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Sweden’s Push to Get Rid of Cash Has Some Saying, ‘Not So Fast’ (nytimes.com)
82 points by henrik_w 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 95 comments

Looking at what China is doing is gonna give them more ammunition. I used to love digital payment but I'm getting increasingly wary of it.

Look what big private companies did with our data, what will happen when they have all your purchase history and when your daily life depends on them approving your transactions? It's too much power. Look at the many horror stories of people getting their money locked out in Paypal.

If the majority of payements are done via mobile (like in China), getting locked out of it arbitrarly via some random fraud detection algorithm means becoming a second class citizen. Try getting around without it in China, it's a pain in the butt

I agree. Am in China.

Some caveat:

The cash is not placed with the mobile payment provider. Your bank card(s) are linked. Making a mobile payment prompts you enter the password setup for bank-to-mobile payment.

You can pre-deposit money onto you mobile wallet. The same prompt pops-up, but with your mobile avatar instead of the bank logo. That's the UX done simply. Personally, I keep an air-gap of sorts, linking mobile payment to an account I know only has 2000 Yuan or less on it.

There are several methods of payment, most that I don't like, in terms of information being spread.

You can 'scan them'. There's a static QR code printed and laminated, that gets scanned. Funds a transferred.

There are a few plays on this where a static QR code from a 3rd party provider has a click-through app to gather identity information. You pay the same price, they learn a little about your payment size and time-of-day.

For larger companies, they scan you. This is far more worrying for me. You present your phone's wallet barcode/QR combo (dynamically generated for each time it's opened, one-use) and the store scan that to withdraw funds. Their transactions solutions provider is now matching one's purchases against one's identity. Same is true of Didi (China's Uber). A complete identity is build.

A similar option to the above is restaurants. Each table has an individual QR code to scan. Sit down, scan, read the menu, select what you want, the food is served to your table a few minutes later. That's not a restaurant experience for me, with waiting staff simply being a dish carrier.

So I pay with cash. Anywhere other than mass-information-harvesters are happy to take it still, and the prices are the same.

I feel the fake Uber v Didi taxi war where only mobile payment was acceptable was a big, and orchestrated [read: funded] play by mobile payment providers (fare discounts could reach 50%+ vs taxi) to ensure critical momentum.

Agreed. Living in SH, you get tied to the convenience of Wechat. I had a few hour issue with an update to my phone and I realized the vulnerability is enormous. Your entire adult network and ability to function is lost without it and its links to everything.

>Look at the many horror stories of people getting their money locked out in Paypal.

But if the bank locks me out of my account I also can't get cash, even if I could buy stuff with it.

Well yes, but you have the option to keep the cash and not using the bank..

Thankfully Sweden got GDPR, which protects from collecting data "just because you can".

> Thankfully Sweden got GDPR, which protects from collecting data "just because you can".

Not really.


A. This is a source that is part of the problem industry (and therefore expected to paint a rosy picture).

B. This source also states that the GDPR prevents data harvesting without consent, which it mentions continuously throughout this article.

The interesting component to this is what happens when the payment system $hits the bed. 3 weeks ago last friday and saturday in sydney the communications system underlying about 50% of all financial transactions (taxi card readers, many ATMs, many businesses) collapsed with the result that if you didn't have cash you couldn't make an exchange. How robust do people really think these systems are? I certainly have no faith in a perfectly digital future (despite being heavily invested in it) - we are but one solar flare away from behaving like barbarians.

Continuing to use cash should be a national security issue, just like for instance, using open source software is starting to be in some places. Any country that wants to get rid of cash is just making it easy for future rival nations to cripple its economy with a hack or two.

But why couldn't the government just keep cash on hand in some central location (eg. Fort Knox in USA) and in case of a total system failure have a plan to quickly distribute it across the country. I mean if Amazon can get me socks in 48 hours, I'm pretty sure the govt of nearly any 1st world country could get cash to central repositories in a matter of hours with enough planning.

To whom you'd distribute that cash? If you have some service that can tell that I should have $1000 and which can record that you've given me $1000 which should later be deducted from my account #XYZ, then it implies that you have a fully functional e-payment system which can service most people, so you don't need the cash; and if the e-payment systems aren't functioning, then you can't do this distribution of cash.

Helicopter cash? So you just randomly give people stacks of cash? Sounds ridiculous and dangerous. Why not just let people continue using cash? Problem solved, if mobile payment systems are hacked and go down, people will still have some emergency cash in their wallet and will be fine for couple of days until gov fixes the hack.

This sounds like it would be a complete shitshow.

Happens in Norway as well some times, but then it automatically switches to a backup system, meaning it just checks that the card is valid and asks for a signature. Then the transactions goes through in bulk when the system is back up. Takes a little bit longer, but it works.

Definitely a concern, but some of the payment methods are independent. Most payments in Sweden are done by card. If that system is down, it should not affect Swish, which is the second most popular way of making payments.

A larger Internet outage is a concerning scenario though.

It's been a while since I lived in Sweden, but does Swish not tie to a credit card? If so, it would be no more able to process payments than credit cards, as the payment processor is still involved.

It will only work if it uses direct bank transfers, in which case an outage at your bank or in clearing houses (which is no less likely than an outage at a large payment provider) would take out both debit cards, Swish, and any other means of transfer.

(Note for outsiders: MasterCard Debit is the most common card in Sweden from what I recall)

Swish is cleared by the Bankgirot system. I'm not completely sure about the technical details but there is no card involved.

I am only intimately familiar with one EU country's banking transaction infrastructure, but there it is the case that when one (major) creditcard provider has a network outage the debit network is also down.

In Belgium the payment processor crashes every year around X-mas. Can't use your card in the shop doing X-mas shopping, no cash from the ATM. Fun times and every year in the news :)

That's funny, considering the fact that SWIFT is located in Belgium.

I think the systems are pretty robust by any measure. I've never had a card reader in the Netherlands fail and had to pay with cash before. I have seen ATM's out of order a couple of times though.

If the payment networks all go down, I imagine you'd also have trouble withdrawing cash from an ATM too. What's the alternative? Cash under your mattress for a rainy day? Do you think the value of cash would be stable enough to be useful in this solar flare scenario? I think we'll have bigger issues...

The alternative is cash in the wallet, not having to go to immediately withdraw as that is obviously also down. That is, using cash regularly.

It doesn't even have to be a total credit card blackout, like it has happened a few times in Denmark in recent years. It can be minor fuckups, like your bank accidentally cancelling your card, or shutting it down due to something they consider fradulent activity.

I have seen at least 2 total payment blackouts in the past few years here in Denmark (a virtually cashless society, with very strict laws limiting cash use), have 12 credit cards at home from back when my bank thought I wanted a new one every month (with each sent card cancelling my current one, without notice, before I got the replacement), and friends have had their card cancelled without notice due to undescribed "potentially fradulent activity". It of course takes weeks to get a new one, and during this period you cannot even use an ATM.

All of these are simple errors that will happen again, and again, and again. They shouldn't leave you unable to make trades from your own wealth. You shouldn't rely on others to be able to manage what you own.

Cash isn't inconvenient with electronic cash counting registers. It's fast, simple, and it works regardless of external factors. Oh, and fewer people tracing your every step in this world is nice.

>What's the alternative?

Withdrawing it from a bank branch.

Many Swedish bank branches (most at this point?) don't have any cash.

Most, by a wide margin. I checked with my bank, and they seem to have ten offices in the whole country with cash. I happen to live "only" 7 km or so from one (and I live in the center of a big (by Swedish standards) city), but many would have some 500 km of travelling to do to get to one of these offices.

Banks in the region generally are moving towards cashless branches. You go to a branch to handle agreements, disputes, loans, investments - it's a location for sales and customer service.

If you need to withdraw or deposit cash, that's done in ATMs, the branch generally has one, but if the card services are down then the ATM will be as well.

> I've never had a card reader in the Netherlands fail and had to pay with cash before.

This is extra amusing because there was a major outage this year in the card payment infrastructure of the Netherlands. It's possible you missed it, but only if you didn't try to pay anywhere.

The major issue I see regarding a cash-free society (which I am part of by living in Sweden) is that it puts a big burden on tourists who have to pay a huge amount of fees when using their own cards in a different currency.

It is also a bit similar for expats who, under certain conditions, can't apply for a Swedish person number (think SSN) and thus get a fully activated bank account. No bank account? Good luck doing anything!

I for once love Swedish cashless society and have rarely been inconvenienced by it. People close to me have had issues due to not having a personnummer (thanks Migrationsverket). But then there are things like Revolut for example or Transferwise. This is how we got around it. Although for stuff like rent you're fresh out of luck if it's not second hand. And the fees for foreigners are for converting currency. Those you pay anyways regardless if you're converting cash or each of your electronic payments. I've also seen so called blackouts that people portray as the boogiemen and the result was not being able to pay for a couple of minutes. But I've also seen those with cash when electronic checkout systems were not functioning and the cashier could simply not print your receipt and take your cash money. And growing up in a more dangerous neighbourhood as a kid I can tell you all about what cash on you or in your house means :)

Regarding the receipt, one can always issue handwritten ones. It is a perfectly valid form of receipt, albeit tedious to issue.

I’ve paid with cash in many smaller shops and received handwritten receipts, one time after the receipt printer malfunctioned.

Yeah, I know that in Sweden it's for sure ok to give out handwritten receipts but I also know of a couple of countries that have a bit of a higher rate of tax avoidance schemes to not allow it. However even when allowed I doubt people would be eager to do it unless it was an exception and not the rule. We are moving to the new normal.

I'm not sure about other countries, but Australia has a number of cards with no fees on foreign currency transactions.

Disagree. It is only a problem for swish only transactions. For cards the fee is higher when you withdraw than when you pay directly,so in a foreign country I always try to pay by card.

In addition, handling cash in foreign countries is a huge hassle bebause you oftwn spend quite a lot so then you feel like a moving target for robbers. I never felt more unsafe than when I was with Colombia with 1000$ in cash to pay a big transaction. I had cash in sweden only once in my life and it got stolen in a commuter train. Never again!

The problem with Sweden and SSN is not really cash but everything else (privacy, accessibility, discrimination, administrative hassle, online accounts...).

Most probably would pay similar fees if they were converting to local cash currency, too.

This is untrue.

For tourists and Visa/MasterCard paying with a card is usually cheaper than withdrawing foreign cash at ATM.

With ATM you are slapped with a foreign withdrawal fee and you usually get worse exchange rate.

Depends on your credit card: it's not uncommon for them to also slap you with foreign transaction fees of 3% or higher.

In general, the hierarchy of fees is no-fee CC < regular CC < ATM withdrawal < exchange cash at destination < exchange cash somewhere else.

Not sure why you're being downvoted. Some (but not all) of my American credit cards charge an explicit 3% foreign exchange conversion fee on top of whatever exchange rate they give you. It can happen even if the transaction is denominated in US dollars.

How will I send my daughter to the baker to buy the morning's bread with her 5 franc coin tucked in her pocket of there's no more cash?

She’ll have to go exchange her francs for Euros or Krona first anyway. Unless you’re going to send her to Switzerland for the morning’s bread...

Worry not.

She will come back with her 5 francs still tucked in her pocket, because it's Sweden. So you will be all set to send her again to the baker whenever you feel like.

This would be the cashless equivalent: https://imgur.com/gallery/swJvdkH

Pre-pay with Swish.

That's how we pay for veggies from farmers. I just fetch 'em at the end of my commute

You can get payment cards for under 18s.

Order and pay for it online probably.

Related discussion 12 days ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18422422 (403 points, 607 comments)

I would be willing to bet that once a country goes cash-free that a second underground hard currency of some type will develop. Being able to barter/exchange without being tracked, or without being in the "system" has too many upsides for it not to exist. Maybe bottle caps? :-)

Teeth work great.


No mention of privacy in the linked PDF:

* https://www.riksbank.se/globalassets/media/tal/engelska/ingv...

... which is kind of odd...

What happens when the electricity supply is non-existent for weeks or even months?

What happened in Puerto Rico and in New Orleans?

No electricity = no money.

Half of the businesses in New Orleans are still cash only. Usually when they start having enough in the till to get held up a few times they see the light.

Same here in Norway. I can only imagine the mayhem if the internet fell out for a couple of days.

Or the lack of care once you get a small peak at who they sell all your information to, followed by a slap on the wrist because too big to fail now that society is fully dependent on it. Equifax anyone?

But it happens from time to time and all transactions still goes through with signature. Usually it’s a problem local to the shop, but it’s the same when bankaxept goes down. Everything just takes a bit longer.

Ditto in Finland. I can imagine the Internet being largely 4G-based in the northern parts of Norway too? Luckily, most people born before 1990 still remember the basics of living in a society that isn't completely reliant on the Internet. :)

Cash = anonymity as credit card companies sell your data to Facebook and anyone else...

I understand anonymity from my wife, but do credit card companies really sell your data? and Swish which is operated by the banks ?

Anyone not selling your data is just sitting on money-making opportunities for no reason. It would be insane.

First thing that popped up: https://www.businessinsider.com/credit-cards-sell-purchase-d...

So, we know they sell anonymized data. We don't know if its easily de-anonymizable because that takes some studying, and we don't know what else they are selling they don't tell you about.

Right, but is it known they sell the data in the EU?

It would be breathtakingly naive to think this is not done.

But is there _evidence_ ? The sort of evidence that could form the basis of a GDPR complaint?

Why does a third party need to know in the first place, whether or not they sell the information or not?

It's not that I prefer cash, it's that I don't see involving 100s or even 1000s of third parties in all of my transactions as an 'improvement'.

But not in Europe, where the privacy protection laws forbids doing this without client's consent.

I assume "consent" comes in the form of the huge booklet of small print we receive from the bank that nobody reads.

Perhaps they claim it's "anonymised" (which generally means it's still grouped but assigned a number instead of a name), thereby handily circumventing this requirement. I would be more hesitant to assume that just because the GDPR passed, the big guys are already as compliant as you would expect from it's wording. It's much more likely they're maliciously complying, because this nets much more money.

Anecdotally, I don't know of any Swedish consumers saying "not so fast!". Even the pensioners I know do their parking with the kommun's parking app and love swish etc.

Myself, I last used a banknote... at least over a year ago. I think I did use some coins (which luckily I still had in the glovebox of my car) in an old-fashioned parking machine recently.

Look beyond your bubble.

I use cash nearly every day and I see plenty of transactions in cash around me. It's still alive and well.

Do you live in a city?

Most people live in cities, and the share is continuously growing.

Actually only 41% of Swedes live in cities with >= 50000 inhabitants.

The purpose of giving my anecdotal evidence is to describe the world as seen from my bubble? ;)

Where I am, a town is pretty much anything over 5K people. We jokingly call the nearest large village with 2K people a 'town' too.

And I live in the proper countryside. I don't think that a is relevant factor.

I increasingly use swish in shops too. Just recently Swish QR codes have been plastered to tills everywhere. Its already ubiquitous.

let me pay for everything with Monero; then I’d be ok with this change

I have yet to see one of the new bills that were introduced 2015, i.e. I haven't seen (or used) cash since before 2015.

If there is no cash how would you buy drugs or something else illegal?

Does anyone understand why cash is so common in Germany (or why cards are so rarely accepted)? I didn't expect it from a modern first world European country.

Germans are sort of reticent or skeptical about a lot of modern consumer technology, I've found.

Maybe they are just more aware of the associated risks?

no, unfortunately most eastern european societies are completely broken due to USSR influences. it was a wide-held belief in eastern europe that the state knows everything about you and that you should hide your daily life from everyone, as everyone could be a spy working for the government. this is what historically underlines gdpr and the whole privacy movement in europe: a deep-seated mistrust of everything and everyone. even to this day most european societies that fell behind the iron curtain are still broken 30 years after it came down.

How is it broken to assume you need to be privacy conscious, even when it comes to the state?

I think what OP describes is closer to 'widespread paranoia crippling the economy' than being 'privacy conscious'

Memory of the stasi?

Cashless is an utopia, pushed by disconnected from reality liberal arts academics and humanities majors. Sweden is famous for having way too many of those victims of Plato virus.

Cash is a major innovation in evolution of societies and not for some weak-minded progress-cosplaying idiots to abolish it in order to be popular an re-elected.

Let them visit some overpopulated asian country to see why cash is absolutely essential.

Also look no farther than bitcoin - anything which disrupts or even increase transaction time will be a disaster.

I see a lot of people worry about "what if the connectivity breaks," but truth be told, I had a lot more fuzz with physical money than digital. I put away a small sum as a contingency for exactly this scenario that I never used, and in fact, I had to go change that money to new bills because they became outdated. It's the same for my spare change; all the coins I accumulated over the years are now invalid. This could be seen as the physical equivalent of connectivity problems, and as far as I can tell, it happens a lot more frequently.

Are you suggesting that demonetization of existing coins and notes is a more common occurrence than internet outages?

Yes, I've lived through (and seen in other countries) far more cases of demonetization (USA is a general exception in this regard) than prolonged large-scale (city-wide or larger) internet outages, which pretty much never happen - they're even more rare than prolonged large-scale electricity outages.

In all kinds of countries the chance of demonetization is something like 5% per year i.e. on average every couple decades you have some sort of currency reform where everyone will have some issues with cash, I've lived through three such occurrences myself; and if you don't live in a place with really shitty infrastructure then the risk of your area (as opposed to some rural place where breakdowns affect a tiny number of people) having a total internet breakdown that's not resolved quickly is much lower than 5% per year.

I live in the US and have never worried about cash (paper or coins) not being accepted because they are "old."

I have many relatives in India. They all complained about this:


AFAIK the US does not ever invalidate old dollar bills. They're just withdrawn from circulation, i.e. banks return them to the Fed in exchange for new bills.

That's how it read to me, too. I'm just in awe how stretchable humans can be.

I'm not suggesting, I am stating as fact.

Sad that instead of having a discussion about this, my point of view gets downvoted. It's true. Where I live, cash has had more downtime than cards. That is just plain fact.

The problem is that while it may be personally true for you in the country where you live over a short window of time, it's not generally true for the world. Internet outages are more common than demonetizations.

I think it really comes down to what you mean by 'internet outage'. Maybe if you're in a smaller town, the one ISP can have a service outage. Or a large hosting service like aws could have an outage. But those are always going to be limited in scope, both in time and users affected - as far as I know, there has never been a time where the entirety of the internet just went down. On the other hand, demonetizations do happen and they do not have the same limitation of scope - they affect every business and cash using citizen of a country.

I am Swedish. This article is about Sweden. It is true of Sweden.

Okay, let's have a discussion. I said that I have never worried about this but my relatives in India did and I provided a link.

Provide some links or describe what happened and then we can have a discussion.

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