• 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
Swedish pensioner 'pulled fake gun' on salesman
A file photo of an airsoft gun not linked to the story. Photo: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

We know that many of you have probably had your patience tried by salespeople in the past. But don't do this at home, kids.

Swedish PM shakes up cabinet in key reshuffle
Ann Linde, Peter Eriksson, Isabella Lövin, Stefan Löfven, Karolina Skog and Ibrahim Baylan. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

UPDATED: Will this turn a page on weeks of scandals for Sweden's coalition?

Why this Swedish handyman wore high heels to work
Not the ideal footwear for manual labour. Photo: Emil Andersson

Laying a floor in a fourth floor apartment turned out to be pretty difficult in high heels.

Julian Assange
Stockholm court upholds Assange arrest warrant
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Photo: AP Photo/Frank Augstein

UPDATED: A Stockholm district court has maintained a European arrest warrant against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The Local List
Ten ridiculous things Zlatan has compared himself to
Thinking about that time he compared himself to Rambo? Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Is it a Ferrari? Is it a shark? No, it's Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Sweden sees dramatic rise in syphilis cases
New figures show a significant increase in Swedish syphilis cases. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Syphilis is on the increase in Sweden, with the number of new cases more than tripling in some parts of the country.

Why Sweden's teachers have no time for their students
A Swedish classroom. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Teachers in Sweden are drowning in paperwork and have insufficient time to properly plan lessons, a new report suggests.

Foreigners in Sweden still more likely to be unemployed
A grim outlook is predicted for foreigners in Sweden. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Unemployment is falling among native Swedes, but foreign-born citizens are struggling to keep pace.

'Help! My name is Jihad'
Jihad Eshmawi. Photo: Private

My name doesn’t make life easy for me, Jihad Eshmawi tells us.

Why fewer Swedes are using condoms in 2016
Photo: Robert Henriksson / SvD / TT

Younger Swedes are better at protecting themselves than their older compatriots.

Sponsored Article
How to find student housing in Malmö: 5 tips
Business & Money
Why Swedes don't want the euro
Sponsored Article
'Sweden gives artists the space to follow their dreams'
Property of the week: Vika, Falun
Is this the most Swedish tattoo ever?
Blog updates

20 May

Editor’s blog, May 20th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Do not mention Abba! Or cuckoo clocks! Our most read article this week was…" READ »


17 May

What about “att”? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! It often seems like the small words are the ones that cause the most confusion.…" READ »

Sponsored Article
Food, fun, and reliable sun: Summer in Dubrovnik
People-watching: May 20th-22nd
Sponsored Article
How Stockholm startups help new employees feel at home
How to really annoy a Swede abroad
How this war veteran is warming hearts in Sweden
People-watching: May 18th
Sponsored Article
Can you afford to live in Stockholm? (Hint: yes)
How this Swede's viral ad totally nailed Stockholm's housing crisis
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Property of the week: Vasastaden, Gothenburg
The best Swedish cities for dating
Sponsored Article
'Only soft power can defeat radicalism'
People-watching: May 13th-15th
Sponsored Article
Why Stockholm attracts so many successful researchers
BLOG: Eurovision as it happened
Why a 116-year-old Swede isn't the world's oldest woman
Sponsored Article
'Sweden gives artists the space to follow their dreams'
Youth unemployment falls in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
People-watching: May 11th
Sponsored Article
Can you afford to live in Stockholm? (Hint: yes)
People-watching: May 6th-8th
Sponsored Article
Stockholm makes it easier for refugees to meet startups
Why Sweden's Greens are in free fall
Can these cartoon Swedes help foreigners blend in?
Why this fearless woman is the talk of Sweden
Sweden set for sunny weekend
Property of the week: Vollsjö, Sjöbo
How to be a cool Swede during a hot summer
People-watching: April 29th - May 1st
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: