A society without cash – can we handle that?

In Sweden, a dwindling number of stores, restaurants and cafés accept banknotes and coins. The country is well on its way towards becoming a cashless society – and not everyone is happy about that.

At the end of January, an open seminar was held at the Swedish parliament building. The cashless society was on the agenda, and in attendance were politicians as well as trade associations and retired persons’ organisations. Funka was also there to listen to the debate and offer our view on the impending disappearance of cash payments.

Many of the participants were incensed. They wondered how banks could be allowed to cease handling banknotes and coins, or why stores were permitted to refuse them as a means of payment. Participants also questioned the security of the new digital payment solutions: What actually happens to the personal information transmitted when you pay by card? The representatives of Sweden’s retail sector responded by pointing out that few customers actually want to pay with cash these days, even when that is an option. A lot of people simply find it quicker and easier to pay by card or other digital solutions.

Here at Funka, our main concern is that there should still be a freedom of choice. This is because there is no payment solution that works equally well for everyone. Over the years, we have tested at least a hundred different digital payment solutions, and none of them have met standard requirements for accessibility. Furthermore, there will likely always be some who cannot cope with the technology, who nonetheless have a right to be included in society. The continued possibility of cash payments is one way of guaranteeing that inclusion occurs.

Sweden has been more willing than most countries to embrace digital payments, but cash is under threat elsewhere, too. Responses to this development vary: In Germany, for instance, a popular movement demands the recognition of cash as a basic civil right. At the EU level, meanwhile, the upcoming European Accessibility Act is meant to impose new and strict accessibility requirements on digital banking solutions, among other things. In this latter case, then, an attempt will be made to steer the continued development, rather than halt or reverse it.

Regardless of what happens next, more groups need to be heard regarding what a cashless society would mean for them. In particular, many persons with disabilities run the risk of being excluded from society due to an inability or an unwillingness to abandon cash. We think this is unacceptable – everyone has the right to participate on equal terms in society.