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Sweden on course to become first cashless society, but some are balking

Sweden is close to becoming the first cashless society in the world, but the notion of completely doing away with tangible currency has some citizens concerned. (PONTUS LUNDAHL/AFP/Getty Images)

Sweden is close to becoming the first cashless society in the world, but the notion of completely doing away with tangible currency has some citizens concerned about the possible costs to society.

What are the details?

In recent years, Swedish retailers have increasing switched to digital-only payment methods, and thousands of citizens have allowed themselves to be implanted with microchips as part of the push for convenience.

Bakery manager Victoria Nilsson explained to the BBC last year why her stores no longer accept cash: "We wanted to minimize the risk of robberies and it's quicker with the customers when they pay by card."

"It's been mainly positive reactions," she added. "We love to use our cards here in Stockholm."

Even Stockholm's homeless magazine vendors accept credit cards as payment, and have for years.

According to The New York Times, one-fifth of Swedes no longer use automated teller machines at all, and up to 95 percent of the purchases made by 18- to 24-year-olds are tendered using either a debit card or smartphone app. Roughly half of Sweden's banks no longer accept cash deposits.

So, what's the problem?

Government officials are now assessing how to mitigate threats of electronic grid attacks, hackers, or power outages in the absence of any tangible backup for their currency.

Stefan Ingves, the governor of Sweden's central bank, told The Times, "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," he added, "but you do have to find a way to deal with the change."

Another concern lies with Sweden's elderly population, many of whom are uncomfortable with using digital payment methods.

"We have around one million people who aren't comfortable using the computer, iPads or iPhones for banking," explained Christina Tallberg, president of the Swedish National Pensioners Organization.

"We aren't against the digital movement," she continued, "but we think it's going a bit too fast."

But 24-year-old Swede Johan Johnson summed up many citizens' views on the transition to a cashless society to the BBC, saying, "You can use your card online and in coffee shops and I just don't see a use for hard cash any more. Of course, your card could get stolen, but your insurance will pay for it."

"I think that cash is out of date and not really necessary."

One last thing…
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