Twenty years ago, the euro was born and today it’s the official currency in 19 countries, with over 300 million people using them daily.
The story of when 15 billion banknotes and 52 billion coins in euros first went into circulation is one that connects us all!
Here’s what some of our people from UniCredit have to say about that exciting time. A time of change, which marked a new era across many of our countries.
“I have a heartfelt memory of that summer in 2002.” Antonio Milesi, from Brescia, Lombardy tells us. “I had not seen the sea for many years, and I was finally on my way to the Cote d'Azur. I remember how good it felt enjoying the sunset over the Esterel whilst sipping an Espresso that I had paid for with my first euro coin.”
Maximilian Kirsch, an HVB investment advisor who worked at a branch in Munich in January 2002, remembers the introduction of the euro 20 years ago very vividly.
"That was a wild time. The queues outside the branches went so far out into the street. We tried to make sure that the customers waiting in line were happy and we did our best to handle small matters directly."
Erich Diel was also working at an HVB branch in Munich in 2002. He recalls his own experience: "I was working at the cash desk, which meant that the queues outside were hidden from me. But from what I heard, customers were served hot coffee. I remember one customer brought me about 100 kilograms worth of coins in pieces of ten Deutschmarks. He had stored them in his safe as ‘extra weight’ to make theft more difficult, but now he needed to exchange them. It took quite some time!”
Andrea Pompl, Complaint Manager says, “In our historic branch in the beautiful Otto Wagner Art Nouveau building on Linke Wienzeile, we were all well prepared for the exchange of schillings to euros. We were located near Vienna's Naschmarkt, with its many fruit and vegetable stands, small fine eateries, and weekend flea market. So, we were prepared for a big rush of traders coming to exchange their collected schillings. In the first few days, we collected buckets full of coins - and the weight on the floor behind the cash desk in the old building started to concern us. So, we had to make special trips several times a day to pick up the money so that the floor didn’t cave in. Even the strong men worked up a sweat carrying it. Afterwards, we celebrated with the traders from the Naschmarkt. It's a pity that this branch no longer exists today.”
Werner Deopito, PBK Products Sales Support & Services: “At the time, I was working in asset management at Bank Austria. I remember going out for my usual morning run on 1 January 2002 and taking out my very first euro banknotes on the way back. I felt exhilarated from both.”
Stefan Bruckbauer, Chief Economist: “At that time, my department was significantly involved in the euro launch project at Bank Austria. Uncertainty and fear of this currency changeover was relatively high in Austria, not least because of historical experiences with currency reforms. To counteract this, we produced brochures and held events to provide information. I don't remember exactly how many, but all in all we probably took part in more than 200 such events. I still remember two of them very well. One was one of the smallest, it took place in a retirement home in Vienna's 20th district, and I'm pretty sure I couldn’t clear up all the uncertainties. The largest took place in Styria, where the branch manager of a large town had managed to get all school pupils to gather in the town hall. There were almost certainly well over 500 participants in total. There were two sponsors at that event. Bank Austria and a well-known burger restaurant. I was there as a speaker. The restaurant gave out vouchers for burgers and fries. I’m not sure which the students enjoyed more.”
Slovenia was the first country in Central and Eastern Europe to adopt the euro on 1 January 2007.
Igor Mlakar, from UniCredit Bank Slovenia remembers it well. “Our CEO at the time was asked to make the first withdrawal in euros from the ATM in front of journalists at the stroke of midnight, as a symbol of the successful completion of two years of preparations for the new currency. Despite intensive preparations, we had no guarantee that the withdrawal would be successful, as the banks were also dependent on an external partner, which was responsible for switching off and switching on the ATM network. So, just in case, we had a Plan B. I stood next to the ATM inside the branch and waited with the banknote in my hand. Should any problems arise in the system, I was supposed to manually push the euro banknote through the opening of the ATM from inside of the branch to avoid potential embarrassment in front of reporters. I was happy and relieved that everything went smoothly, and although I spent the New Year at work, it was definitely one of my most exciting celebrations.”
Slovakia said goodbye to the Slovak koruna and officially introduced the euro as the national currency on 1 January 2008.
Kristián Lichtblau oversaw ensuring that the ATMs gave out euros after mid-night. “We invited journalists to our mid-night press conference.” Kristián says, “An unusual number of journalists turned up and cameras started running before midnight. We tested and inspected our systems countless times, but the question of whether the ATMs would give out euros hung in the air,” Kristián laughs. “At midnight, the first withdrawal from an ATM was made by our then CEO and thankfully he was holding a 50-euro banknote. I think that's when I started breathing again.”
In Croatia, the euro will be adopted on 1 January 2023.
Ivan Vlaho, CEO of Zagrebačka banka, says, “Zagrebačka banka is continuously working to prepare and upgrade its system to make the switch to the euro as simple as possible for our clients. The conversion to euros is one of the most complex and important projects that we have ever had in Zagrebačka banka and we are all working hard to make sure that it is implemented successfully.”