Digital Payments

Sweden’s Cashless Drive Hits A Speed Bump

In Sweden, the move to a cashless society has been marked by a quickened pace. Might there be speed bumps ahead, though? The New York Times said cash is being left by the wayside, in favor of digital payments, so quickly that the government is reportedly “recalculating the societal costs of a cash-free future.”

The reconsideration comes, according to the Times, as half of Sweden’s retailers have said they will stop accepting hard currency within the next few years. Regulators are now prodding banks to keep notes in circulation, as they mull what happens in various scenarios tied to the country’s digital eKrona currency. Those situations span what happens if servers go down or hackers strike.

At the moment, bills and coins (the total of hard currency) represent a relatively paltry 1 percent of the economy, where the same tallies are 10 percent in Europe and as much as 8 percent in the U.S.

The tests come amid reports that as much as 20 percent of consumers do not use ATMs. In another telling example of the shift to cashless, several thousand Swedes have been microchipped, with implants helping them to transact across goods and services. The younger generation has especially embraced the cashless mindset, with 18- to 24-year-olds — to the tune of 95 percent — using debit cards or payment apps.

In an interview with the Times, Stefan Ingves, governor of Sweden’s central bank Riksbank, noted that “when you are where we are, it would be wrong to sit back with our arms crossed, doing nothing, and then just take note of the fact that cash has disappeared. You can’t turn back time, but you do have to find a way to deal with change.”

Among other concerns, critics have charged that a cashless society means commercial banks would have more control over the financial system than, say, traditional guarantors, such as the state.

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