Sweden really is putting its cash in the attic, and we should follow their lead

By Alex Sweeney, Account Director

One of the annoyances of my life – cash for the bus, the chippie or the charity bucket. These are just  three places that I have to visit a cash machine, pluck the money tree or delve into the change jar before visiting.

Maybe it’s time to emulate our Scandinavian neighbours. Despite launching a range of new bank notes in 2015, the use of cash in Sweden is almost extinct. Buses in the country have been taking card payments for years and you can’t physically buy a metro ticket in Stockholm using cash – a far cry from the conductors on the Blackpool Tramway who would laugh if you even dared even show them a bank card.

It’s not just the Swedish transport system that has become a cash-free zone. Small retailers and convenience stores are actually legally entitled to refuse coins and notes from customers — a world away from the majority of UK convenience stores that display a sign which reads ‘minimum £5 spend to pay by card’. Street vendors and churches are also joining the Swedish card rush, with most of the latter now preferring this form of payment as opposed to the napkin-lined change basket that makes its way across the pews of Britain on a Sunday morning.

According to the nation’s central bank Riksbank, ‘cash transactions made up barely 2{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} of the value of all payments made in Sweden last year – a figure some see dropping to 0.5{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} by 2020. In shops cash accounts for just 20{20156fe61baea400d2663eb990f17abdabeb6ef183a2129287a793abd8ac1d8a} of transactions’.

Maybe what is even more surprising is that the fantasy image of the cash-filled ‘Gringotts’ bank of Harry Potter fame is simply fiction in Sweden. According to the Guardian, about 900 of Sweden’s 1,600 bank branches no longer keep cash on hand or take cash deposits, with many getting rid of ATMs entirely.

While we (or at least just me) may be envious of the cashless and efficient Swedish society, the good news is that the UK is making progress. As I found out only a few months ago, the dreaded change hunt for the pay and display car park is slowly becoming a thing of the past with many car parks now incorporating app-based and automated telephone pay systems.

Then we have the arrival of the contactless card, a touch and go option that enables you to throw your cash around like Monopoly money, with a scan here and a scan there — up to a limit of £30 per transaction, of course. This is a good idea but one that has created much debate about balancing convenience and security. Halifax customers were one of the first to be exposed to this threat, with one customer reporting that his stolen contactless card was used eight times by the thief, despite cancelling his cards months prior to the payments being made.

A pause for thought perhaps, before we become too happy go lucky with our hard earned cash. But in the meantime – have some cash on you, you will definitely need it to buy your remembrance poppy this month, if nothing else.