Few countries have been moving toward a cashless society as fast as Sweden.
But cash is being squeezed out so quickly — with half the nation’s retailers predicting they will stop accepting bills before 2025 — that the government is recalculating the societal costs of a cash-free future.
The financial authorities, who once embraced the trend, are asking banks to keep peddling notes and coins until the government can figure out what going cash-free means.
The central bank is testing a digital currency — an e-krona — to keep firm control of the money supply.
Lawmakers are exploring the fate of online payments and bank accounts if an electrical grid fails or servers are thwarted by power failures, hackers or even war.
“It would be wrong to sit back with our arms crossed... and then just take note of the fact that cash has disappeared,” said Stefan Ingves, governor of Sweden’s central bank, known as the Riksbank.
A fifth of Swedes do not use ATMs anymore. More than 4,000 Swedes have implanted microchips in their hands, allowing them to pay for rail travel and food, or enter keyless offices, with a wave.
Consumer groups say the shift leaves many retirees — a third of all Swedes are 55 or older — as well as some immigrants and people with disabilities at a disadvantage.
They cannot easily gain access to electronic means, and rely on banks and their customer service.
And the progress toward a cashless society could upend the state’s centuries-old role as sovereign guarantor. If cash disappears, commercial banks would wield greater control.
“We need to pause and think about whether this is good or bad,” said Mats Dillen, the head of a Swedish parliament committee. Urban consumers worldwide are increasingly paying with apps and plastic.
In China and in other Asian countries, mobile payments are routine. In Europe, about one in five people say they rarely carry money.