Swedes abandon cash with pandemic spurring digital shift, survey shows

STOCKHOLM, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Swedes have almost abandoned cash as a means of payment with only 9 percent having used notes or coins for their most recent purchase and instead relying on cards and digital payments, a survey by the central bank showed on Thursday.

Cash use has been declining for years in Sweden and the central bank has forecast that it could virtually disappear within a decade or two.

“Cash usage is at the lowest level ever,” the Riksbank said in a statement. “To prepare for a future in which fewer and fewer people pay in cash, the Riksbank is investigating the possibility of issuing digital cash - the so-called e-krona.”

The survey showed Swedes relying more and more on electronic payments, including debit cards and Swish - a popular local mobile payments system.

More than 90% of Swedes had used a debit card to make a purchase in the last 30 days, according to the survey, with 75% having used Swish. Only 50% had used cash.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has meant many people working from home and not visiting shops, has speeded up the trend, the central bank said.

“Even elderly people have started to use Swish more during the pandemic,” it said.

But the disappearance of cash has raised concerns about what would happen if electronic payments systems broke down.

While cash can be relatively easily counterfeited and laundered, it retains important advantages over digital money. For example, it does not rely on electricity or on a complex infrastructure and the Riksbank has said it must remain as a back up.

“It is the Riksbank’s opinion that those who want to use cash should be able to continue to do so,” the central bank said. “It is also necessary that payments in Sweden can continue to function in times of crisis and heightened alert.”

Reporting by Simon Johnson and Colm Fulton; editing by Niklas Pollard