Cashless society: lessons from Sweden

Cashless society: lessons from Sweden
The collapse of cash in Britain has been dramatic. There were 11.5 billion fewer cash transactions in 2018 than in 2008 – a decline of 51pc. It’s a pace of change that has surprised everyone, even industry insiders.
“The rise of the debit card and the decline of cash is the phenomenon of the last decade,” says Adrian Buckle, head of research for UK Finance, the banking sector trade body.
But Britain, while on the podium, is not the world champion in cashless. That title goes to Sweden, where demand for notes and coins is so limp that cash is literally disappearing: the amount in circulation has fallen from 80bn kronor (£6.6bn) to Skr58bn (£4.8bn) in the last four years, a reduction of 27.5pc. The same period has seen ATM withdrawals fall by more than half.
In Japan, among the most dedicated cash-loving rich countries in the world, 79pc of people use cash every day. In America, 70pc of people use cash every week. In Sweden only 60pc can remember using it – at all – in the last month.
It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As everything from Ikea stores to public transport to the Abba museum have gone cashless, so Swedes have ditched notes and coins.
In a country where public trust in government and internet coverage is high, there is no significant kick-back. Polls show that only a quarter of people miss cash, while almost half actively welcome its parting.
But even here there is a recognition that there is a price to pay for this transition. A price which can be seen most starkly in a public information leaflet distributed last year to all Swedish homes called “Om krisen eller kriget kommer”: “If crisis or war comes”.
The leaflet outlines the country’s project of “Total defence” against invaders and terrorists. The tone is from the Cold War, but the threats are from the digital age. “What would you do if your life was turned upside down?” it asks Sweden’s 10 million people. “[If] payment cards and cash machines do not work?” “[If] Mobile networks and the internet do not work?

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