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Moving Away from Cash: Is the World Emulating Sweden?

Cash has not disappeared from everyday life, but the world’s largest information and financial companies are working on ways to replace it with wireless communication payments. Sweden is in the forefront with between 85 and 90 percent of all transactions being made electronically. The task is formidable and there is some strong opposition to a total change.

Cash…clams…dough…scratch. All mean the same thing. Money - that one can hold and use for any kind of purchase or purpose. Is it losing favor worldwide?

According to John Sheldon of MasterCard’s Innovation Group, the move to a cashless society is picking up steam worldwide, especially in Africa.

“They have the opportunity to leap-frog the existing infrastructure that, say, exists in Europe and North America because they can, just like in China they skipped right from the P.C. to the 4G phone," he said. "Societies in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia have the same opportunity to skip payment technologies right straight to the mobile phone and doing mobile payments instead of going through all the magstripe, the chip and beyond. So they can move much more quickly because those infra-structures don’t have to be put in place."

MasterCard has been working with Nigeria and South Africa to reduce fraud by using so-called “proof of life” technology - which allows for cashless transactions once a user is identified.

“I'm going to make a purchase and actually I'm validating that purchase with a picture of my face, use that photo so it’s establishing that it’s me," said Sheldon. "It’s actually validating me, looking for my password and therefore it’s validated that I’m here and I’m alive and then I can make that purchase."

Across the continents, money keeps being printed. But Cornell University Professor Robert Hockett says cashless transactions are a necessity in many countries.

“It’s often hard to find banking services, right, to find institutions that are located in one conveniently-reachable place at which one can make one’s deposit or meet with one’s bankers or the like," he said. "So it ends up being quite convenient to be able to sort of carry around your bank with you, as it were, say in the form of a single electronic device like a mobile phone."

Scott Shay, chairman and founder of Signature Bank in New York City, cautions against a totally-cashless world.

“Once we get to the point where there is no currency, no cash, essentially every single transaction that any individual makes is susceptible to being monitored and even more worrisome, controlled," he said.

Is the public sold on total electronic transactions? Outside of United Nations headquarters in New York, Huda Alzeera of Bahrain summed it up.

“Maybe electronic payments are good for online stuff for certain things. They’re really good for globalization, actually, you know, because you can pay online and can get things from different countries. It’s good for that electronically. But I feel that for everyday life it’s good to have cash on hand," said Alzeera.

According to monetary experts, there’s a huge cost for countries using cash - including printing money, securing money, and distributing the cash. But even in nearly-cashless Sweden, two-thirds of Swedes think carrying cash is a human right.