Following the news in October that Apple will soon be launching a new mobile payments service, Apple Pay, commentators in the press once again began to speculate on the future proximity of a cashless society.
Having already cornered the download and smartphone market, the technology behemoth is now moving into mobile payments and has already brokered deals with Mastercard, Visa and American Express to use new near field communication technology. With technology businesses and financial services providers investing heavily in card, online and mobile payment systems, it would seem that a truly cashless society is not far away.
But, as the decision to discontinue cheques now having been reversed has demonstrated, large swathes of the population remain faithful to traditional means of payment, the question remains as to how far off is a cashless society and indeed, how practical would it be?
For a potential answer, we can look to Sweden, which the Guardian suggests is “the most cash-free society on the planet”. According to the article, magazine vendors now take cards instead of change, four out of every five purchases made are done electronically and even Abba’s Bjorn Ulvaeus is campaigning for a fully cash-free society. Mamma mia!
Advocates, Bjorn among them, are already reporting benefits. With fewer customer-facing service providers such as bus drivers handling cash, robberies and muggings are reportedly falling. Bank heists are now a thing of the past as the major financial institutions operate cash-free where possible. The economy is fluid, as “money” moves around with greater speed.
However, there are concerns. As the article points out, while physical crime may be falling, the propensity for fraud has risen exponentially. Similarly, with nearly 20 per cent of Sweden’s population being aged 65 and above, how receptive to rapid change will a large section of the population be? What provision has been made for tourists to get to grips with this system? Finally, as the article poses, what is the connection between a country and its currency? Closer to home, one only has to look at the debate surrounding the adoption of the Euro to see how intrinsically fused Sterling is to the DNA of Britain.
There is one undeniable fact however; change will come. What that change will be the multi-billion dollar question. Sweden is perhaps our vision for the future.
For a history of bank notes and ifs University College’s historic collection, read our money blog.