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Today's Sweden is on the cutting edge when it comes to electronic payment solutions. At present, Swedish National Bank (Riksbank) is poised to become the first major bank to emit a national digital currency. Whereas the e-krona will hardly supplant traditional currency in the nearest future, it may nevertheless become a longed-for supplement for one of the world's most digitalized nations.
"The fewer of us Swedes use bank notes and coins, the clearer it becomes that the Riksbank needs to investigate whether we should issue electronic money as a complement to the money we have today," Riksbank deputy governor Cecilia Skingsley told Swedish Radio.
According to Skingsley, state-backed electronic currency would become as revolutionary as when Sweden in the 1660s became one of the first countries in the world to introduce paper bank notes.
Even today, solutions to avoid cash abound, such as debit cards and payment services. According to Skingsley, the difference between e-krona and any random digital currency would be state support. At present, the exact technological solution to be used remains unclear, but it can involve a debit card on an app.
In present-day Sweden, cash is gradually becoming obsolete, with alternative methods of payment becoming commonplace. Cash now only represents 2 percent of the Swedish economy, compared with roughly ten percent in the Eurozone. At the same time, only 20 percent of all customer payments are done in cash, whereas in the rest of the world, the figure hovers at 75 percent. Additionally, the number of Swedish bank notes and coins in circulation has fallen by 40 percent since 2009. Swedes also rank among the world's keenest payment card users.
According to its own estimations, the Riksbank needs about two years to investigate all the possible technical, legal and practical issues before finally deciding whether or not the e-krona will become a fact of life. Previously, similar research has been undertaken in the US, Canada and the UK.
"The declining use of cash in Sweden means that this issue is much more burning for us than for most other central banks. Although it may at a cursory glance seem an easy task to issue e-krona, this is something entirely new for a central bank with no template to follow," Skingsley noted.
Recently, the Riksbank launched a series of bank notes, portraying some of the nation's greats, such as FN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, children's writer Astrid Lindgren and filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Those who would like to keep the famous Swedes in their wallet can (at least temporarily) breathe a sigh of relief. The Riksbank ensured that the e-krona will in any case serve as a complement rather than a replacement for cash. Hard cash will continue to be issued, as long as there is popular demand for it in Swedish society.
Despite all the potential benefits and challenges arising from digital currencies, there have been fears that the poor, elderly and disabled who lack access to technology will be at a disadvantage. Additionally, there is an elevated risk of fraud involving electronic transactions.
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