It is far more difficult to do this with the online mediums and the new ways that people are having to do business.

The other side that has really impacted us is the travel restrictions. Travel is key to us in meeting our business objectives. We need to get out there, visit the customers and attend trials, a lot of these things you just can't do on video calls. Positively though, we have added several new customers to our family despite it all being a little more cumbersome.

Do you have any plans for any acquisitions in the near future?

PC: Well, regarding some recent acquisitions, Luminescence was of course one of Sun Chemical’s biggest acquisitions in the past years. Since then, which is almost three years ago now, there was another acquisition in South America of SELLER INK in Brazil, a well-known security ink provider in that region. Sun Chemical and DIC have set out a general strategy of growth, both by acquisition and organic growth. Specifically in our industry, there is not really a lot of opportunity for market growth by acquisition.

Personally I think where it is appropriate, if the right company comes along - even if it is not an ink company, but with the right contacts, geographic location and the right offering, it might suit us to make an acquisition or to buy or license new technologies.

Our main focus of growth will most likely be through organic growth because that is really where our strategic focus is.

Does your part of the industry have any plans to reduce your environmental impact?

PC: Yes, a lot of our R&D focus is around sustainability and environmental issues, not only in the products that we are producing, it also concerns everything around the production process like for instance the packaging that we use. This is something that we have inherited from Sun Chemical in many ways. It was something that was important to Luminescence, but Sun Chemical as a major global player in many markets has really taken up its responsibility as market leader and the results of their efforts really carried through into what we are doing in security.

What are your views with the sort of trend toward countries going more cashless?

PC: It is a bit of an unknown factor at the moment, even though statistics might show that the usage of cash for transactions is showing a downward trend the actual production of banknotes and coins is still growing by 1-2 per cent per year. We can’t name anyone specific but currently some countries are printing more banknotes than they have ever done before. In times of uncertainty people tend to hoard cash rather than to keep it in a bank account.

Even though the numbers are still unclear there is an impact by COVID on the Point of Sales transactions as people, mis-informed as it might be, are being asked not to pay using coins or banknotes.

GW: Also important to mention is that there have been a lot of studies done by multiple universities and health institutes which show that cash is not a vector for viruses like COVID. It is more that there are a lot of people with big stakes in digital payments, who want to make sure that we all think cash is bad

PC: I think we are going to have a much clearer view at the end of this year when we hopefully return to some sort of normality and we will see what everyone's forecasts are going forward. As a company we strongly believe in the future of cash and especially banknotes.

GW: Also, what was shown recently in a study from the British Retail Consortium is that for a merchant or retailer, cash is still one of the cheapest payment methods in terms of cost per transaction. Debit cards are about two to three times more expensive and a credit card, depending on the brand, is about 10 times more expensive as a cash payment.

So for the general public and for merchants, it is very important to understand what it would mean if you would move away from cash. Personally I think a lot of people don't necessarily understand that.

Currently banks offer very low interest rates for your savings, so for an individual, it doesn't really matter whether they keep their holdings under the proverbial mattress or in a bank account. However, if you get to a point where some economists propose to go with negative interests, it suddenly becomes more interesting to hold your savings in cash or in physical means rather than on a bank account.

In countries like the Netherlands or in Switzerland it is already the case that, if you have more than a certain amount in your bank account, you are starting to pay interest rather than that you receive interest. If we would live in a world without cash, commercial entities would have more freedom of what they what they want to do with your savings so it is of the utmost important that we have a choice when it comes to the way we pay or save.

 

 

 

 

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