9 Jun 2023 | Interviews
We continue our series of interviews with members of the International Tax Stamp Association (ITSA), by talking with Gábor Zsámboki from ANY Security Printing in Hungary.Coming from a background of telecommunications and economics, Gábor Zsámboki has worked at ANY Security Printing Company for 23 years, serving as its CEO for the past 15. In this interview, he offers personal experiences of the rapidly evolving tax stamp industry and shares his excitement about its myriad opportunities for contributing to a better tomorrow.
Q: Please would you introduce your company?
A: ANY PLC has a history stretching back to 1851, when it was founded as the State Printing Company of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1992, around the time of its privatisation, it moved into tax stamps – among other markets – providing services across Hungary and expanding across other countries and continents. Today, we have four manufacturing plants in Hungary, two in Romania, one in Moldova, and a sales office in Slovakia, in addition to partners connecting us to a total of 62 countries worldwide.
Q: What makes your company stand out?
A: Over our long history, we have evolved from being a printing house, adding scientists and engineers, so that today we can offer not just printing services, but also technologies and processes to support their deployment and use.
Q: What role does your company play in the tax stamp industry?
A: The business is focused on printing and technologies surrounding security products, the production and personalisation of paper and plastic documents – such as driving licenses and personal ID cards – and, of course, tax stamps.
Q: What changes have you seen to the tax stamp industry during your time working in it?
A: When we started out, tax stamps were solely a means of collecting tax, preventing corruption and money laundering, and so on. On the consumer side, they simply provided assurance that a product was genuine.
Nowadays, tax stamps play a much more comprehensive role, enabling us to follow the complete lifecycle of a product. We can identify the producer, the wholesaler, the marketer and so on, but beyond that we also have sight of the consumer. With products such as tobacco and alcohol, that has implications for public health, and it can also support the development of a given market. So, they’re not ‘just’ tax stamps anymore; they have become lifecycle identification devices.
Q: What do you think is the most interesting aspect of tax stamps and/or the industry?
A: A key outcome of this evolution – specifically the introduction and development of track and trace activities – is how tax stamps can now feed into big data, which is really exciting because that starts providing insights into the global economy. If we look at major industries such as agriculture or mining, we can go right back to raw materials and follow their course through manufacturing processes into shops and right through to products in customers’ hands.
With that level of understanding, we can assess how we are using these resources – how efficient, or not, we are being with them – and that has implications for one of the most serious issues we face today: climate change. This data can also help us analyse how people are behaving and moving around the world, how industries are acting, how money is travelling, and in that lies great opportunity to reconsider our values and the ways in which we exploit our limited resources.
Q: What changes do you envisage happening within the industry in future?
A: Right now, if we look at a mobile phone, there are a lot of different components, and each of those has its own story, from resources through production to deployment in the final product. Each chip has an identification number, for example, and we can get so far with this, but we can’t currently follow its full lifecycle. There are opportunities, though. With the technologies in tax stamps and track and trace, as I’ve said, there is potential for greater transparency and accountability, and that will ultimately affect what sort of world we leave to our grandchildren. This industry has tremendous power, and we need to capitalise on this.
Q: What is one change to tax stamps or the industry you would like to see?
A: I would like to see less of a focus on the physical properties of tax stamps – particular security features, design, or printing techniques – and more emphasis placed on what lies behind them, the data and insights I spoke about, which are something really important that our industry can provide. The world economy is changing, as is our consumption. Markets are developing, and tax stamps can help us understand and positively steer this evolution.
Q: Why do you think the development of standards is important for the industry?
A: I would say standards could be a very useful tool for the data collection and global analysis I’ve been discussing. In order for data to be comparable, standardisation is needed to ensure consistency across different countries and industries.
If we look specifically at tobacco, which of course is an area of immediate interest for greater standardisation, we still don’t have consistent information on the origin of a particular batch, such as where and how it was grown, how it was processed and so on. A cigarette manufacturer may have some or all of this information, but a consumer buying the product doesn’t have access to it.
With food, in many countries, it’s mandatory to show the country of origin, but with tobacco, that’s not the case. Improvements in standardisation, and the application of tax stamps with track and trace systems, could provide complete transparency for everyone in the chain, from grower to consumer.
Q: What do you see as the main challenges within the industry today?
A: We can only benefit from standards if they are being properly and universally applied. Enforcement throughout the value chain is very important, and it’s all too easy for this to be disrupted by one particular actor somewhere in that chain. Our challenge is to ensure the integrity of tax stamps, their associated systems and data collection at all stages, so that we can fully realise the great potential that tax stamps have. On the bright side, I believe we’re on the right track.