Sweden is leading the way as the most cash-free economy on the planet.
All manner of businesses and even individuals have switched to accepting cards rather than cold, hard cash.
Proponents of electronic payments claim that going cashless has reduced both the crime rate and the costs of doing business.
None more so than Bjorn Ulvaeus, famous for his time in Abba. He began an ardent convert to the electronic payment cause after his son was robbed several years ago and says that cash was the primary cause of crime and that “all activity in the black economy requires cash”.
Today 80% of all purchases in Sweden are done electronically, enabled by investments made in card payment systems in the 1990s by merchants and banks.
Even Stockholm’s equivalent of the Big Issue, Situation Stockholm, has armed its homeless vendors with portable card readers after it found that an increasing number of people were not carrying cash and could not buy the magazine.
“We didn’t know how it would turn out, or whether people would be reluctant to give their credit card information to a homeless person,” said Pia Stolt of the magazine, “but the results have been great – vendors’ sales are up 59%.”
“Swedes are pretty trusting and we’re used to embracing new technology so this was the perfect solution,” says Stolt. “The cashless society campaign we’re seeing in Sweden is definitely a good move as far as we are concerned – it’s unstoppable.”
Robberies were a big concern in Sweden. Banks began moving away from cash four years ago after a spate of bank heists. Today five of the country’s biggest banks operate cash free as much as possible.
The Swedish financial sector has become more cost efficient and the number of armed robberies has hit a 30-year low, according to the Swedish Bankers’ Association.
Attacks on bus drivers also led to the banning of cash on public transport.
The transition to cashless has left some behind, especially in Sweden’s 1.8 million pensioner community where not everyone has adapted to the use of cash-cards.
Other problem areas include the chaos which could paralyse the country if the payment system breaks down or the escalation of fraud which has more than doubled in the last decade in Sweden.
Let us hope that such a cashless economy does not reach Portugal in my lifetime, at any rate.