In Sweden, a Cash-Free Future Nears

STOCKHOLM — Parishioners text tithes to their churches. Homeless street vendors carry mobile credit-card readers. Even the Abba Museum, despite being a shrine to the 1970s pop group that wrote “Money, Money, Money,” considers cash so last-century that it does not accept bills and coins.

Few places are tilting toward a cashless future as quickly as Sweden, which has become hooked on the convenience of paying by app and plastic.

This tech-savvy country, home to the music streaming service Spotify and the maker of the Candy Crush mobile games, has been lured by the innovations that make digital payments easier. It is also a practical matter, as many of the country’s banks no longer accept or dispense cash.

At the Abba Museum, “we don’t want to be behind the times by taking cash while cash is dying out,” said Bjorn Ulvaeus, a former Abba member who has leveraged the band’s legacy into a sprawling business empire, including the museum.

Not everyone is cheering. Sweden’s embrace of electronic payments has alarmed consumer organizations and critics who warn of a rising threat to privacy and increased vulnerability to sophisticated Internet crimes. Last year, the number of electronic fraud cases surged to 140,000, more than double the amount a decade ago, according to Sweden’s Ministry of Justice.

Older adults and refugees in Sweden who use cash may be marginalized, critics say. And young people who use apps to pay for everything or take out loans via their mobile phones risk falling into debt.

“It might be trendy,” said Bjorn Eriksson, a former director of the Swedish police force and former president of Interpol. “But there are all sorts of risks when a society starts to go cashless.”

Despite the convenience, even some who stand to gain from a cashless society see drawbacks.

“Sweden has always been at the forefront of technology, so it’s easy to embrace this,” said Jacob de Geer, a founder of iZettle, which makes a mobile-powered card reader.

“But Big Brother can watch exactly what you’re doing if you purchase things only electronically,” he said.

But for Mr. Ulvaeus, the music magnate, such concerns are overblown.

“Everything speaks in favor of a cashless society,” he said as he strolled past the Abba Museum to retrieve his car. “It’s a utopian thought, but we’re very close to it.”

Full article: In Sweden, a Cash-Free Future Nears (The New York Times)

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