GOTHENBURG, Sweden—Sweden could become one of the first cashless countries, a new report finds. Swedes already conduct four out of five transactions without involving cash.
The report, partly produced by the Royal Institute of Technology, argues that Sweden may be completely cashless in 2030. It is a long road, but Bengt Nilervall, commercial policy expert at the Swedish Trade Federation believes that cash transactions in Sweden may drop to a mere five per cent in the next ten years.
Why is it that Sweden is so far ahead of other European countries in this regard? In southern Europe for instance, three out of four consumer transactions are still paid in cash.
The Swedish curiosity for new technology is one piece of the puzzle, Nilervall says. Staff is expensive in Sweden, which drives the development of other technical solutions, such as robots instead of cashiers. Another piece is the fact that Swedes have a comparatively high trust in institutions, such as politicians, government authorities, and banks, compared to other countries.
Retail will likely be the last industry to abandon cash, Nilervall says. There is a great awareness of the fact that some groups don’t use cards, such as senior citizens, small children, and people with disabilities. In some cases, cash is more convenient.
“In retail, the margins are so small, and the competition is so fierce, that I find it hard to believe that cash would disappear completely,” he said. “We are so sensitive to the customers’ needs that we will offer them as many means of payment as they want.”
But the use of cash will likely decline, Nilervall thinks, especially as handling cash becomes more expensive. Banks, who control both cash and cards, pretty much call the shots. Once they make it too expensive and difficult to handle cash, their customers are likely to gravitate towards cards.
“It’s a natural step, from trading pearls and golden bricks and giant coins to other solutions,” he said. “Things are constantly evolving, the world is shrinking, so it’s only natural that new solutions arise.”
Sweden is already full of non-cash solutions in everyday life. You can pay for your parking, your public bathroom visit, and your cup of coffee with a text message. Even a magazine sold by, and for the benefit of, homeless people on the street are trying out credit card readers. Even church offerings can be paid electronically in some places.
Some businesses have ditched cash entirely. One of them is the ABBA Museum in Stockholm. As it turns out, a member of Sweden’s most legendary pop music institutions, Björn Ulvaeus, has a stake in the battle for a cashless Sweden. He has written opinion articles on the matter, arguing that coins and bills are expensive, support crime, and are “riddled with germs”.
The ABBA Museum declined to answer questions about their cashless operations, but their press representative confirmed that this is Ulvaeus’ own initiative. Björn Ulvaeus himself was not available for a comment, but in one of his articles on the matter, he writes:
“What will a thief do with stolen goods in a cashless society? How will street drug deals work? Imagine you’re a thief, what will you do with the TV set you just stole? Neither the fence nor the supermarket wants it, and you’re all out of milk at home.”
Ulvaeus was inspired to work for a cashless society after his son was robbed a few years ago, he told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.
Digital transactions are not safe either, however, and as online crime leads to service disruptions and stolen card information, there is always a chance for a backlash.
“This can become a bump in the road for this development, so everyone must double down on security,” Bengt Nilervall said.
However, cash or no cash, Sweden is getting a whole new range of coins and bills in a few years time, so it seems they might be around for a while.