Cashless

Last week something happened to me on the tunnelbana (the underground, subway, metro) here in Stockholm , that I predicted would happen almost two years ago. I gave some money to a homeless person.

Now you might think that makes me an incredibly mean person that it’s taken two years for us to give to a beggar. But here’s the distinction. I gave them money but I did not give them cash.

As me and my children were sitting on the train, a woman walked on and quite clearly and politely announced (in Swedish) that she was homeless and would we be so kind as to give her some money so she could get some food and basic necessities. If we didn’t have cash we could Swish her a donation.

Swish is a Swedish mobile payments service that you can use to send money between friends (splitting a bill perhaps), or give to a charity or buy things at markets for example.

By the way if any of you think that because she’s homeless she shouldn’t have a mobile, stop being daft. A phone is a modern essential & if you were homeless you’d need a phone too.

So I asked her for her number and gave her some money. I can now if I want, even if I don’t see her again – get in touch and give her some more money (which I hadn’t previously thought about, but I will now).

As I said here, I don’t carry cash. I don’t use cash and I can’t remember when I last did. I remember being shocked when on holiday in Italy because there were shops that didn’t take card payments, and being surprised in the UK about minimum card levels. I also found myself stuck at times trying to pay for parking because I had no cash and had forgotten that I might need some. UK parking by phone methods hadn’t caught up with the concept of tourists who might not have a UK phone.

I have very quickly taken it for granted that everything is done by card or digitally. Yesterday I paid for parking, bought food, gave money, managed my finances, taxes the works and saw no physical money. Never even thought about it.

I’m not alone in Sweden where in 2016 only 15% of transactions involved cash and has surely dropped even further since. Sweden is predicted by some to become first country with own cryptocurrency. There are plenty of stores in our local shopping centre (mall) that don’t accept cash and Sweden is close to being a cashless society.

But is this good news? As usual there are two sides.

There will be people who would find access to a cashless society harder – people without bank accounts, those who struggle with technology, literacy – in other words people with vulnerabilities that need taking into account.

There are problems of power, privacy and progress that need addressing and there are vulnerabilities that a cashless society would have in the face of infrastructure failures while cash is an amazingly resilient system.

I expect to not use cash while I live in Sweden, I just need to remember to get some coins when I’m anywhere else.

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