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So, another post about Sweden. I keep going back to Sweden because no other country has gone this far in getting rid of cash. Since we all seem to be on the same trajectory, we should probably be interested in this country.

Fortunately for us, every two years the Riksbank – Sweden’s central bank – conducts a payment survey and posts the results on its website. One of the most interesting questions asked is “ which of the following payment methods have you used in the last month? “.

Below are some observations.

Swish is superior to cash

Only 61% of Swedes have used cash in the last month, up from 94% just 8 years ago. But 62% now use a service called Swish. Swish is a mobile payment application used by Swedes to transfer money to each other in real time and on weekends. Something like Venmo or Zelle in the US or Interac e-Transfer in Canada. Such payment methods are actually rarely used in retail outlets. They are used for direct transfers between two persons.

Swish was developed by Swedish banks, not some new tech company. By the way, Zelle and Interac e-Transfer are also owned by banks. (Venmo is owned by PayPal , a financial technology company.) From this it is clear that banks are not always sedentary monoliths, as many believe them. They defend their territory.

The Swish service was launched in 2012, around the same time it was planned to replace all old Swedish banknotes with new ones. The timeline chosen by the Riksbank for the transition was in all respects inconvenient for cash users. Rather than permitting long-term exchange of banknotes (as in Canada and the United States) or giving a large window (as in Sweden in the 1980s and 1990s), the Riksbank gave the Swedes only one or two years to exchange. In the case of the 1000 kronor note, they had to make two exchanges in 5 years. Because of the inconvenience of the exchange, many more Swedes preferred to refuse cash. I already wrote about this in an article titled ” Betrayal in Swedish » ( Swedish Betray al).

The Riksbank chose these terms because they were recommended to it in 2012 by a number of private financial institutions, including large Swedish banks. At the same time, banks introduced Swish. Since Swish and banknotes are direct competitors in the direct payments industry, the inconvenient exchange of banknotes has been very beneficial for banks.

Thus, Swish’s success (at the expense of cash) was probably not a product of purely conscious consumer choice – it was also helped by a slight push from the Riksbank (and the private sector advising the central bank).

Debit cards are much more popular than credit cards

Canada is a land of credit cards. According to a recent Bank of Canada survey, approximately 39% of all retail payments, corresponding to 56% of all amounts spent, are made through credit. Debit accounts for only 26%. While debit is more popular in the US, credit cards are n’t far behind .

Why is the use of debit cards so popular in Sweden? I think because of the low interbank commission. Interbank commission is the amount paid by the merchant for each transaction made by the customer using the card. In Sweden, the interbank commission for credit cards is fixed at 0.3%, and for debit cards – 0.2%. In Canada, the interbank commission for credit cards ranges from 1% to 2.5%, and for debit cards it is 0.25%.

Canadian banks can use income from interbank credit card fees to fund attractive bonus programs and 2% cashback. Swedish banks cannot do this because interbank fees for credit cards are very low. So, from a Canadian shopper’s point of view, why make a $ 100 purchase in a store using a debit card when you can make the same purchase with a credit card and get a $ 2 cashback? The Swedes do not face such payment math – the low fixed interbank commission means that the credit card cannot be accompanied by large bonuses. Therefore, buying 1000 CZK with a credit card does not offer any advantages over a debit card.

What happened to the bitcoin payment revolution?

If you want an example of the payments revolution then this is Swish, not Bitcoin. Only 6 of the 2011 Swedes surveyed by the Riksbank made payments with bitcoins during the month. That is, the utilization rate was only 0.3%.

However, this does not mean that bitcoins are not popular in Sweden. The Swedish NASDAQ / OMX exchange is distinguished by the fact that it trades Bitcoin Tracker One , the world’s first (and one of the few) exchange-traded financial products pegged to Bitcoin. Bitcoin Tracker One is one of the exchange ‘s most active index certificates. At the peak of the bitcoin bull market in December 2017, product assets soared to $ 600 million.

These statistics illustrate the unusual nature of Bitcoin’s success. Bitcoins were to become a payment or money technology. But this vision did not work. Instead, bitcoins have become an excellent gambling tool for Swedes (and everyone else). I developed this topic in a recent article for the Sound Money project :

“Forget about online payments. Bitcoin became the most successful technology for gaming invented ever since Henry Orenstein (Henry Orenstein ) in 1999 came up with a pocket camera for poker. The pocket camera allowed viewers to see the players’ cards, which revolutionized poker watching and sparked the poker hype of the 2000s.

In what sense has bitcoins succeeded as a technology for gambling? At its core, bitcoins are pure Keynesian beauty contest. People try to guess what other people think about how other people see the value of bitcoin. The price resulting from this competition is incredibly volatile. But such explosive growth and mind-boggling falls provide a fun, interesting and addictive betting item for both casual gamblers and wealthy professional speculators. “

Since the first and foremost function of bitcoins is gambling, only a small minority of Swedes (6 out of 2011) have managed to use them for payments. An analogy can be drawn with other products that have alternative uses, for example, some do not use toothpaste to clean their teeth, but to remove stains from carpet.

The problem is that the very feature that makes bitcoins such a great tool for gambling – their beauty pageant – hinders their usefulness as a payment system. I don’t think this problem lends itself to a solution. It’s a shame, because, in theory at least, bitcoins have a number of properties that could make them a worthy replacement for cash.

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