Banknote upgrade project FAQs

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The Reserve Bank regularly reviews and improves New Zealand’s banknotes to take advantage of the latest security features. With technology constantly evolving, it's important our banknotes keep up, to help ensure counterfeiting levels remain low. New banknotes are being released now, and will circulate with the older notes. The older banknote designs were issued in the early 1990s, and revised slightly for the switch to a flexible polymer plastic in 1999.

The Series 7 $5 and $10 banknotes started to make their way into the hands of the public during October 2015. The remaining denominations, the $20s, $50s and $100s were released from 16 May 2016.
The Reserve Bank supplies banks directly with banknotes as they order them. Most major banks stocked limited supplies of Series 7 banknotes soon after issuance and are the main places to source new banknotes. The availability and appearance of Series 7 banknotes in circulation is expected grow over time. Our Series 6 banknotes are still legal tender. The Reserve Bank does not sell currency directly to members of the public.

Watermarks have traditionally been used on banknotes but have been overtaken by newer technology. Over the years we’ve used watermarks of King Tawhiao, Captain James Cook, and Queen Elizabeth. In the new banknotes we’ve replaced the watermarks with more secure and visible features – a transparent window that has an embossed denomination number, and several metallic and holographic illustrations included in it.

Research showed that not many New Zealanders use watermarks to check for counterfeits. The new security features that replaced the watermarks are highly visible at a glance, and so are more likely to actually be used to verify that the new notes are genuine legal tender.

We are retaining Queen Elizabeth on the new $20 and on all our coins.

The Reserve Bank does not issue or sell numismatic currency to the public. However, numismatic products for Series 7 have been sold through NZ Post. Please visit their website.

The notes have a brighter, clearer look, with the note denomination shown in larger print and greater colour contrast between notes. The notes feature more te reo Māori, and contain more sophisticated security features that greatly enhance the overall design. They are the same sizes as the current notes and are made of the same flexible and durable plastic. For more information, and to see the designs, visit the Brighter Money website.

The new security features include:

  • the colour-changing bird – the colour changes when the note is tilted with a rolling bar going diagonally across the bird. On the reverse of the note, in the same spot, you will see a smaller effect in the fern window.
  • the transparent window and hologram Inside the large transparent window, you will see a hologram featuring a fern and a map of New Zealand. It also contains the same bird featured on the left-hand side of the note. There’s also an embossed print denomination below the hologram
  • the raised print you can feel the raised print denominations on the front and back and you can feel the raised print in the words “Reserve Bank of New Zealand Te Putea Matua” and“New Zealand Aotearoa”.
  • the puzzle number hold the note up to the light and you will see the coloured irregular shapes on the front and the back of the note, which combine like puzzle pieces to show the note’s denomination.
Yes. The existing notes will remain in use and both sets will be legal tender. This means banks and retailers will accept both sets of notes, and may give both sets out as change.
The design and print tender run by the Reserve Bank was won by the Canadian Bank Note Company (CBN). The notes have been printed at CBN’s plant in Ottawa, Canada. Find out more about CBN.

The costs of regular banknote upgrades, which typically take place every 10 - 15 years, have to be balanced against increasing risks of counterfeiting as technology advances.

Of the approximately 148 million notes in circulation ($4.7 billion) we receive, process and re-issue over 140 million banknotes each year. We expect it will cost an extra $7-8 million per annum for the next five years to issue and distribute the new notes, and replace our reserve stocks.

While the cost of purchasing new notes over five years will be about $80 million, in the ordinary course of business we could have incurred costs printing the current notes. The additional costs, as a result of moving to a newer, more secure design, are about $40 million.

The new banknotes go through rigorous testing in a number of areas to ensure they are as robust, secure and durable as possible prior to release. This includes laboratory testing to find potential areas of weakness in the design and printing, as well as testing with key stakeholders to ensure the new notes can be accommodated by businesses, retailers, banks and others key users such as banknote equipment manufacturers. The new notes are printed on the same flexible, durable plastic film as the old notes.
New Zealand has very low counterfeiting rates by international standards. However, in recent times the technology used for counterfeiting has improved and we need to strengthen our security features to combat this.
The Series 7 note designs feature larger, bolder print showing the note’s value. Greater colour contrast between notes has also been introduced, to help blind and low vision people distinguish one note from another. As with Series 6, Series 7 notes have a different size for each denomination both in length and in height allowing for size comparisons to be made. The Bank has also developed a note gauge to assist with differentiating the denominations. For more information see our Banknote features for people who are blind or have low vision page.

New Zealand banknotes incorporate very little text. However, the new notes feature additional Māori language:

  • Aotearoa - the Māori name for New Zealand
  • Te Pūtea Matua – the Reserve Bank of New Zealand’s Maori name
  • The names of the native birds on the reverse of the notes (hoiho, whio, kārearea, kōkako, mohua) will continue to be written in Māori.

Copyright and/or the necessary permissions have been obtained for all the images and portraits which Canadian Banknote Company incorporated into the design of the new banknotes.

Sir Edmund Hillary supplied his image for the Series 6 banknotes which were designed in 1999.

The Canterbury Museum licensed the portrait of Kate Sheppard on the $10, while the Alexander Turnbull Library licensed the use of the Sir Apirana Ngata portrait on the $50 and the Lord Rutherford portrait on the $100.

The portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was supplied by Buckingham Palace for use on the $20 note.

Images of the landscapes, flora and fauna featured on the notes were supplied by photographer Rob Suisted and The image of Parliament buildings on the $20 and White Camellia (Camellia japonica alba plena) were taken by photographer Stephen A’Court. The image of the Porourangi meeting house on the $50 was supplied by Heni Tawhiwhirangi.

The Reserve Bank has been working with manufacturers of banknote equipment to ensure they are well prepared for the changes, and the transition to the new notes is as seamless as possible.

If you are a retailer with banknote equipment, please contact your supplier to ensure that they are participating in our calibration programme and check they have scheduled your machine calibrations.

A short education and information campaign will run from the release of the new notes and you can check out the Brighter Money website.