Sweden is increasingly cashless -- but is that good or bad?

Swedish businesses are leading the way globally in the move to a cashless society, but the system is far from foolproof.

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards NewsMavens, Sweden
Sweden is increasingly cashless -- but is that good or bad? - NewsMavens
Coffee payment, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

Sweden is often at the forefront of innovative tech solutions, and the move towards a cashless economy is no exception. It's one of the world's most cash-free countries, and home to multiple startups that make card and mobile payments easier.

Ditching coins and notes is supposed to save time and effort at the point of purchase, as well as keeping shopkeepers safer from thefts. But of course it's not a perfect solution, and criminals can and do still rob people using mobile or card payment systems. Another example of how it can go wrong came last Saturday, when the mobile payment service Swish was down for several hours during the afternoon. 

There are also bigger worries, such as the threat of a hack into Swedish banking systems. The government itself seems aware of these risks -- indeed, it warned Swedes to keep cash at home in case of emergency in their advice booklets for preparing for a potential attack or crisis, sent to all households in the country earlier this month.

Details from the story:

  • The total value of cash in circulation is slightly above 50 million kronor -- half the amount circulating ten years ago
  • Approximately 80% of all transactions in Sweden today use debit or credit cards
  • One example is iZettle, which developed a card chip-reader that connects directly to phones and tablets, and is used in smaller restaurants and shops across the country. This week, it launched a partnership with a London organization for street musicians, allowing the English capital's buskers to accept card payments.
  • Another payment company, Swish allows users to transfer money via their smartphones in just a few clicks, and is perfect for situations like splitting a bill between friends or shopping at a flea market or community event, where the seller won't have a professional payment system.
  • What's more, tourist agency Visit Sweden announced this month that many tourists are unhappy with the development, due both to high fees imposed by their banks and worries over privacy. Many bank branches don't handle cash at all, nor do Stockholm's trains and buses, and even in the most touristic areas there are lots of shops and cafes that only accept payment by card.
  • According to one report, two thirds of Swedish traders believe they will no longer accept cash by 2030
  • There are worries that an increasingly cashless society disadvantages pensioners, who may not all feel comfortable using cards in an unfamiliar place or paying for things over the internet
  • It's also a problem for new arrivals to the country, who often cannot get a bank account until they are officially registered
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