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MONEY

What you need to know about Sweden’s plans for a digital currency

Sweden has taken one step closer towards its own digital currency – the “e-krona”.

A woman rejecting cash.
A digital currency is not meant to replace cash in Sweden. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Plans to launch Sweden’s own digital currency, which have been in the pipeline since 2016, recently passed the first pilot stage, the country’s Central Bank (The Riksbank) announced in a press release.

So why is Sweden doing this?

Cash is dying a slow death in Sweden, with alternative methods of payment commonplace. The number of notes and coins in circulation has reduced by 40 percent since 2009, while popular smartphone apps like Swish allow electronic payments to be made almost as quickly as handing over physical money. Swedes are also among the world’s biggest card users.

“Sweden is noticeably further ahead than the UK, mainland Europe and the US, which is a long way behind in this trend. Because of how technologically developed it is, you see a lot of new interesting things in economics quite a while before you see it elsewhere,” HSBC global economist James Pomeroy told The Local back in 2018.

But what does a cashless society truly mean?

Sweden has previously been predicted to transform into a cashless society by 2030 with 80 percent of retail payments already made by card.

Concerns have been raised, including by the Riksbank, about how the cashless society affect certain groups, for example international residents who can’t sign up for certain digital payment methods without a Swedish bank account or personnummer, and the elderly.

So although physical payments are declining, the Riksbank wants the e-krona to be seen as a complement to cash.

The piloted digital currency also has similarities to cash. E-kronor are uniquely identifiable and can only be created by the Riksbank, similar to actual physical money.

How exactly would an e-krona work?

The e-krona used in the Riksbank’s pilot project uses blockchain technology and is in the shape of a singular “token”. Transactions are completed through nodes which are run by the Riksbank and other participants such as payment service providers.

A service provider can request e-kronor that are issued from the Riksbank in exchange for the user debiting their account in the Riksbank’s settlement system RIX.

The customer can then exchange money in their bank accounts for e-kronor, that they can use for transactions instead.

When a person uses e-kronor for a transaction, the service providers’ nodes verify that the e-krona can be traced back to the Riksbank. The e-krona is then registered as consumed and the transaction is accepted.


An image provided by the Riksbank shows how the e-krona could work.

What happens now?

Following on from the pilot, the Riksbank said they will continue to work on a digital currency that will be usable in everyday life.

Phase 2 will include working with potential distributors, developing offline functions and assessing scalability for retail payments. This phase is expected to last at least a year.

How likely is a digital currency actually to happen?

There is still a long way to go before a digital currency is a reality. Several huge questions remain. For example, there is currently no legislation within this area, and new legislation would be needed. User identity protection is also an important question, as every e-krona contains information about previous transactions and recipients.

As of today, there have been no decisions on whether an e-krona should be issued and what that would look like. The Riksbank are clear that this is technology that needs further investigations and the pilot is not the final solution that has been chosen as the digital currency.

Member comments

  1. Utterly pointless. Blockchain is a solution looking for a problem. Prepaid debit cards would allow people without bank accounts to use existing cashless payment systems, without creating another one.

    The difficulty of getting a PN is a separate issue and is a structural inequality in Sweden that should be fixed. But it’s too convenient for anti-immigration folks to use it as a way to make life difficult for non-Swedes.

    Strongly suspect this is all so the Riksbank can stay hip with the dudebros by using blockchain, yah

    1. I think the biggest point of using the blockchain here is to check whether ekrona that is being received was actually a valid token that was issued by the Riksbank and that it was acquired by the person before they send it off to somewhere else.

      At the moment banks do give us a notion of being cashless, but these banks are probably also working under the cover with the flow of actual cash (which again, is checked physically, whether they were printed by the Riksbank).

      I guess, as we do already have banks set up to handle our krona in digital form, we could expect the ekrona to replace what banks are currently doing under the hood with real krona bills?
      I think I’m trying to say, don’t expose this ekrona thing to the general public, just have the banks manage everything! And to the general public, keep life the way it is now?

    2. Thanks for your reply, Mark. As I finished reading, I wondered “how is this better than what already exists?” I don’t see the benefit for Sweden financially or to the Swedish economy. Agreed, re: structural inequality of obtaining a PN *and* agreed that as SD/anti-immigrant folks attempt to weaponize anything at their disposal (citizenship tests, for example) they seek to weaponize this, too.
      So, I don’t see this as easier/safer to manage than what already exists, I don’t see it improving the wealth of Swedes in general or the nation as a whole and I *do* see its potential to be weaponized by darker political/social forces in the country. *And* I have to wonder 1) who specifically is pushing for this and 2) how will they particularly benefit from it?

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For members

ENERGY

EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Sweden this year?

Energy costs in Sweden are set to reach sky-high levels this winter, which will leave many people wondering when they should start heating their homes. Here's what you need to bear in mind.

EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Sweden this year?

What’s happening?

As a result of supply stoppages for cheap Russian gas affecting energy prices on the European market – particularly in Germany – energy prices in Sweden have been at record levels for months, especially in the two energy price zones in the south of the country.

With winter looming and no sign of things getting cheaper anytime soon, private individuals are starting to cut down on energy usage as much as they can to slash their bills this season.

Does it make a difference what type of accommodation I live in?

The right time to start heating your home depends on several factors including your own personal preference, the weather, whether you live in rented accommodation or own your own property, and on the age and features of the property you live in.

How does the heating system work in Swedish homes?

More than half of all houses and commercial properties in Sweden use district heating or fjärrvärme, with this number rising to around 90 percent for apartment buildings.

This system distributes hot water from heating plants to houses and apartments through underground water pipes, meaning that heating sources are centralised, rather than individual houses or apartments having their own heating source.

In smaller towns and in houses, district heating is less common, and it’s these households who can benefit the most from waiting longer to turn on their heating.

Do I control my heating?

It depends. If you live in a rented apartment or a bostadsrättsforening (co-operative housing association) with district heating, your landlord or the board of your housing foundation will usually decide for you when to turn your heating on.

Unlike other countries, Sweden has no official legal heating season, with heating in bostadsrättsföreningar usually switched on automatically following periods of cold weather, no matter which date they occur on.

This will usually be designed to provide an indoor temperature of around 21 degrees – you can turn your radiators down if you feel this is too warm, but you won’t usually be able to turn them up if you want the temperature to be warmer.

The Public Health Agency recommends temperatures of between 20 and 24 degrees indoors, with temperatures lower than 18 degrees in apartments posing a health risk.

Temperatures lower than 14 are not recommended as they can cause condensation and mould growth on walls and furnishings, which, again, are a health risk, and can cause permanent damage to properties.

Can I save money by waiting to turn my heating on?

Again, it depends. If you’re renting and you pay varmhyra – rent with heating included – then you won’t save money directly, but heating your home wisely could make it less likely for your landlord to raise your rent to cover increased heating costs.

If you pay kallhyra – rent without heating included, then waiting to turn on the heating will save money on your electricity bill.

Similarly, in some housing associations, electricity and heating costs are included in your monthly fee, meaning you pay your share of the heating costs for the entire building ever month. In this case, your energy costs are more affected by how much energy everyone else in your housing association uses than your individual usage.

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about how warm your heating is – if you have your heating on full-blast for the whole winter, your costs will increase as well as the costs of all of your neighbours, and if the entire association’s energy costs increase substantially, the board may decide to raise the monthly fee or avgift for everyone in the building to cover this.

If you pay an individual energy bill based on your own household’s usage, and not on an average of the whole building, it could pay to wait before you switch on your heating.

How else can I save money on heating costs?

Turning your heating down a couple of degrees can make a big difference to your heating costs, but you can also save money on heating and make your property feel warmer by making it more energy effective.

There are a few easy ways to do this, according to the Swedish Energy Agency.

Firstly, make sure your house is well insulated, not just your doors and windows, but also in the loft: a large amount of a building’s heat escapes through the roof. This also applies to the boundaries between well-insulated and poorly-insulated areas.

If you have a cellar or conservatory, for example, which is not heated and not insulated, make sure the door between this room and the rest of the house is well-insulated with no gaps around the doorframe where heat can escape into the colder room. 

In a similar vein, locate any drafts and do what you can to block them, either with draft excluders or by replacing worn-out draft excluder strips on old doors and windows.

You can also benefit from thinking about how you furnish your home – furniture placed in front of radiators mean it is harder for warm air to circulate, and you can keep your house warmer at night by closing your curtains or blinds to keep eat from escaping through your windows.

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