• Sweden edition
 
Swedes set for cashless future
Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Swedes set for cashless future

Published: 08 Dec 2013 08:48 GMT+01:00
Updated: 08 Dec 2013 08:48 GMT+01:00

Peter, 55 years old and homeless, is standing at a Stockholm supermarket, carrying the two objects that help him make a living: a stack of magazines and a debit card reader.

The magazine, Situation Stockholm, is sold by the poor to bring in some income, but for Peter and many other vendors the problem in recent years has been that cash is falling out of use, and passers-by often don't have 50 kronor ($7.80) at the ready to buy a copy.

The card reader, provided by the magazine's publishers, has come to the rescue, and Peter, who asked not to be identified by his last name, couldn't be happier.

"Customers can follow every step so that they don't feel cheated," he said, showing the functions of the device. "I'm impressed by this thing. It's cool."

Mattias Strömberg, a potential customer taking a look at Peter's magazines, welcomed the opportunity to pay with cards: "I never carry cash around. No one does anymore."

In Sweden, only 27 percent of retail sales are made with cash, according to a recent paper by the European Central Bank. If online sales were included, the figure would be even smaller.

All the Nordic countries are rapidly on the way towards a cashless society, deepening an existing divide between north and south in Europe. In Greece and Romania, for example, 95 percent of transactions are still in cash.

Not everyone in Sweden welcomes the transition. In a celebrated case, a would-be robber entered a Stockholm bank, but had to leave empty-handed, discovering that he had picked a cashless bank.

Criminals are not the only ones affected. From Copenhagen to Reykjavik, the cashless society has profoundly changed the ways people live.

Everything from hot dogs to taxes is paid for online, with bank cards, or by SMS. Many buses refuse cash -- confounding foreign tourists -- and the newly opened ABBA Museum in the Swedish capital also only accepts credit and debit cards. 

"Neither retailers nor banks have any obligation to accept cash," according to the nation's central bank, the Riksbank.

"We'll probably not see a totally cashless society in the near future, but a society where cash is reduced to a minimum and used in very few situations, is probably quite realistic," said Niklas Arvidsson, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, who published a study on the topic earlier this year.

The big winners are the banks and card companies, but in the end, all of society could benefit as cash is more expensive to handle than electronic payments, he said.

But the elderly and rural citizens, as well as the socially marginalised with high credit risk such as the long-term unemployed, would have problems if cash disappeared completely, he argued.

"If our society goes in this direction, that you basically can't do anything at all without access to debit or credit cards ... it might even create further marginalisation and exclusion," said Leif Öberg, development director at the Swedish Salvation Army, which offers support to people in need.

"The absolute and almost immediate effect ... is that you can't travel by bus. What we see at the other end of the spectrum is that the most marginalised get around on foot ... or travel (by metro) without a ticket, but you can't do that on the bus. That is the stark reality for people today," he added.

There exists an alternative -- pre-paid debit cards that people can later recharge at convenience stores, but with a minimum of 200 kronor ($30) even this can pose difficulties.

Arvidsson also warned that consumers' rights might be at risk as the electronic trail every card user leaves behind could be misused for marketing purposes.

"There is a concern that today's laws are insufficient," said Arvidsson.

"The authorities must ensure that the information is used correctly."

Other losers in the cashless game are smaller shops struggling with high card fees, especially after Sweden implemented a new law in 2010 that banned imposing surcharges on customers for paying with cards.

That means the retailers themselves must deal with the fees to the card-issuing companies -- up to 2.50 kronor per transaction, plus an additional percentage fee.

Since 70 percent of all retail transactions in Sweden are by card, both debit and credit, it adds up to a sizable sum.

Retailers include the fee in the prices of their products, but for smaller shops it's a problem because they don't have the economies of scale and thus have a hard time keeping prices low.

For reasons such as these, Swedish money is not about to go completely virtual.

The Riksbank, which having been founded in 1668 is one of the world's oldest central banks, still plans to launch new banknotes and coins in 2015.

"We believe cash will continue to exist in the near future. We can't foresee it disappearing completely," said Christina Wejshammar, head of the banknotes and coins division at the Riksbank. "It all depends on how we act as consumers."

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
National
Swedish airfares to get cheaper in 2015

Swedish airfares to get cheaper in 2015

Sweden is set to buck the European trend of rising air prices with fares expected to drop next year according to a new report. READ  

National
Swede's homemade submarine nets fortune
Eric Westerberg's homemade submarine Isabelle. Photo: PS.nu

Swede's homemade submarine nets fortune

A Swedish submarine enthusiast who spent over 3,500 hours making his own vessel has sold his prized possession for 705,000 kronor ($98,500) in an online auction. READ  

National
Cops reported for making 'Roma' comment

Cops reported for making 'Roma' comment

Police in northern Sweden have been reported to the Equality Ombudsman for describing a wanted suspect as having a "Roma appearance." READ  

Donald Duck and Zlatan get Swedish votes
A political career for Zlatan? Some fans seem to want to see that. Photo: Peter Dejong/TT

Donald Duck and Zlatan get Swedish votes

The Bilderberg Group, the Satanic Initiative and Adolf Hitler all received votes in Sweden’s general election, according to a list released by the country’s electoral authority. READ  

Sport
Stockholm fails bid to host Euro 2020 games
The Swedish team in action. Photo: TT

Stockholm fails bid to host Euro 2020 games

Sweden's capital has missed out on a chance to host any Euro 2020 games, with Copenhagen the only Scandinavian city among the thirteen winning locations. READ  

Vicar: God rejects fans of women priests
Antje Jackelén, Archbishop of Uppsala, is the first woman to head the Swedish church. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Vicar: God rejects fans of women priests

A Swedish priest has been fired after telling his congregation that people who support female priests would be rejected by God - despite the fact that his own church is led by a woman. READ  

Analysis
Women set to dominate top post-election jobs
Margot Wallström (right) could become Stefan Löfven's new Minister of Foreign Affairs. Photo: TT

Women set to dominate top post-election jobs

Sweden could soon get a female Foreign Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt's ousted Moderate Party is preparing for its first woman leader and the grandmother of actor Hugh Grant's son is being tipped as Parliament's next Speaker. READ  

National
Sweden protests over Russian plane incursions
A Gripen plane was scrambled to see off the Russian planes. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Sweden protests over Russian plane incursions

UPDATED: Sweden has summoned the Russian Ambassador for a dressing down after two Russian planes violated Swedish airspace last week. READ  

Elections 2014
'Good prospects' for Alliance co-operation

'Good prospects' for Alliance co-operation

UPDATED: Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven says he is positive that his party can co-operate with the former governing Alliance on some issues. READ  

Lifestyle
Introducing...Astrid Lindgren
Pippi Longstocking comes to live at the Astrid Lindgren theme park. Photo: TT

Introducing...Astrid Lindgren

The creator of Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren, is the most translated author from Sweden, and has filled children's imaginations since the 1940s. The Local finds out why her work has become a timeless classic. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
The 'black gold' of Sweden's west coast.
National
West Sweden prepares for the 2014 lobster premiere
Society
What's on in Sweden
Politics
How Sweden Democrats went mainstream
Politics
Scandinavia and Scotland: closer links?
Gallery
Property of the week - Eskilstuna
Blog updates

20 September

How a Frog Can Save the Environment (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"What we do we imagine when we think of children enjoying nature? Perhaps it’s fishing, marveling at lightning bugs on a muggy July day or blowing on the wispy petals of a dandelion to make a special wish. But perhaps most iconic of the playful innocence in childhood is hopping after and trying to catch..." READ »

 

19 September

Editor’s blog (The Local Sweden) »

"Happy Friday readers! It sure has been a exciting week in Sweden, where we’re set to get a new Prime Minister after Fredrik Reinfeldt stepped down following Sunday’s elections. The Local blogged live from the key political gatherings across Stockholm. Why not re-visit the action by taking a look at our photos, tweets, videos and analysis? Since the..." READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
How to start a business in Stockholm
Society
How I became a surf blogger when I moved to Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Society
Why is Stockholm's Södermalm so cool?
Gallery
People-watching: September 11th
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Politics
Five possible election outcomes
Politics
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Politics
Sweden elections: Who's who?
Gallery
Property of the week - Hornstull, Stockholm
Analysis
Five differences between the UK and Sweden
Welshman Jonny Luck is now a chef in Sweden
Society
How I opened my own restaurant in Sweden's Malmö
Sponsored Article
Stockholm tech fest: relive the magic
Gallery
People-watching September 8th
Photo: TT
Politics
Feminists fight for first seats
Politics
Immigration cut push from Sweden Democrats
Sheryl Sandberg says women have "low expectations"
Tech
Facebook exec talks women's limits in Swedish business
Politics
Left Party calls for justice and equality
Politics
Green Party wants 'better world' for kids
Lifestyle
The five best Swedish songs of the month
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

857
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN