Cashless payment
Cashless payment Image Credit: Gulf News

Stockholm - The collapse of cash in Britain has been dramatic.

There were 11.5 billion fewer cash transactions in 2018 than in 2008 - a decline of 51 per cent. But Britain, while on the podium, is not the world champion in cashless.

That title goes to Sweden, where demand for notes and coins is so limp that cash is literally disappearing: the amount in circulation has fallen from 80 billion kronor (Dh30 billion) to 58 billion kronor in the last four years, a reduction of 27.5 per cent. The same period has seen ATM withdrawals fall by more than half.

In Japan, among the most dedicated cash-loving rich countries in the world, 79 per cent of people use cash every day. In Sweden only 60 per cent can remember using it - at all - in the last month.

It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As everything from Ikea stores to public transport to the Abba museum have gone cashless, so Swedes have ditched notes and coins. Polls show that only a quarter of people miss cash, while almost half actively welcome its parting.

But even here there is a recognition that there is a price to pay. A price which can be seen most starkly in a public information leaflet distributed last year to all Swedish homes called “Om krisen eller kriget kommer”: “If crisis or war comes”.

The leaflet outlines the country’s project of “Total defence” against invaders and terrorists. The tone is from the Cold War, but the threats are from the digital age. “What would you do if your life was turned upside down?” it asks Sweden’s 10 million people. “[If] payment cards and cash machines do not work?” “[If] Mobile networks and the internet do not work?

“Even today, attacks are taking place against our IT systems,” it notes, listing a kit of emergency supplies all Swedes should keep. Alongside a wind-up radio, they are told to salt away “cash in small denominations”.

Short of the apocalypse, however, Swedes will be using Swish - an app which allows instant cash transfers using just a mobile phone number. Or another home-grown payments technology, iZettle.

And a few thousand have even gone so far as to implant RFID chips under their skin, so that they can pay with nothing more than a swipe of the palm.