Sweden Cash Free: Churches, Business, Banks to Go Cashless

Sweden is moving towards a cash free society on all fronts- even church donations, according to reports.

Bills and coins now represent only 3 percent of Sweden's economy, compared to about 9 percent in the rest of Europe and 7 percent in the U.S., according to the Bank for International Settlements. Perhaps the most unexpected result of a cash free Sweden is cashless churches.

"People came up to me several times, and said they didn't have cash but would still like to donate money," Vicar Johan Tyrberg of the Carl Gustaf Church told The Associated Press.

The solution? Tyrberg installed a card reader, so worshipers could give tithes and offerings to the Karlshamn, southern Sweden church without having cash on hand.

Although using a credit card for donations and other purchases is certainly handy, there are other benefits to a cash-free Sweden. Bjoern Ulvaeus, formerly of 1970s pop group ABBA and a cashless society advocate, thinks less cash could make people more safe.

"If there were no cash, what would [thieves] do?" said Ulvaeus, whose son was robbed three times for his money.

The crime statistics support Ulvaeus' theory. Since the transition to actively cut down on loose cash has been instituted, bank robberies plummeted from 110 in 2008 to 16 in 2011, their lowest level ever, according to the Swedish Bankers' Association.

"Less cash in circulation makes things safer, both for the staff that [handles] cash but also of course for the public," Par Karlsson, a security representative for the group, told AP.

There are downsides to a cash free nation, however. Public buses, some businesses, and some bank offices only take credit card, which makes them money, but could be difficult for elderly or rural people.

"There are towns where it isn't at all possible anymore to enter a bank and use cash," said Curt Persson, the chairman of Sweden's National Pensioners' Organization.

In addition, cybercrimes, including computerized fraud and skimming, shot up over 600 percent from 3,304 in 2000 to 20,000 in 2011. Of course, the advent of faster and easily accessible internet could have contributed to such a startling figure.

Some resisters of the new push for a cash-free Sweden believe the policy is not about protecting citizens or convenience, but about making money.

For small business owners like Hanna Celik, whose family runs a newspaper kiosk, the 80 cents (5 Swedish kronor) credit card companies charge him hurts too much- especially when the Swedish Parliament signing legislation preventing him from passing the costs onto the customers.

"This stinks," he said. "For [the banks], this is a very good way to earn a lot of money, that's what it's all about. They make huge profits."

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