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Why Sweden should fear going cashless

Our report on Sweden becoming a near-cashless society went viral last month. But former Sweden Police Chief and Interpol President Björn Eriksson says there are reasons to be cautious about the concept.

Why Sweden should fear going cashless
Former Swedish Police Chief Björn Eriksson wants to keep using cash. Photo: Private
"Banks have long been lobbying to remove cash from our communities, and they have come a long way. Four out of five purchases in Sweden are now made electronically or by debit card.
 
But the issue is far too important to be left in the hands of the private sector.
 
The state needs to make sure that people still have the right to use cash.
 
Last week saw Sweden's banks release their accounts and yet again we heard about their big profit wins. Swedbank for example announced a record profit of nearly six billion kronor ($811 million). 
 
One way that banks are trying to cut costs further is to phase out cash. Counter services can be wound down, printing costs are cut. What customers think about this idea is obviously not interesting for the banks, as long as they keep making a profit.
 
It's not just Swedbank pushing the idea of a cashless society, but also Nordea, SEB, Danske Bank and card companies Mastercard and Visa.
 
So far their plan has been successful and the banks will tell you that they are helping the environment by cutting cash production costs or decreasing the risk of robbery.
 
 

How much cash do you carry these days? Photo: Shutterstock
 
But little has been said about the major challenges that a cashless society brings. It infringes on people's privacy. It can make life difficult in sparsely populated areas. It can make a society vulnerable and increasingly open to sophisticated internet crimes.
 
How are disadvantaged people who currently exist outside the banking system supposed to survive? What happens to people's privacy when all transactions are traceable?
 
What happens when things go wrong? The Bråvalla music festival in Norrköping was supposed to be cashless this summer, but things descended into chaos when the payment system didn't work.
 
We need a public inquiry to look explicitly at reviewing the public's access to cash.
 
Cash is needed by many companies, associations and individuals in order for society to function.
 
This should be an important priority for Sweden's new Minister for Financial Markets and Consumer Affairs, Per Boland.
 
There must be a guarantee that we can continue to have access to notes and coins and we must be able to trust that our banks will allow this."
 
Björn Eriksson is a former national Police Chief , former President of Interpol and is currently Chairman of the Association of Swedish Private Security Companies
 
Would you like to live in a cashless society? Post your comments below.

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MONEY

What happens if you don’t pay a bill in Sweden?

Sweden's Enforcement Authority is responsible for collecting unpaid debts, fines, and declarations of bankruptcy. So, what happens if an unpaid bill reaches the Enforcement Authority, and can you do anything if you have a black mark on your record?

What happens if you don't pay a bill in Sweden?

What happens when you have a bill?

Usually, if you have a bill in Sweden, you will receive an invoice (faktura) either digitally or via post, which will include details such as the amount owed, who to pay and the date payment is due (förfallodatum).

If you don’t pay the invoice in time, the person you owe money to may turn the case over to inkasso, or a debt collection agency, who will again send you an invoice for payment, plus the agency’s fee.

If this invoice goes unpaid, the Enforcement Authority will get involved.

The Swedish Enforcement Authority, Kronofogden in Swedish, is responsible for collecting unpaid debts. It does this by providing advice and support to those who are unable to pay their debts, as well as helping creditors – such as, for example, landlords whose tenants have not paid their rent.

The debt collection agency will pass unpaid bills on to them, and you may receive a betalningsanmärkning or black mark on your credit record.

Before you receive a black mark, however, you will first receive an ansökan om betalningsföreläggande from the Enforcement Authority. If you pay this in time, your debt will not be registered as a betalningsanmärkning.

There are some types of payment where you can receive a betalningsanmärkning without the bill going through a debt collection agency first. These are usually payments owed to the state, such as unpaid tax, unpaid student loan repayments or unpaid municipal parking fees.

You are unlikely to come into contact with the Enforcement Authority unless you miss or forget to pay a bill.

What happens if you get a black mark?

A black mark can have pretty major consequences – it can stop you from hiring a car, getting a credit card, borrowing money (including getting a mortgage), taking out a phone contract or even renting an apartment, as well as barring you from ordering anything on credit or paying via invoice.

This is due to the fact that whenever you apply for a loan or credit in Sweden, the lender will check your credit score (kreditupplysning) to see if there is any risk of you not paying up. Many lenders have a strict policy on not lending to individuals with black marks on their credit score to minimise risk, no matter whether the mark is due to an unpaid phone bill or a missed mortgage repayment.

How can I check if I have one?

You can check if you have a black mark by contacting a credit check company – here is a list of all credit check companies in Sweden. Some may charge a small fee for the service, whereas others offer it for free.

One advantage of checking your own credit score before contacting a lender is that your credit score is not affected when you carry out a check on yourself. 

If, however, a bank carries out a credit check on you, this can affect your credit score – it’s usually not an issue if you carry out one or two checks, but a lot of checks in a short period of time could cause issues.

Can you do anything to remove it?

Unfortunately, no. 

All you can do is wait – a black mark will disappear from your record after three years for private individuals or five years for businesses. 

The best strategy is to avoid getting a black mark on your record in the first place – such as by paying your bills via autogiro (direct debit), keeping an eye on your post (as well as your digital post), and paying for items up-front if possible to avoid invoices, rather than using “buy now, pay later” credit services such as Klarna or Clearpay.

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