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As cash fades, Sweden’s homeless take credit cards

Jay MacDonald

Buddy, can you spare a swipe?

Scratch another entry from the shrinking list of things credit cards can’t buy following news out of Stockholm, Sweden that homeless curbside hawkers of the local pop culture magazine Situation Stockholm now accept plastic.

No, the weather-tested vendors didn’t stumble upon a cache of discarded Square dongles behind their local Best Buy. Instead, the hooked-up homeless were given iZettle mobile card readers by the magazine in an effort to boost sales of Situation Stockholm, which goes for 50 kronor or $8.

Homeless people selling Situation Stockholm now take credit cards. Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

The homeless vendors actually came up with the idea, magazine CEO Pia Stolt tells Bloomberg. “More and more of our sellers come in and say that people don’t have cash — they have told us this for a long time,” she says.

And indeed, they’re right: Sweden is possibly the worst country in the world to panhandle, given that its use of hard currency accounts for just 2.7 percent of the economy versus an average of 9.8 percent among its European neighbors and 7.2 percent in the United States, according to 2012 figures from the Bank for International Settlements.

Vendor Stefan Wikberg, who hawks Situation Stockholm outside the city’s central subway station, says iZettle makes it easier to move the latest news on Swedish pop star Robyn and it-girl actress Noomi Rapace, star of the Scandinavian film and TV adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy.

“Before, everyone said they don’t have cash or that they cannot pay with their mobile phones because it was a corporate phone. But now they can’t get away,” says Wikberg, also quoted in Bloomberg, who splits proceeds from each copy sold 50-50 with the magazine’s publisher.

But if you think you’re getting out of this blog without an ABBA reference, you’ve got another herring coming, my friend. It turns out that credit cards are the only form of payment accepted at Stockholm’s ABBA the Museum. That’s right: it’s officially a zona non krona.

The policy may have something to do with museum investor and former ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus, who once spent a year living with nary a krona (“crown” in Swedish), presumably long before his “Mamma Mia!” days.

“We could and should be the first cashless society in the world,” Ulvaeus says on the museum’s website.

Sweden is getting there. In 2010, it discontinued the ore coin, Sweden’s version of the penny. While goods can still be priced in ores, payment is now rounded up to the nearest krona.

The magazine’s fears that consumers might not flash their card on the street proved unfounded. “Now we will reach people who never carry cash,” Stolz says.

Watch this space for breaking news on a panhandling app.

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