Cash is an odd thing: like the Cheshire Cat in Wonderland, it periodically disappears and then once again reappears. In my next blog post I will talk about disappearing cash but this week I want to tell you about Switzerland, which is once again going against the grain and ploughing its own furrow (which is an extremely rare farming technique known only to elite Alpine agrarian workers). Most of the rest of the world is getting rid of high-value banknotes, as we discussed here and here. But not Switzerland. They have one of the most valuable banknotes in regular circulation: the 1,000 Swiss franc note. In the bureau de change at my local M&S, I’d have to hand over more than £780 to get just one of these. That’s fifteen times the value of our largest note, the already-rare £50 (or the bull’s-eye to our Cockney friends). So you think they might be a bit worried about this, particularly in the face of the European Central Bank getting rid of the €500 banknote at the end of last year thanks to concerns about money laundering and terrorist financing. But no: on 13 March 2019 the Swiss National Bank proudly rolled the presses on a newly-designed 1000-franc note. It’s lovely and purple and “focuses on Switzerland’s communicative flair” with an image of a handshake. That’s a bit unfortunate, really, given how often bribery is symbolised by a handshake.
The Swiss are big on privacy, of course. When someone there proposed launching a national railcard a bit like the Oyster system we once had in the UK, there was a national outcry because people feared having their travel habits tracked. And they are big users of cash, perhaps for similar reasons. In a survey on payment methods conducted throughout 2017 by the Swiss National Bank, they found that “cash is the most common method of payment for households in Switzerland [with] 70% [of payments] processed with cash”. And although smaller payments are more often made with cash than larger ones, “35% of non-recurring payments that involve amounts of more than CHF 1,000 are settled with cash”. When was the last time you made a cash payment of £780? Me either. Imagine cramming all of that into your wallet or purse – and that, of course, is precisely why large value banknotes are still so popular with criminals.