There is a trend toward a cashless economy that has people in many countries worried about issues of privacy and security. But in Sweden these concerns are muted, and they are well on their way to being cashless. Across the country cash is now used in less than 20% of transactions in stores, which is half the number from five years ago. For total payments of all kinds, just 1% are in cash compared to around 7% in most of the EU and the US. It is an increasingly common sight in Stockholm to see signs in shops and restaurants that say: “We don’t accept cash”. There has been a consistent “ripple effect”, with more and more shops going cashless as it becomes increasingly socially acceptable. Coins and banknotes have been banned on buses for several years after unions raised concerns over drivers’ safety.
Small businesses are also going cashless with the help of mobile card readers such as iZettle, which was created by a Swedish company. Such portable technologies have enabled even sellers at markets or on the street to take card payments easily. One British tourist remarked, “It’s not like the UK where there’s often a minimum spend when you go to a kiosk or you’re in the middle of nowhere.” Another popular Swedish innovation is the smartphone payment system called ‘Swish’. It’s an app that allows customers to send money securely to anyone else who has the app, just by using their mobile number. All you need is a phone, a Swedish bank account and your ID number. It is a popular way to transfer money instantly between friends, and over half of the population uses the app.
According to research from the Swedish Central Bank, a big reason that the cashless idea has spread so quickly is that, “Swedes tend to trust banks, we trust institutions… people are not afraid of the ‘Big Brother’ issues or fraud connected to electronic payments.” But the trend is not to everyone’s liking. Bjorn Eriksson, formerly the national police commissioner and president of Interpol explains: “I like cards. I’m just angry because about a million people (10% of the population) can’t cope with cards: the elderly, former convicts, tourists, immigrants, etc.. The banks don’t care because these people are not profitable.” He heads a national movement called Kontantupproret (Cash Rebellion), which is also concerned about identity theft, rising consumer debt and cyber attacks. “This system could easily be disturbed or manipulated. Why invade us when it’s so easy? Just cut off the payment system and we’re completely helpless,” says Mr Eriksson.