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Sweden starts testing new official digital currency

The Swedish Central Bank, the Riksbank, is launching a pilot scheme for a new digital currency that will aim to show how it could be used by the public as a complement to cash.

Sweden starts testing new official digital currency
Could these soon exist as a digital version? Photo: Martina Holmberg/TT

The announcement comes years after the Riksbank first said it was looking into creating its own digital currency, an e-krona, based on block-chain technology.

“The aim of the project is to show how an e-krona could be used by the general public,” said the Riksbank in a statement on Thursday.

“A digital krona should be simple, user-friendly as well as fulfil critical requirements for security and performance.”

The pilot project will be run “in an isolated test environment” together with digital tech consultants Accenture and there are no confirmed plans to issue an e-krona to the public, or what technology would be used.

For now, the project will be based on so-called Distributed Ledger Technology.

“In the test environment, simulated users shall be able to hold e-kronor in a digital wallet, make payments, deposits and withdrawals via a mobile app. The user shall also be able to make payments via wearables, such as smart watches, and cards,” said the Riksbank.

The pilot is set to run until the end of February 2021.

EDITOR'S PICK:

Cash is dying a slow death in Sweden, with alternative methods of payment commonplace, such as card and mobile payment app Swish.

In 2010 nearly 40 percent of Swedes said they paid for their most recent purchase in cash, according to a report by the Riksbank. By 2018 that proportion had drastically decreased to 13 percent.

Proponents hail the cashless society as safe and convenient. But for, for example, elderly people, or international residents struggling to set up a bank account, it can also cause a number of headaches.

The Riksbank has previously said that if the e-krona is issued it will be as a complement to rather than a replacement for cash, adding that it will continue to issue banknotes and coins as long as there is a demand for them in Swedish society.

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EUROPEAN UNION

Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

Have you ever wondered what to do with your private pension plan when moving to another European country?

Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you're moving country

This question will probably have caused some headaches. Fortunately a new private pension product meant to make things easier should soon become available under a new EU regulation that came into effect this week. 

The new pan-European personal pension product (PEPP) will allow savers to take their private pension with them if they move within the European Union.

EU rules so far allowed the aggregation of state pensions and the possibility to carry across borders occupational pensions, which are paid by employers. But the market of private pensions remained fragmented.

The new product is expected to benefit especially young people, who tend to move more frequently across borders, and the self-employed, who might not be covered by other pension schemes. 

According to a survey conducted in 16 countries by Insurance Europe, the organisation representing insurers in Brussels, 38 percent of Europeans do not save for retirement, with a proportion as high as 60 percent in Finland, 57 percent in Spain, 56 percent in France and 55 percent in Italy. 

The groups least likely to have a pension plan are women (42% versus 34% of men), unemployed people (67%), self-employed and part-time workers in the private sector (38%), divorced and singles (44% and 43% respectively), and 18-35 year olds (40%).

“As a complement to public pensions, PEPP caters for the needs of today’s younger generation and allows people to better plan and make provisions for the future,” EU Commissioner for Financial Services Mairead McGuinness said on March 22nd, when new EU rules came into effect. 

The scheme will also allow savers to sign up to a personal pension plan offered by a provider based in another EU country.

Who can sign up?

Under the EU regulation, anyone can sign up to a pan-European personal pension, regardless of their nationality or employment status. 

The scheme is open to people who are employed part-time or full-time, self-employed, in any form of “modern employment”, unemployed or in education. 

The condition is that they are resident in a country of the European Union, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein (the European Economic Area). The PEPP will not be available outside these countries, for instance in Switzerland. 

How does it work?

PEPP providers can offer a maximum of six investment options, including a basic one that is low-risk and safeguards the amount invested. The basic PEPP is the default option. Its fees are capped at 1 percent of the accumulated capital per year.

People who move to another EU country can continue to contribute to the same PEPP. Whenever a consumer changes the country of residence, the provider will open a new sub-account for that country. If the provider cannot offer such option, savers have the right to switch provider free of charge.  

As pension products are taxed differently in each state, the applicable taxation will be that of the country of residence and possible tax incentives will only apply to the relevant sub-account. 

Savers who move residence outside the EU cannot continue saving on their PEPP, but they can resume contributions if they return. They would also need to ask advice about the consequences of the move on the way their savings are taxed. 

Pensions can then be paid out in a different location from where the product was purchased. 

Where to start?

Pan-European personal pension products can be offered by authorised banks, insurance companies, pension funds and wealth management firms. 

They are regulated products that can be sold to consumers only after being approved by supervisory authorities. 

As the legislation came into effect this week, only now eligible providers can submit the application for the authorisation of their products. National authorities have then three months to make a decision. So it will still take some time before PEPPs become available on the market. 

When this will happen, the products and their features will be listed in the public register of the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA). 

For more information:

https://www.eiopa.europa.eu/browse/regulation-and-policy/pan-european-personal-pension-product-pepp/consumer-oriented-faqs-pan_en 

https://www.eiopa.europa.eu/browse/regulation-and-policy/pan-european-personal-pension-product-pepp_en 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK. 

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