And so it begins!
How going cashless allows Big Brother to spy on your every move: As thousands of Swedes get payment chips implanted in their hands, a backlash is growing amid fears of data abuse.
- Pensioners and disabled people have hit out at the move away from cash
- Former banker Hans-Uno Broström said the situation made people ‘indebted’
- Britain is third in a recent analysis of cashless economies
Gustaf can remember the precise date when he last used cash. ‘It was October 7 last year,’ he told me without hesitancy.
‘I found an old note that I had forgotten about and used it to buy some sweets.’
Like many others at his university in Gothenburg, Sweden, Gustaf relies on cards and smartphones to spend money. ‘None of us use cash – you just don’t need it these days,’ he said.
But there is one problem – a big one. The 20-year-old computer science student keeps losing his bank cards, along with others that swipe open electronic locks for his apartment, gym and lecture halls. ‘I laugh about it but it is very inconvenient.’
So he plans to get a tiny microchip, scarcely bigger than a grain of rice, injected into his hand which he says will make life easier as well as being ‘cool and futuristic’ – following the lead of at least 4,000 other Swedes as their country hurtles into a brave new world without hard cash.
They have chips inserted under their skin – usually above the thumb – to pay for their coffees and bus and train travel, waving a hand across payment machines as if using a contactless card.
This blending of human beings with technology sounds like science fiction. Yet it comes as this Nordic nation – the first in Europe to issue banknotes more than 350 years ago – leads the global march into a cashless society.
Britain is close behind, coming third in a recent analysis of cashless economies, with barely a third of retail transactions still made in notes and coins.
Even pubs and cafes have started to go cash-free, while about 300 cash machines close each month.
It’s a headlong rush that has alarmed many in the UK – and prompted the MoS to launch the Keep Our Cash campaign.
‘If we don’t take action now in this country, we’re only a couple of years away from Sweden,’ warned Natalie Ceeney, the former financial ombudsman who headed a review on access to cash published earlier this year.
Notes and coins represent just one per cent of the Swedish economy, compared with an average of ten per cent across the rest of the continent as cafes, shops and even banks stop taking cash.
After eating a prawn salad at Glashuset, a smart seafront restaurant in Stockholm, I asked my waitress if they still took old-fashioned money. ‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘But we stop this weekend. We are Swedish – no one uses real money any more.’
I heard this mantra repeatedly. Susanne Dahlberg, 53, a technology manager, even said that when she had to get cash out last year, she thought the notes were foreign. ‘I realised it was the first time I’d seen a new series of bills released three years earlier.’
At the Hotel Kung Carl, where former Sweden and Leeds football star Tomas Brolin was hosting his 50th birthday party, one guest confessed he had to be bailed out by his girlfriend as he only had cash, which was not accepted at the bar.
Barely one in ten Swedes used cash last year for purchases, according to a survey – down from four in ten in 2010 – while the total value of banknotes and coins in circulation over the same period has almost halved.
The case for going cashless is based on convenience and cutting crime. Even the Abba Museum, shrine to the band that sang Money, Money, Money, rejects notes after one member of the group became a prominent advocate when his son’s flat was burgled.
‘It made me think: What would happen if this was a cashless society and the robbers couldn’t sell what they stole?’ said Björn Ulvaeus.
So now the man who co-wrote possibly the world’s most famous song about money never carries cash – while a local journalist told me that the switch to digital had pushed buskers and beggars off the streets.
Furniture giant Ikea is also following the trend, announcing last month that its store in Gävle, about 100 miles north of Stockholm, would be the first to abandon cash after a short trial found the move freed up 30 minutes a day for frontline staff.
There were a few complaints, mostly from customers in the canteen – so managers gave them free hot dogs or meatballs, then asked them to carry a card next time.
But not everyone is enthusiastic. There is growing resistance from groups such as pensioners – who say they are being left marginalised – while experts warn about grave security implications for both individuals and the State.