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What you need to know about Sweden’s plans for a digital currency

Sweden has taken one step closer towards its own digital currency – the “e-krona”.

A woman rejecting cash.
A digital currency is not meant to replace cash in Sweden. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Plans to launch Sweden’s own digital currency, which have been in the pipeline since 2016, recently passed the first pilot stage, the country’s Central Bank (The Riksbank) announced in a press release.

So why is Sweden doing this?

Cash is dying a slow death in Sweden, with alternative methods of payment commonplace. The number of notes and coins in circulation has reduced by 40 percent since 2009, while popular smartphone apps like Swish allow electronic payments to be made almost as quickly as handing over physical money. Swedes are also among the world’s biggest card users.

“Sweden is noticeably further ahead than the UK, mainland Europe and the US, which is a long way behind in this trend. Because of how technologically developed it is, you see a lot of new interesting things in economics quite a while before you see it elsewhere,” HSBC global economist James Pomeroy told The Local back in 2018.

But what does a cashless society truly mean?

Sweden has previously been predicted to transform into a cashless society by 2030 with 80 percent of retail payments already made by card.

Concerns have been raised, including by the Riksbank, about how the cashless society affect certain groups, for example international residents who can’t sign up for certain digital payment methods without a Swedish bank account or personnummer, and the elderly.

So although physical payments are declining, the Riksbank wants the e-krona to be seen as a complement to cash.

The piloted digital currency also has similarities to cash. E-kronor are uniquely identifiable and can only be created by the Riksbank, similar to actual physical money.

How exactly would an e-krona work?

The e-krona used in the Riksbank’s pilot project uses blockchain technology and is in the shape of a singular “token”. Transactions are completed through nodes which are run by the Riksbank and other participants such as payment service providers.

A service provider can request e-kronor that are issued from the Riksbank in exchange for the user debiting their account in the Riksbank’s settlement system RIX.

The customer can then exchange money in their bank accounts for e-kronor, that they can use for transactions instead.

When a person uses e-kronor for a transaction, the service providers’ nodes verify that the e-krona can be traced back to the Riksbank. The e-krona is then registered as consumed and the transaction is accepted.


An image provided by the Riksbank shows how the e-krona could work.

What happens now?

Following on from the pilot, the Riksbank said they will continue to work on a digital currency that will be usable in everyday life.

Phase 2 will include working with potential distributors, developing offline functions and assessing scalability for retail payments. This phase is expected to last at least a year.

How likely is a digital currency actually to happen?

There is still a long way to go before a digital currency is a reality. Several huge questions remain. For example, there is currently no legislation within this area, and new legislation would be needed. User identity protection is also an important question, as every e-krona contains information about previous transactions and recipients.

As of today, there have been no decisions on whether an e-krona should be issued and what that would look like. The Riksbank are clear that this is technology that needs further investigations and the pilot is not the final solution that has been chosen as the digital currency.

Member comments

  1. Utterly pointless. Blockchain is a solution looking for a problem. Prepaid debit cards would allow people without bank accounts to use existing cashless payment systems, without creating another one.

    The difficulty of getting a PN is a separate issue and is a structural inequality in Sweden that should be fixed. But it’s too convenient for anti-immigration folks to use it as a way to make life difficult for non-Swedes.

    Strongly suspect this is all so the Riksbank can stay hip with the dudebros by using blockchain, yah

    1. I think the biggest point of using the blockchain here is to check whether ekrona that is being received was actually a valid token that was issued by the Riksbank and that it was acquired by the person before they send it off to somewhere else.

      At the moment banks do give us a notion of being cashless, but these banks are probably also working under the cover with the flow of actual cash (which again, is checked physically, whether they were printed by the Riksbank).

      I guess, as we do already have banks set up to handle our krona in digital form, we could expect the ekrona to replace what banks are currently doing under the hood with real krona bills?
      I think I’m trying to say, don’t expose this ekrona thing to the general public, just have the banks manage everything! And to the general public, keep life the way it is now?

    2. Thanks for your reply, Mark. As I finished reading, I wondered “how is this better than what already exists?” I don’t see the benefit for Sweden financially or to the Swedish economy. Agreed, re: structural inequality of obtaining a PN *and* agreed that as SD/anti-immigrant folks attempt to weaponize anything at their disposal (citizenship tests, for example) they seek to weaponize this, too.
      So, I don’t see this as easier/safer to manage than what already exists, I don’t see it improving the wealth of Swedes in general or the nation as a whole and I *do* see its potential to be weaponized by darker political/social forces in the country. *And* I have to wonder 1) who specifically is pushing for this and 2) how will they particularly benefit from it?

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MONEY

Your January budget: Five ways to save money in Sweden this month

It's the start of the year and the end of the indulgence of the holiday season. Here's how to try to claw back some space in your wallet in Sweden.

Your January budget: Five ways to save money in Sweden this month

Take inventory of your bills

The start of the year is a good time to go through your regular bills and see if there’s a way you can save money there. Don’t forget to check your direct debit (autogiro) payments to see if you’re paying money for subscriptions you no longer use. Here are some more tips for reducing your regular bills.

Buy seasonal food

Seasonal produce is usually cheaper – and better for the environment.

Things to look for in Swedish grocery stores in January include: Green kale, Brussels sprouts (added bonus: they’re usually priced down after Christmas), turnips, carrots, swedes, red beets, red cabbage, white cabbage, artichokes, onions and apples. These are grown in Sweden and can be bought fresh this time of the year.

Aubergine, oranges and lemons, kiwi, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and fennel are in season in other parts of Europe.

Get a cheaper deal on your electricity

Electricity prices soared to record levels in Sweden last year, and they’re expected to remain high in 2023 too.

Compare the prices of various electricity companies at price comparison sites, such as Elskling, and don’t be scared of calling your company to negotiate.

Swedish houses are generally well insulated, so in the shorter term, save money by turning your heating down just slightly, making sure your dishwasher and washing machine are full before turning them on, and having shorter showers. Here’s The Local’s guide to how to dress to keep warm in the Swedish winter.

The cost of electricity depends on your living situation. Electricity tends to be the most expensive in southern Sweden, and your bills are likely higher if you own a house rather than an apartment. If you’re staying in a sublet or an apartment housing association, it is possible that the cost is included in your monthly rent, or avgift, if you own your property.

Save money on your gym membership

Who hasn’t joined a gym the weeks after New Year’s Eve? The downside is they’re expensive, so the best way to save money is not to join a gym at all. Instead, look out for outdoor gyms (utegym – they look like a wooden playground) scattered across Swedish cities and free running and exercise groups in your area.

In January, you ask. Yes, in January. Even in the snow? Yes, then too.

Pavements are often kept clear of snow in Sweden and you will see people exercising come rain, snow or shine. Just remember to dress right (not too warm, but gloves and a hat are sensible) and invest in a good pair of ice studs for your running shoes – it’s a one-time cost that will pay off in the long run.

If you do want to go to the gym, it’s worth asking your job if they can pay for your membership as a friskvårdsbidrag (health contribution), a tax-exempt benefit that many employers offer in Sweden and means you can get money to put towards a sports activity of your choice (no more than 5,000 kronor per year).

Make the most of the end-of-year sales

The post-Christmas sale (mellandagsrean) might still be ongoing in some shops with prices dropping lower and lower. Have a think about what you need to buy for the year ahead in terms of things such as clothes, electronics or furniture, and then go online to see if you can find what you need at a reduced price. The key is to plan your purchase before you go shopping and not let yourself be tempted by things that seem great at the moment, but won’t be needed or wanted six months from now.

Off-season items are often the cheapest, so buy your summer clothes now, or even your winter boots for next year. Or better yet, don’t buy anything at all. Maybe it’s cheaper and more sustainable to fix things you’ve already got. There’s also a booming second-hand market in Sweden where you can grab a bargain.

Did you buy or receive Christmas presents that weren’t quite right? Know your right to return items. This guide by The Local explains the rules in Sweden.

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