Swedish central bank eyeing e-currency

STOCKHOLM, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Sweden’s Riksbank may launch its own e-currency becoming the first major central bank in the world to create its own virtual money as the use of cash declines, Deputy Governor Cecilia Skingsley said on Wednesday.

The value of cash in circulation in Sweden - where the first banknotes were introduced more than 300 years ago - has fallen to around 1.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from almost 10 percent of GDP in 1950.

Swedish bank branches are moving away from cash handling while cash machines are scarce in much of the country. Some shops have stopped accepting cash payments altogether.

Digital currency functions like payment cards, allowing users to make online transactions across borders instantaneously. It has been growing in popularity as more people use the internet to shop.

“Sweden is on the forefront of this. We don’t have any other countries to copy, since there is no other country that is so rapidly stopping using notes and coins as Sweden is,” Skingsley said.

“There is a large number of people who for various reasons cannot, do not want to have or do not get access to the commercial banks’ payment methods,” she told reporters.

But critics say virtual currencies like Bitcoin are not widely accepted, can easily be used for money laundering and are not regulated, meaning it they are more risky to use.

Skingsley said the Riksbank would need to look at a number of issues, including technical, legal, practical and security matters and would decide on an e-currency within the next two years. (Reporting by Daniel Dickson; Editing by Simon Johnson)