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‘Cash is freedom:’ Why do the Swiss love coins and banknotes so much?

While in some ways people in Switzerland are financially progressive — for instance, in terms of cryptocurrency — in others, they still prefer the traditional payment method: cash (and hopefully lots of it).

‘Cash is freedom:’ Why do the Swiss love coins and banknotes so much?
For the Swiss, money in hand is better than a credit card. Photo: Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

During the Covid pandemic, cashless payment methods became widespread across Switzerland, after the World Health Organisation said card payments should be encouraged as a means of halting the spread of the virus. 

Coins and banknotes, on the other hand, were, quite literally, considered dirty money.

Yet old habits die hard.

It is true that credit and debit cards are in many ways more practical, but many Swiss won’t hear of it. Some even want to enshrine the sanctity of cash in the country’s Constitution.

The Swiss Freedom Movement (MLS) group has collected more than 157,000 signatures to launch a national vote (150,000 are required) to prevent the phasing out of cash in favour of credit cards and other cashless transactions that have become popular during the pandemic.

“Cash is freedom and an absolute priority for Switzerland, the group said

“It is contrary to human rights and our heritage of freedom to exclude people who prefer to use cash than a card.”

For some Swiss, cash is king
You may argue (and you would be right) that carrying a wad of money in your pocket or purse is very inconvenient, not to mention dangerous, as it can be easily stolen and you will never see the likes of it again (unlike a credit card, where suspicious transactions can be disputed).

You can also point out that coins and banknotes are filthy — and you’d be right again: it has been proven that paper money can carry more germs than a household toilet.

You could argue all of the above, but you would still not persuade some Swiss to switch from money to plastic.

According to a survey by Moneyland consumer platform, 67 percent of Switzerland’s residents consider cash to be completely indispensable, while 96 percent use cash for payments. 

In fact, you can still see people (though mostly older ones) paying their monthly invoices at the post office with cash, sometimes even with the 1000-franc banknotes.

Bills are often paid with 1,000-franc banknotes. Photo: Pixabay

READ MORE: Why is the demand for 1,000-franc banknotes growing in Switzerland?

Why do (some) Swiss favour cash over credit cards?

There are several reasons, ranging from overabundance of traditionalism to overabundance of caution.

The older generation in particular values privacy and anonymity of cash payments.

“Cash payments offer far greater privacy than other payment methods,” according to Moneyland.

It is a fact that “transactions performed using credit cards, prepaid cards and debit cards are recorded by the financial institutions involved. Mobile wallet transactions are recorded by tech giants like Google and Apple in addition to financial services providers.”

Not having to deal with online merchants is also seen as safer, as confirmed by Moneyland: “As digitisation has progressed, cybercrime and online fraud has progressed as well. Swiss bank and credit card accounts are regularly the target of cyber criminals and fraudsters. Cash can be physically stolen at one location, but ‘digital money’ can be stolen from anywhere, at any time.”

The disadvantages of not owning a credit card.

There are, of course, downsides to not using a credit card.

For instance, you can’t make purchases online, book a flight, make reservations for holidays, or access other services that typically require payment by credit card.

Having a credit card makes buying online easy. Photo: Pixabay

However, cash aficionados have found a way around that, though a more time-consuming and laborious one.

When ordering things online, especially from Swiss merchants, they click the ‘send the invoice’ option. Once the bill arrives, they pay it at the post office.

Reserving a flight or holidays involves going to a travel agency and paying for bookings in cash.
The financially-astute believe (rightly so) that using cash often prevents impulse purchases and debt.
“Numerous studies have shown that consumers spend more when using digital payment methods than they do when spending cash,” Moneyland found.

“Credit cards pose an additional risk for consumers by enabling payment on credit, which often results in debt.”

READ MORE: Cashless payments in Switzerland: What is Twint and how does it work?

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For members


Reader question: Will Credit Suisse crisis impact my savings in Switzerland?

In many people’s minds, Swiss banks are synonymous with scandals. Past and present events have shown this is sometimes true, but what — if any — effect will all these financial wheelings and dealings have on your money?

Reader question: Will Credit Suisse crisis impact my savings in Switzerland?

Usually, things that happen in Switzerland don’t reverberate around the world — except when the country’s banks are involved.

Living in a globalised and interconnected world means that scandals plaguing a Swiss bank, especially the nation’s second-largest one, will affect markets far beyond Switzerland’s borders.

And failures attributed to Credit Suisse, which sent its shares into free fall on Wednesday, are many:

Credit Suisse: The list of scandals stalking Switzerland’s second largest bank

Fortunately, as financial markets plunged in response, the news came that the beleaguered bank will borrow up to 50 billion francs from Switzerland’s central bank (SNB); after the announcement, Credit Suisse shares jumped more than 30 percent when markets opened early on Thursday.

READ MORE: Credit Suisse shares surge after 50-billion-franc lifeline from Swiss central bank

What impact is this crisis having?

You may think it impacts only the bank itself and the financial sector in general, but the consequences are far wider.

Such an event “harms society as a whole, rather than just the investors who took the risk,” according to economist Samuel Bendahan. 

“The real risk is the crisis of confidence,” he said, referring to loss of trust that can damage the bank’s image and reputation.

And, “if the economy suffers, everyone pays.”

What about the clients? Should they worry about their money deposited in Credit Suisse?

“No, not really, because there is a guarantee for small deposits in Switzerland,” Bendahan pointed out.

As The Local reported on Wednesday, Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse, are “very safe,” in international comparison, both in terms of capital and liquidity, according to Robert Reinecke, spokesperson for Swiss Banking Association (SBA).

“They have a very robust capital base even in stress scenarios,” he added.

Assets deposited in either Swiss banks or foreign financial institutions that operate a branch in Switzerland must be licensed, regulated, and supervised  by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA.

As an additional safety measure, “Swiss law demands capital adequacy standards” to ensure solvency, according to SBA.

While your deposits are covered up to 100,000 francs, there are additional protections in place as well for customers of cantonal banks.

According to Moneyland consumer platform, “many cantonal governments fully guarantee the account balances of their corresponding cantonal banks.”

This article has more information about how your money is protected in Switzerland:
How safe is your money in a Swiss bank? 

Is this the first time a Swiss bank has recorded major losses?


As a consequence of risky expansion strategies in the midst of the 2008 global financial crisis, UBS faced a 20-billion-franc deficit — the largest ever in Swiss history.

The Federal Council and the SNB stepped in to save Switzerland’s largest bank from ruin by injecting 60 billion francs to restore some of the bank’s assets.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: How the latest banking scandal has damaged Switzerland’s reputation