For many years, the Swedes were heralded as the masters of contactless payments adoption. And if you haven’t seen the most recent statistics, the whole of Sweden is fast becoming a nation where use of real money is becoming increasingly difficult.
Cashless, when controlled by secretive and privately owned non-EU firms represent a threat to EU citizens rights
Contactless payments is the broad description given to how people pay for goods and services. This can include the tap-and-go at a convenience store to pay for fuel, a litre of milk or a late night snack. It also includes online shopping, getting paid, paying for a taxi and so on.
The real measure of how contactless a society has become is how easy is it to travel and eat without having to use money. In Sweden, it is seamless, as long as you have a credit or debit card that is contactless-enabled. Here in Ireland, although very popular, contactless is far from as ubiquitous as it is for the Swedish. But signs are growing that things might be changing.
A key committee of Swedish lawmakers wants to force the country’s biggest banks to handle cash to halt the nation’s march toward complete cashlessness.
Parliament’s Riksbank committee, which is in the process of reviewing the central bank law, proposed making it mandatory for banks to offer cash withdrawals and handle daily cash receipts. The requirement would apply to all banks that provide checking accounts and have more than 70 billion kronor ($8 billion) in deposits from the Swedish public, according to a committee report.
The lawmakers said there needs to be “reasonable access to those services in all of Sweden,” and that 99 percent of Swedes should have a maximum distance of 25 kilometers to the nearest place where cash can be withdrawn. The requirement doesn’t state how banks should offer those services, and lenders can choose whether to use a third-party, machines or over-the-counter services.
Aside from some practical aspects of ensuring that all Swedish citizens are included in the economy, a backlash against cashless society is the likely result of other factors; the over-sized role of on non-state service providers.
Cash is a state property and it is the State, in all countries that underpin its value. Here in Ireland, that role is undertaken by the States that share the Euro and it is managed on a day-to-day basis by the European Central Bank. But is the State that guarantees the value and transportability of our common currency for the benefit of all citizens, not just a few or just those that have access to the latest phone technology or the fastest internet connections.
A recent systems failure at Visa underscores one aspect of the vulnerability of a key part of the cashless society, but there are many others. If we consider the rise in value and to some degree, popularity of crypto-currencies, such as Bitcoin, the value of such currencies is largely controlled by private investors. So, as a store of value, such currencies are finite and largely unreliable; bitcoin value has swung so much over the course of the last 7 months, it is now akin to Zimbabwean Dollars under the Mugabe regime. It is not a formula for long-term success, regardless of how much we may support the blockchain technology that underpins it.
And so, from a State and citizen security perspective, we cannot ever allow our currencies to be relegated to the same place as the horse-and-buggy. Instead, States must pass relevant laws that protect the use of cash as legal tender. Additionally, it would be sovereign suicide to hand over the role of currency guarantor to shady firms controlled and managed outside of the European Union. This lesson has been should have been learned from the shady practices of US firm Facebook as well as the anti-social network Twitter, another secretive US-based technology firm with global ambitions.