Swedish banks rule out cash charges

The stoppage of security transits in Sweden's major cities last weekend led government ministers to call for a reduction in the cost of using cards for payment instead of cash.

But despite the fact that Swedes use cash more than people in the rest of the Nordics, the country’s banks have ruled out a withdrawal charge at cash machines or cutting the price of plastic.

According to an inquiry by the Riksbank, Sweden’s national bank, the use of cards in Norway increased dramatically when banks introduced charges at their ATMs. Danish and Finnish banks also charge for cash withdrawals and cards are now more popular there than in Sweden.

But the banks say that charging customers a fee for withdrawing cash is a sensitive issue.

“It wouldn’t be customer-friendly,” said Anna Sundblad, press officer at Föreningssparbanken, who said that the bank prefers other methods of increasing the use of plastic.

“For example, we offer free Mastercards for a year,” she said.

Nor does Nordea have any plans to stick a fee on top of every withdrawal.

“It is a service to customers. But obviously we’re all wondering what we can do about it,” said the press chief, Boo Ehlin.

“But we have clear statistics which show that the use of cards is rising and cash withdrawals are falling.”

In the last year, said Ehlin, the use of cards by Nordea’s customers has increased by up to 40%, while cash withdrawals are falling by 3-5% annually.

“What’s more, I believe that these kinds of incidents make people think about their own security, and that could quickly lead to a greater reduction.”

Customers with Nordea’s cards pay around 12 kronor a month for the privilege, according to Ehlin. The charge is justified by the ongoing technical development to make debit cards safer, he said.

Viveka Hirdman-Ryrberg at SEB also said that the idea of charging for cash is not something her bank is considering.

“On the other hand, for several years we’ve been encouraging an increased use of cards for security reasons,” she said.

She favours a more positive approach, with advertising campaigns to push the advantages of using cards, she said – a method also backed by Handelsbanken’s head of information, Johan Lagerström.

“We’re noticing now, even before these shocking robberies, a steady increase in the use of cards,” he said.

“Swedes have been a little sluggish in this area,” he added.

TT/The Local

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