• Sweden's news in English

Cashless society faces backlash from losers

James Savage · 3 Jul 2015, 17:50

Published: 03 Jul 2015 17:50 GMT+02:00

Buy a magazine from a homeless person in Stockholm, and it’s increasingly likely that they will let you pay by card. It’s perhaps the most extreme sign of the transition to a cash-free society, which has arguably gone further in Sweden than anywhere else. Those who face losing out used the Almedalen political forum on Gotland this week to launch a campaign to halt the move to plastic.

Björn Eriksson, a former head of Sweden’s national police and now head of Säkerhetsbranschen, a lobbying group for the security industry, is cynical about the banks’ motivations: “It’s in banks’ interests to reduce use of cash. They take fees for card payments, not cash payments,” he says.

According to a report by the Swedish Federation of Trade last year, four out of five purchases in Sweden are made by credit or debit card, compared to just one in four in cash-loving Italy. Increasingly, technology such as iZettle allows small businesses to take card payments via smartphones. 

While the banks, most retailers and many consumers have welcomed the move away from cash, there are concerns that many people are falling between the cracks. Björn Eriksson now leads an alliance of the security industry (which is seeing a falling demand for cash transport), pensioners’ groups and small business lobbyists, which claims that a society dependent on cards particularly hurts small businesses and pensioners. 

There’s also the question of privacy. While Eriksson cheerfully admits that his industry has a vested interest in keeping cash, he insists that the disappearance of cash raises big integrity issues, as banks are able to build a very detailed picture of customers’ consumption patterns:

“Swedes see the banks almost as state-run organizations rather than the private companies that they are,” he says. “Foreigners ask me how Swedes can have such faith in the banks,” he says.

READ ALSO: Small businesses seek help in cashless Sweden

There are more practical issues too. People in rural areas also lose out, as cash machines (ATMs) that are under-used risk being removed - a move that particularly affects rural pensioners.

Sweden’s fifth smallest bank - Mjöbäcks Sparbank - recently resorted to paying customers in the small town of Överlida to make cash withdrawals to encourage them to use the cash machine. CEO Tomas Andrén said cash must continue to exist, but added that with cash use falling by 8-10 percent a year it was becoming harder to maintain cash machines in rural areas.

Meanwhile, many bank branches refuse to handle cash altogether. In a situation repeated across Sweden, two of the main bank chains in Gotland’s largest town, Visby, refuse to handle cash, citing security concerns.

“I’ve heard of people keeping cash in their microwaves because banks won’t accept it,” Eriksson says.

Yet despite all these concerns, the prospect of Sweden reversing its move away from cash is remote. Jan Ericsson, an MP for the centre-right Moderates who sits on the Riksdag’s finance committee says “we can’t stop the move away from cash.”

“The Riksdag has looked at forcing banks to take cash, but it transpired that this risked leading to them closing their branches in small towns.”

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.com)

Today's headlines
Kidnappers with chainsaw abduct man in Stockholm
The scene of the kidnapping in Stockholm. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

A man has been arrested after armed kidnappers bundled another man into a van and drove off with him shortly after noon on Friday outside the Bromma Blocks shopping centre in Stockholm.

Border Checks
Commuters to seek damages from Sweden over ID checks
The Öresund bridge. Photo: Erland Vinberg/TT

The Southern Sweden Chamber of Commerce is collecting commuters' names ahead of an attempt to claim damages from the Swedish state over ID checks in the Öresund region.

Why Swedes are so relaxed about taking gap years
Anna Tybrandt and her friends in Malaysia/Photo: Private

But the French aren't so keen.

Euro 2016
How Iceland made Swedes 'proud to be Nordic'
Fans react in Reykjavic after Iceland defeat England. Photo: Brynjar Gunnarsson

Sweden failed to make it past the group stages at Euro 2016. The fans needed a new team, and now they've got one.

Why this Swedish police dog has been hailed as a hero
Äddie the police dog has finally retired after ten years on the job. Photo: Christer Torlen

A heart-warming Stockholm Police tribute to Äddie the retiring police dog has attracted hundreds of replies and thousands of likes on Facebook.

Five facts on Manchester United-bound Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic is on his way to Old Trafford. Here's everything you need to know. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has finally confirmed his next choice of club. Here are five facts on the Swedish striker after he announced he is signing for Manchester United on Thursday.

Swedish state appeals against Roma register ruling
Fred Taikon was one of the eleven victims. Photo: Maja Suslin

A court ruling judged that the Swedish state should pay out compensation to eleven victims of ethnic discrimination, but an appeal has now been launched.

Ikea opens massive museum in Sweden
A scene from the museum in Älmhult. Photo: Emil Langvad/TT

Flatpack enthusiasts rejoice: Ikea has just opened a 7,000 square metre museum in the building that once housed its original store.

The Local Recipes
How to make a Swedish chicken and strawberry salad
Chicken and strawberry: a better combination than it may seem. Photo: SwedishFood.com

Easy to prepare, this chicken and strawberry salad is the meal you need this weekend, trust us!

Ibrahimovic confirms Manchester United move
Ibrahimovic playing for Sweden at Euro 2016. Photo: Thanassis Stavrakis/TT

Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has put months of speculation over his future to an end by confirming that he will join Manchester United.

Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
'A Swedish passport means more than a British one now'
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
The Local Voices
The Syrian body-building champion fighting the urge to eat sweets in Sweden
Business & Money
Swedish banknotes expire this week
Blog updates

1 July

Editor’s blog, July 1st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello and welcome to this week’s news round-up. The fall-out from the Brexit vote has come…" READ »


28 June

A message for British expats in Sweden (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"The people of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the European Union. As Prime Minister…" READ »

People-watching: June 29th
Sponsored Article
International students in Stockholm partner with Nepal school
Foul-mouthed attack on young Swedish mother in England
The Local Voices
'Having a Middle Eastern name makes life in Sweden hard'
Is this Swede the new Vincent van Gogh?
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Citizenship applications up 500% for Brits in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
The humble Swede who sent England home from Euro 2016
Property of the week: Torhamn
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
The Local Voices
'Sweden is the best place for people with special needs'
Sponsored Article
The man behind Sweden's biggest music festival
'A morning of sorrow': Sweden reacts to Brexit vote
Sweden opposition cools talk of 'Swexit' poll
Sponsored Article
US expats: Have you met your tax deadlines?
'Devastated' - Brits in Sweden shocked by Brexit vote
Sponsored Article
Malmö: Home to the best food in Sweden?
People-watching: June 22nd
Sponsored Article
VIDEO: Why Malmö is the world's 6th best city for biking
The Local Voices
'Swedes don't treat me differently because I wear a hijab'
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
How do Swedes celebrate Midsummer?
Coming soon: Sweden’s smelly fermented fish
Sponsored Article
6 simple travel hacks that will make your life easier
Assange lawyer: Sweden should recognize UN opinion
The Local Voices
Why is this Syrian dentist who hugs like a Swede worried about undies?
Swedish nationalist 'shot and ate' lion and giraffe
Analysis & Opinion
'Sweden's residency revamp is harmful and inhumane'
Photo: The Local
The Local Voices
UNHCR boss: 'It's hard to start your life without your family'
jobs available
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: