World Economy

Switzerland to Present New 50-Franc Banknotes

Switzerland to Present New 50-Franc BanknotesSwitzerland to Present New 50-Franc Banknotes

Switzerland unveils the first redesign of its banknotes in a generation. More than a decade in the making, the bills have enhanced security features and a new design, but the changes stop there. Unlike their neighbors, the Swiss have no plans to reconsider banknote denominations—10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 francs. Not even the highest of 1,000 francs ($1,040).

Manuel Brandenberg, a lawmaker in the Swiss canton of Zug, loves cash. So much so, that he once astounded a municipal official by paying his taxes with a wad of banknotes, Bloomberg reported.

To prevent his country from going down the same path as the euro region, where officials are toying with the idea of pulling the €500 ($567) note to combat crime, Brandenberg has proposed enshrining existing denominations in national law. Issuance is currently a matter for the Swiss National Bank, which will present its new 50-franc bill in Bern on Wednesday.

“We want to guarantee that cash remains in force,” says Brandenberg. “If it’s anchored in the law, it’s harder to change.”

Austria’s deputy economy minister called in February for a similar measure to preserve the €500 note, evidence of how the argument for privacy resonates throughout German-speaking Europe. That contrasts with other countries such as Sweden, where cash is dying out.

 Averse to Plastic Money

The predilection for notes and coins is evident on the streets of Zurich, where a number of stores don’t take plastic—among them Belcafe at Bellevue, a busy transport hub in the center.

“I always pay for everything in cash, because it allows me to keep better tabs on my finances,” said Flamur Halili, a 22-year-old mechanic, standing in line for a roast-beef sandwich off Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse. “With cash you can’t run up any debts.”

National data confirm that preference. In Switzerland the value of card transactions relative to economic output was roughly a third that of the UK or Canada, according to select Bank for International Settlements data for 2014—even though payment terminals were about equally prevalent. Roughly 20% of purchases—including large sums for jewelry—were paid in cash, then-finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told parliament in 2014.

As for Brandenberg, while a tongue-in-cheek push he launched earlier this year for a new 5,000-franc banknote has floundered, his measure to get the denominations written into law met with initial success at a cantonal level.

Yet even his fondness for cash has its limits: This year he settled his tax bill electronically.