A highly discreet world leader

Over the space of a few decades, SICPA has become the world’s main supplier of ultra-securitized ink for bank notes and has just celebrated its 90th anniversary.

When you visit SICPA, you do not just walk straight through the front door. After all, the company has established itself as the world’s leading supplier of ultra-securitized ink for bank notes and identity documents. The Vaud-based business specializes in the development of security solutions for the authentication and identification of products such as tobacco, alcohol, and luxury goods, and securitizing petrol products to avoid fraud. For the past few years, SICPA has been diversifying into the digital sector with high-technology solutions for the digital tracking of products.

The company’s 2,500 employees are spread out over factories and offices across five continents, with around a third of them in Switzerland at the factory in Chavornay (Vaud) and the research laboratories located in the Lausanne region in Prilly (Vaud). The Swiss factory is certified by the European Central Bank and produces the now famous inks. Abroad, the factories implement projects developed by technicians out in the field. In the USA, for example, the company produces all the security elements that are integrated into the famous greenbacks, while a subsidiary produces fiscal stamps for a large number of states. "A large majority of banknotes in the world use our security inks," says Christine MacQueen, the company’s head of corporate affairs, "even though the notes can also integrate security features provided by other suppliers."

« A large majority of banknotes in the world use our security inks »

The main reason behind the globalization of the company’s activities was demand from central banks, and also governments, who wanted to guarantee the traceability of certain sensitive items of merchandise. Securitizing product monitoring already removes a number of major concerns. "Technologies adapt, but we have conquered markets thanks to our quality solutions," says McQueen, "and for activities that are as security-focused as ours, the neutrality, stability, and solidity of Switzerland are yet more reassuring elements for anyone wanting to fight fraud and illicit trade."

Milking grease

SICPA, which stands for Société Industrielle et Commerciale de Produits Alimentaires, was founded in 1927 and originally specialized in the production of greases used for milking cows. The quality of the milk and cream in Switzerland were what helped the company to establish its reputation to begin with. "We changed our product range very gradually," explains McQueen. "The move from greases to inks can be put down to a business opportunity: in the 1940s, countries needed security inks to protect their currencies." The company therefore set up a partnership with Giori, an Italian printing works which would later move to Switzerland and specialize in the security printing industry.

The company has never stopped investing in innovation. "It’s part of our DNA," says McQueen. "The world can change very quickly, and we need to develop new solutions. Promoting the security of citizens has always been our main concern. With globalization, things are getting more complicated. It is difficult to ensure the quality of the components of an object when they all come from different parts of the world. In this respect, there is still a great deal that needs to be done."

The company has worked a great deal with governments (i.e., central banks). It is now developing its solutions to serve industry, in particular the pharmaceutical sector (to fight counterfeit drugs). "By responding to demands from industrials, we are continuing to work for the common good and for citizens. Our motto is ‘enabling trust’: we enable citizens to trust their currency, their identity documents, and the sensitive products that they buy from responsible industrial companies."

« Our motto is ‘enabling trust’: we enable citizens to trust their currency, their identity documents, and the sensitive products that they buy from responsible industrial companies. »

A strong commitment to the canton of Vaud

"The Lausanne region has a very favorable ecosystem, with a significant innovation dynamic in the various technology sectors. We are definitely looking to stay here," says Christine MacQueen, SICPA’s Head of Corporate Affairs, underlining the company’s attachment to the region and to Switzerland, a country from which it is possible to work with most other governments in the world.

Thanks to its growth and its burgeoning reputation, the now multinational company has been able to develop partnerships with start-ups in the region and is collaborating closely with the EPFL, employing many former students. "Part of our research is carried out on the campus. In our very specialized domain, we need to stay the best," Ms. McQueen adds.

SICPA is now a sponsor of the EPFL Rolex Learning Center, and the SICPA Foundation also provides financial aid to interns in medicine. It was set up by Albert Amon, who was a director of the company for almost 50 years and who was the one who made it global. More generally, SICPA is a loyal (and discreet) partner of many cultural events in the canton.