IT-friendly Swedes like to pay digitally

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Swedes are using cash less and less often. In 2015, only around 20 per cent of all payments in shops were made in cash. This is a low figure compared with many other countries. At the same time, the market for electronic payments is growing. This development is arousing considerable interest – particularly abroad.

Less cash, innovative payment services and new, non-traditional suppliers. This is part of the extensive structural transformation in the Swedish payments market.

 

“The structural transformation we are seeing is largely positive. Our move towards a society with less and less cash is arousing interest and curiosity. It is quite unique on a global scale. In particular other central banks want to know why developments in Sweden are moving in this direction,” says Sara Edholm, economist at the Financial Stability Department.

Sparsely populated

There are several explanations. One is that our country is sparsely populated, which means that the costs for cash distribution are relatively high.

 

“This has given the banks an incentive to rationalise. The range of cash services has decreased, the number of bank branches has been cut, and about half the branches are now cashless.”

Few large banks

The fact that Sweden has relatively few, large banks has enabled them to cooperate on payments.

 

“The banks have found new forms of cooperation. An example is the jointly owned company Bankomat AB, which operates all the ATMs in Sweden. Another is Bankgirot. In addition, a consensus has been found regarding the switchover from cash to electronic payments. This has led to the development of services such as payments in real time and Swish.”

An inquisitive, technology-friendly country

There is also another important aspect. Sweden is an inquisitive, technology-friendly country, in which a large proportion of households have access to the internet, smartphones and tablet computers. Swedish society is also characterised by a high level of trust in the suppliers of payment services. This increases people’s willingness to try something new.

 

Examples of new players on the Swedish payments market are Klarna, which supplies eCommerce payment solutions, and iZettle, which has developed a small card-reader that can easily be connected to a mobile phone. When homeless people started using iZettle to accept payment for the magazine Situation Stockholm, it attracted a great deal of attention in international media with articles in magazines like Business Week and newspapers like Die Welt and The Guardian.

 

“There are many uncertainties regarding new suppliers of digital payment services currently under supervision. There is a new European Payment Services Directive which will come into force in Sweden at the beginning of 2018, which addresses issues such as security. This is welcome, as the last directive was from 2007 and a great deal has obviously happened since then.”

 

Digital payment services are growing and cash is on its way out. But an entirely cashless society is still a long way off, according to the Riksbank.

 

“Cash is still used to a great extent." A survey By the Riksbank shows that 8 out of 10 Swedes have used cash in the past month. It must therefore be possible to withdraw and deposit cash all over the country. This may in turn demand creative ideas and new forms of cooperation. But this does not only apply to cash. For the structural transformation to continue in a positive way, the payments market needs to keep on innovating and developing different ways of making payments.”

Facts

  • Between 2007 and 2015, cash in circulation decreased by nearly 15 per cent. Cash withdrawals have declined by around a half, both in number of withdrawals and volume of cash withdrawn, over the past ten years.
  • By far the most common way of paying for goods in shops is by debit or credit card. Around 97 per cent of the population has access to a card.
  • Sweden is one of the countries in the world where the most card payments are made. The average Swedish citizen made 290 card payments in 2015. The average for the European Union is 104 card payments per year.
  • In Sweden, about 85 per cent have access to online banking. The number of electronic invoices (e-invoices) sent to online banks has increased sharply, from 5 million to 108 million between 2005 and 2015.
  • The Swish payment service, developed by the major banks, enables payments to be made between bank accounts in real time and round-the-clock. The service currently has almost five million users and can be used by shops, companies.
  • The Riksbank has made it possible for Swish to work by allowing a small amount of central bank money, in the form of a loan, to be outstanding overnight.
  • The Riksbank constantly analyses developments on the payments market; for example, by examining Swedish people's payment habits and studying what different types of payments cost.
  • The Riksbank also takes the initiative for discussion forums, where different participants can meet. Examples include the Retail Payments Council, which was started in 2015.

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