In a move that counters Sweden's reputation as a country that encourages its citizens to not use cash in the payments network, The National Bank of Sweden is asking regulators to make access to cash a legal right.
And the ATM Industry Association, a global organization based in London and Sioux Falls, was quick to applaud the move.
As much as or more than any other country, Sweden discourages use of cash. The country's bus system does not accept it, merchants can refuse to take it, and many banks have halted cash-handling services.
The national bank, or Sveriges Riksbank, states that the country's financial institutions have reduced cash handling services too quickly, resulting in a lack of cash available to the general public, primarily in less populated areas. The national bank presented this argument last week in a statement to the Ministry of Finance that cash access be a legal requirement of basic bank accounts.
"We'll never support any 'less cash' initiatives because they are artificial and even arbitrary interventions in free markets and diminish convenience and choice for citizens," said Michael Lee, CEO of the ATMIA. "The Swedish central bank got it spot on."
The ATMIA in Europe has been calling for the Swedish government to recognize that cash access is a fundamental aspect of payments, especially ATM operations.
Sweden is not the only country working on dwindling its handling of cash. The Payments Council in the U.K. released a report a year ago revealing consumers were making more non-cash payments than cash payments for the first time in 2014.
"A lot of soothsayers and fortune tellers started many years ago talking about a cashless society, and ATMs are right in the thick of countering that because people want cash for their pockets," said industry analyst Russ Schoper of Atlanta, Ga.-based Business Development International Inc.
But use of cash is declining because of debit card use and mobile wallets, especially among younger consumers, Schoper said.
"Still, it will be long after I am not on this Earth in which we would have a cashless society," Schoper added. "For small-value transactions, people still like their cash."
At the same time, the ATMIA supports innovation in ATMs and payments because "we want maximum convenience and maximum choice for all customers," Lee added. "We believe there is a 'less card' future for ATMs in the 2020s."
Industry research generally confirms that cash will have its place in the mainstream payments systems for many years. This seems to be true regardless of available technology, as consumers still prefer to use cash or checks for person-to-person payments.
However, there are reasons that banks seek to end the costly task of handling cash, a factor that merchants often overlook when pushing to avoid the costs associated with accepting card payments. Research has shown many companies may not benefit much from the hidden costs in accepting cash at the point of sale.
The ATMIA points to some global statistics that cash is not only going to be with consumers for some time, but its use is actually growing.
"Currency in circulation grew on average 8.9% globally between 2009-2013 and cash withdrawals at ATMs are forecast by RBR [Retail Banking Research] to grow by over 7% for the next few years," Lee said. "These are strong indicators of the powerful global role cash plays in our world."