Stockholm homeless accept credit cards as cash king no more

A stable financial system and a tech-savvy population mean Swedes are increasingly favouring device-based payment over hard currency

Stockholm's homeless magazine vendors no longer need to ask if you can spare any krona. They take cards.

In the most cashless society on the planet, the sellers of Situation Stockholm, a culture magazine sold by homeless people, were last month equipped with card readers to accept donations from fellow Swedes. The move marks a world first, according to their employer.

“More and more of our sellers come in and say that people don't have cash — they have told us this for a long time,” Pia Stolt, the magazine's chief executive officer, said in a telephone interview. “This becomes frustrating, but now they feel they offer an opportunity to buy the paper.”

A stable financial system and a tech-savvy population have encouraged Swedes to favor devices over cash in a country that printed Europe's first banknotes in 1661. Bills and coins represented just 2.7 percent of the Swedish economy in 2012, compared with an average of 9.8 percent in the euro area and 7.2 percent in the U.S., according to the Bank for International Settlements. Many Swedes think that figure is still too high.

“We could and should be the first cashless society in the world,” Bjoern Ulvaeus, a former member of Abba, says on the website of a Stockholm museum dedicated to the Swedish band.

Situation Stockholm, which costs 50 kronor ($8) and whose cover stories have featured Swedish celebrities such as pop star Robyn and actress Noomi Rapace, already can be bought via a text-message service. By using card readers supplied by Swedish mobile-payments company iZettle, the magazine is seeking to accelerate sales growth.

“This will make it easier to sell the paper and I also think this changes a little the image that people have of our sellers,” who get to keep 50 percent of the money they take from selling the magazine, Stolt said. The response from both customers and vendors has been “very positive,” she said.

Five of Situation Stockholm's 350 vendors are using the new equipment and the publication plans to introduce the devices on a broader scale after its initial trial led to increased sales.

“Before, everyone said they don't have cash, or that they cannot pay with their mobile phones because it was a corporate phone. But now they can't get away,” magazine vendor Stefan Wikberg said with a smile as he stood outside the underground entrance at Stockholm's central station. “I take cards, SMS payments, cash and they can also pay in dollars and euros.”

Wikberg, who has worked for Situation Stockholm since 1999, forecasts that sales of the magazine could jump 20 percent as the card-payment program is rolled out further.

Some Swedish retailers have already made cash a thing of the past, including bedding seller Kungsaengen, mobile phone chain 3 and phone company TeliaSonera.

Cards are also the only form of payment at Abba The Museum, where Ulvaeus is a co-investor. Less than 1 percent of visitors at the tourist destination don't have a form of plastic money when they arrive at the entrance, the composer wrote in an Oct. 22 opinion piece in Dagens Industri newspaper.

Ulvaeus — whose hits with Abba included the song “Money, Money, Money” — lived for a year without coins and notes and said the only inconvenience he found “was that you need a coin to borrow a trolley at the supermarket.”

While it is common even for big international retailers such as Ikea and Metro's Saturn not to accept Mastercard or Visa in Germany, cash is used in only 30 percent of Sweden's shop transactions, according to the Swedish Trade Federation.

SEB, Swedbank and Nordea Bank, three of Sweden's four largest banks, have all stopped manual cash-handling services in 65 percent to 75 percent of their local branches as Swedes instead rely on credit cards, the Internet and mobile phones to make their payments. Only Svenska Handelsbanken still has cash handling in all its Swedish branches.

“Changing customer behavior has resulted in a long-term trend with less cash usage and more card usage,” Swedbank said in an Oct. 22 earnings report. On a rolling 12-month basis, the number of ATM transactions decreased by 11 percent and the total value of withdrawals fell by 7 percent, according to the bank. The number of card purchases in stores rose by 11 percent.

The popularity of paying by card in Sweden reflects both a love of technology among the country's consumers and trust in the financial system, according to Bengt Nilervall, head of payments at the Swedish Trade Federation.

Situation Stockholm was initially concerned that Swedes would be hesitant to use a card on the street.

“This was one of the things we were wondering about — how safe people would feel with iZettle and this box — but they do,” CEO Stolt said. “Now we will reach people who actually never carry cash.”

Copyright Washington Post/Bloomberg News 2013

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn