It was a good run, but after 350 years it looks like Sweden may be one of the first nations to go cashless. The country is in the vanguard of nations moving toward cashless economies spurred on by the spread of electronic methods like plastic cards and mobile payments.
According to an article from the Chronicle Herald, currency represents only 3 percent of Sweden's economy, compared with 9 percent for other Eurozone nations and seven percent in the U.S., and it's trending down.
According to the article:
"In most Swedish cities, public buses don’t accept cash; tickets are prepaid or purchased with a cellphone text message. A small but growing number of businesses only take cards, and some bank offices — which make money on electronic transactions — have stopped handling cash altogether."
While the change isn't great for everyone – the article notes elderly pensioners who prefer cash are finding it harder to do business – the Swedish Bankers' Association said one benefit of less cash is less crime. Bank robberies have gone from 110 in 2008 to just 16 in 2011, the lowest level in 30 years.
"Less cash in circulation makes things safer, both for the staff that handle cash, but also of course for the public," Par Karlsson, an SBA security expert said.
Additionally, the article said other unsavory behavior like government theft is being discouraged in a cashless economy.
"The prevalence of electronic transactions — and the digital trail they generate — also helps explain why Sweden has less of a problem with graft than countries with a stronger cash culture, such as Italy or Greece," the article said.
While there may be less graft and fewer bank robberies, the article said computerized fraud has skyrocketed – going from 3,304 cases in 2000 to 20,000 in 2011 – and privacy may be at risk.
"One should be able to send money and donate money to different organizations without being traced every time," said Oscar Swartz, the founder of Sweden’s first Internet provider, Banhof.
But not everyone is convinced cash will completely disappear. The story quotes Lars Nyber, the former deputy governor of Sweden's central bank saying cash use may shrink, but it will survive "like the crocodile, even though it may be forced to see its habitat gradually cut back."