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MONEY

What is the one smartphone app you can’t avoid in Sweden?

In Sweden, it's only a matter of time before you'll be asked about Swish, the payment app that's used by millions of people in this increasingly cashfree society. But what is Swish, how do you start using it and why are Swedish police not too happy about it?

What is the one smartphone app you can't avoid in Sweden?
Cashless transfers have become the norm in Sweden. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The Swedish public is increasingly shunning cash, and with the lowest cash circulation rate in the world – 1.2 percent of GDP – they overwhelmingly prefer to use card or digital payment options. 

The largest payment platform in Sweden is Swish, a phone-to-bank payment service which boasts over 7.5 million users. That's not bad in a country that only recently reached 10 million in population.

Swish is an app for mobile phones that uses phone numbers as identification for receiving and making payments. It connects your phone number to your bank account – any number is fine but you need a Swedish bank account, which keeps a lot of newcomers locked out from the system. Unlike many similar apps in other countries, such as Venmo, it clears the transactions in real-time, and is supported by most Swedish banks.

EDITOR'S PICKS:

In November 2019 alone, people in Sweden 'swished' almost 22 billion kronor in 48 million different transactions.

The app has quite a few features meant to make payments between people less of a hassle. An in-app calculator for easily splitting bills, an option to save people you regularly share payments with as favourites, and an option for quickly scanning QR-codes with the 215,000 companies that currently accept Swish.

Swish is in fact becoming so popular in Sweden that a new Swedish – and Swenglish – verb has been introduced: Jag swishar dig or “I'll swish you” is a common phrase when splitting bills.

Check the guide further down in the article for help on what you need to do to set up your own Swish account!


Cash, card or Swish? Cashless is becoming the new norm in Swedish stores. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

How safe is it?

It is safe to use, even in the event of a lost or stolen phone, but there have been scams involving Swish and you may need to beware of odd requests or unknown payments.

Different banks have different identification systems, codes or even touch-ID, but since you need a Mobile Bank ID in order to use Swish it is not a risk lending your phone to other people, as long as you are not too frivolous with your personal codes.

After concerns had been raised over “Swish-stalking”, stalkers making small payments in order to send messages to people, the app introduced the possibility to block incoming payments from specific phone numbers.

To the Swedish public, ease-of-use and quick inter-personal money transfers seem to be the main appeals of these kinds of services, but for international residents the hassle of setting up bank accounts can be quite a headache.

But though Swish may be safe to use, and popular, it isn't without criticism in Sweden.

Lack of oversight

Swish has recently come under flak from Swedish police as well as Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund of the Green Party, who are concerned about these services being an easy way for criminals to move money around due to companies not having to report criminal activity.


Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund has raised concerns about Swish and similar services. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

According to revelations brought forth by Swedish public broadcaster SVT, Swish has been operating without a permit from the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority (Finansinspektionen, or FI).

The CEO of Swish, Anna-Lena Wretman, told SVT that since the transactions are technically done through the regular banking system, and the banks are responsible for their regulatory obligations, it is only the banks and not Swish that should be required to have such a permit.

Swedish police have been critical about the cash transfer system and asked the justice ministry in May 2019 to tighten regulations. Their main concern is that Swish is vulnerable to being used for illegal money laundering and that there is a lack of regulatory oversight to be able to tackle criminals using Swish.

The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority has initiated discussions with the company behind the app, Getswish AB, in order to investigate whether regulation is needed.

Criticisms aside – the public has spoken

Swish, and similar cashless systems, have rapidly overtaken cash purchases. In 2010, almost 40 percent of Swedes reported using cash in their last purchase. In 2018 that number had dropped to only about 13 percent, according to statistics from the Swedish Central Bank.

So how do you get on the same monetary playing field as your Swedish colleagues?

How to set up your own Swish account

Step 1 – Bank account

Swish is a collaboration between most Swedish banks and the Swish company. You'll need to set it up via your Swedish bank account, and this can be done online. 

Step 2 – Mobile Bank ID

A Swedish social security number (personnummer) is crucial for getting BankID, an app that allows access to your Swedish banking and can also be used for secure identification at, for example, government agencies and authorities. Even a Swedish coordination number, or samordningsnummer is not enough to be eligible for BankID, so sadly if you do not have a personnummer it's not an option for you.

BankID is a software that is downloaded to your computer, tablet or phone through your bank. Each bank has their own guide so you will have to follow the instructions from your bank in order to get started.


Foreign residents without a Swedish social security number won't be able to use Swish. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT

For a Swish account, a Mobile BankID is needed. This means that your tablet or phone functions as the bank security token generator.

For BankID you can also use a physical card reader, but it's the mobile version you need for Swish.

Step 3 – Activate Swish on your bank account

An easily overlooked step. Before activating Swish on your phone or tablet you need to do it on your internet bank as well, it is also there you choose which bank account will be the target for transactions.

Step 4 – Download Swish and connect your phone number

When you have managed to create a Mobile BankID, and activated Swish on your bank, the rest is pretty easy. Download both the Mobile BankID and Swish apps to your phone. Start Swish and follow the instructions on screen.

And that's it. Congratulations, for better or worse you have just moved a step further towards Swedish integration.

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WEATHER

How to stay cool as Sweden experiences near record summer heat

Summer is here and the temperatures on Thursday have reached peaks of 35 C in parts of Sweden. Though you might find such temperatures pleasant when lying in an all-inclusive resort on the Red Sea, it's a bit less luxurious if you are working, or at home doing chores. But don’t sweat, we've put together a guide to help you keep cool, even without the pool.

How to stay cool as Sweden experiences near record summer heat

Drink a lot of water!

No news here, water is good for you especially when it’s hot.

Make sure to bring a refillable bottle with you if you’re going out and about. The good thing is that tap water is good for drinking in Sweden and that all restaurants, cafes and pubs serve it for free, on tap. This might be a given for many, but other parts of Europe, especially the south, only sell mineral water ‘in case the tap water gives you the runs’. 

Drinking beer or an ice-cold cider sounds like a good plan but if it’s really hot, it might be best to avoid it. Or at least go for the Swedish varannan vatten (“every other one a water”) technique, which means matching a glass of water to every alcoholic drink you consume.

If you have decided to drink a glass of wine or a beer with your dinner, remember to plan in advance and put your drinks in the fridge a few hours before. Branches of Systembolaget, the state-owned alcohol shop, don’t have fridges so you will need to add ice or keep it in the fridge if you want to enjoy a cool summer drink.

The Window dilemma

Keeping the windows open generally is a good idea, especially in Sweden where air conditioning is not too common. However, if there’s no wind and the temperatures are 30C+, it might be smarter to keep the windows shut during the hottest hours of the day. 

In an office environment another advantage of choosing windows over air conditioning, beyond the environmental impact, of course, is that by changing the air you decrease the chances of catching covid-19 and other viruses. Considering the increasing infection rates across the country, especially in Stockholm, this might actually be quite advisable.

Being forced to stay indoors with a fever when the weather is beautiful, is a punishment nobody deserves.

If you live on the sixth floor of a Swedish apartment block without air conditioning you might want to consider just embracing it.

Open the window, strip off, wrap a towel around you and keep a bottle of water handy – you have your very own eco-friendly sauna. This is not an ideal situation to be in if you have to work or do house chores. On really hot days it might be good to postpone the house chores and if you need to work, a café or a coworking space could be your redemption.

Fight heat with heat 

I hear you, “why would you go to a sauna when it’s so hot in summer?”. But saunas are popular in Sweden all year round. The combination of sauna plus swimming in a fresh lake or in the ocean is what you need. Sweating in a sauna is a great way to get rid of toxins, de-stress and get away from screens and buzzing phones.

It is also great to build up your tolerance of high temperatures. In a world of global warming, the likelihood of more heatwaves in future is high. 

Swim away the sizzle

Many Swedish cities are near lakes or the sea, the big exception being Uppsala. So it’s easy to find a spot to take a dip after work or spend the whole day out. 

Siesta por favor

Take a lesson from people in Southern Europe, and take a nap in the hottest hours of the day. In countries like Italy and Spain shops in the countryside, and some traditional ones in city centres too, still shut for lunch during the hottest hours of the day.

Think about it, isn’t it better to just save energy during the peak of the heat? If you have flexibility in your work hours, or even better if you are leading a team, could starting a bit earlier in the morning and then taking a two-hour lunch break be a good fix?

In Italy, shops are open between 9:00 and 13:00 and then from 15:30 to 20:30. Maybe working late is not the best in summer but starting earlier is easy, especially now that the sun rises at 4 AM.

Fruitful advice

Eat fruit, especially summer fruits that, as well as tasting great, also have a lot of juice and sugars to keep your energy levels up and give you the boost you need to keep on going. If you have a blender, frozen fruit smoothies are perfect!

Dress light

Sweden tends to be quite informal when it comes to the dress code at the workplace. Wearing a t-shirt or a polo shirt is considered totally normal in most offices. When it comes to showing off some leg, the general opinion is that skirts are more acceptable than shorts, but it is not too uncommon to see men wearing shorts to work too.

A safe bet would be to check with your colleagues to see what the consensus is, and if it is not common yet, ask your colleagues if there are any dress code guidelines! 

Ultimately, in very high temperatures, such as when crossing the Sahara desert, people put more clothes on to keep the sun and heat away. So if you pick the right materials and wear baggy clothes even long trousers and sleeves can feel quite pleasant. 

Take it easy

The English expression “don’t sweat about it” is often used in the context of telling someone “not to stress”.

This is sound advice, especially in summer. On a hot day allow more time for moving from A to B, walk or cycle a bit more slowly than you would and if you’re running late to meet a friend, just call them and apologise.

Disclaimer: the person writing this is not Swedish and the stereotype of Swedes loving punctuality is often true. However, if you agree in advance to meet at around a certain time and then give a more detailed update when you are on your way, this could be a way to have a less sweat-full experience. 

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