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The topic of a cashless society has been met with tension, especially in the U.S. Whole cities are banning cashless stores, which Amazon experienced in Philadelphia. The rise of these cashless stores negatively affect individuals who do not or cannot have bank accounts, especially senior citizens, and minorities. In 2017, 6.5% of the U.S. population did not have a bank account, a number that has been steadily decreasing since 2011.
As you all know, I live in Sweden. One of the most cashless societies in the world, where it is popular to see businesses say that ‘no cash accepted.’ At this moment, some of the only places accepting cash are grocery and convenience stores.
How is this a war? I am speaking for the impoverished, the stateless, and the underbanked. (Sing along to the tune of ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’)
In Sweden, it is difficult, next to impossible, to open a bank account if you do not have a personnummer. A personnummer is a tax identification number. You are not eligible for this unless you have a visa that is valid for over a year and even getting that number can take time.
How was my initial experience with a cashless society?
I completed all my visa paperwork prior to arriving in Sweden. This sped up the process as it was only a week after arriving in Sweden that my visa card was ready. However, once you have the card in hand, it does not mean you can walk into Skatterverket (Tax Agency) and receive your number. First, you need an appointment which can take a while since there is a backlog and then it takes up to 8 weeks to receive it. I was fortunate there was an opening a week after I received my visa card.
I had to wait 6 weeks to receive this number. So, that means for nearly 2 months, I could not open a bank account. I only had my savings to live off, which I had brought as cash. This meant for two months, I could only get goods and services at places that accepted cash. Which were not that many places, so it was difficult to buy a metro pass, buy items for my house, pay for my rent. I was fortunate to have a credit card with no foreign transaction fee. However, this is a privilege that is not available to everyone.
Is it a privilege?
This little story is supposed to demonstrate how difficult it is for people who suffer in a cashless society. It appears that many countries are becoming cashless. What does this mean for the individuals who cannot open a bank account? They will be further pushed into the fringes of society. The ability to be cashless is a privilege. One that many people do not realize. Therefore, steps need to be taken so that these individuals are not forgotten.