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Swedes need to keep a week’s cash under the bed

The Swedish population is being advised to keep enough cash at home to last a week in case of problems such as online banking crashes

Swedes are better prepared for modern day emergencies than they used to be – or, at least, they should be. The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, MSB, has distributed literature to all households with instructions on how to prepare for digital monetary emergencies.

Something new was added to the old instructions which in the past used to be printed in the back of the phone register and distributed on paper to most people. Besides things like keeping candles in case the light goes out, the agency advises citizens to keep cash stored at home at all times.

Computer Weekly spoke to Jonas Milton at MSB, who told us the organisation wants to ensure citizens can take care of things themselves in an emergency, when they can’t get cash or pay with digital methods such as their bank cards.

“People seem to think, mistakenly, that if there is a problem, someone will come around and tell them what to do,” said Milton. “This is not the case, so instead, there are things they can do to prepare. Keeping cash at home is meant to strengthen citizens, both mentally (it’s nice to know you are prepared) and in a practical way.”

Everyone should store enough cash that they can buy groceries and other necessities for a whole week, even if the digital bank system breaks and stays down for that lengths of time, according to the MSB. 

MSB watches the banks and talks to them about threats, while the agency also reads what the media reports on network security breaks and risks. This is seen as part of regular fact-checking.

“It is important to think of and prepare for what can happen in a worst-case scenario,” said Milton.

Risk list

MSB lists natural disasters, such as forest fires and storms, terror attacks, and, for the first time since the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the risk of military conflict.

It’s also notable that, for the time being, financial organisations feel they need to prioritise quick recovery over forensics.

“Systems must run at all costs, which leads to a lack of fact gathering, and it would be useful if it was also possible to gather more information to use to build knowledge and improve systems,” said MSB.

Read more about the dwindling use of cash in Sweden

  • Civil Contingencies Agency says cash is needed in case of emergencies such as technology failures and cyber attacks.
  • Sweden is fast becoming a country where cash is on the periphery of payments, and some think it might be the first to become cashless.
  • Sweden has been on a fast track to become the world’s first cashless society, but now its central bank is stamping on the brakes.

The financial area in Sweden is mostly concentrated to Stockholm and depends on certain central functions. The system has some flaws, which MSB admitted in a report issued earlier this year, and these can lead to problems that in their turn could lead to a serious lack of citizens’ trust in society’s ability to uphold important functions.

In 2008, there was a malfunction in the Swedish central bank’s system. It was unable to contact the outside world using the regular IT solutions it had. Other things have happened too, and military exercises in Sweden have since focused extensively on the problem.

There have also been serious breaks close to Sweden – some internet banks in Estonia were down in 2007 – and Hansapank (owned by the Swedish bank Swedbank) and SEB Uhispank (owned by the Swedish bank SEB) have been hit by denial of service attacks.

Digital transactions are booming globally, with Sweden at the forefront. According to the World payments report 2018, released in October last year by Capgemini and BNP Paribas, Swedes make on average 461.5 transactions annually per person (2016), compared with the US, where there was slower increase of 5.2%, and an average of 459.6 transactions per capita.

Many Swedes live on the money they get on a monthly basis, and they often use all of it at once without saving. This means it’s essential for the digital payment systems and cash distributors to be kept running at all times and operating without fault.

Planned conference

The County Board in Värmland, Sweden – neighbouring the Norwegian border – is holding a conference in June about financial services and threats.

The county aims to build awareness, as many organisations and public sector members need to prepare for emergencies and know what to do in the case of an emergency. At the conference, the attendees will be shown how payment systems work on a national, regional and local level.

“We work with local municipalities’ emergency coordinators,” said Anneli Alsterlind, risk and security officer at Värmland County Board.

“It is difficult to say to what extent members of the public understand the risks, and if they store cash at home, but it’s probably not enough. Citizens that are not yet a part of the digital society and who use cash to make payments on a daily basis are better prepared.”

Public service radio broadcast corporation Sveriges Radio recently broadcast a warning about what happens if the card payment system crashes, and a role play exercise was held in southern Sweden, in Skåne, which was organised by researchers. The participants were representatives of banks, who were invited to try to come up with solutions to various problems.

This role play exercise is now touring Sweden, and participants are generally agreeing that a break of services would cause minimal issues if it lasted less than four hours. However, a lot of shops stopped taking cash, and many are yet take Swish, the popular Swedish digital payment method using mobile phones, which means it could be difficult to buy anything should systems fail.

To use Swish, a mobile app needs to be connected to the user’s bank account. Nowadays, you see Swish numbers everywhere – written on signs at the florists on the market on Hötorget in Central Stockholm, or even on signs moved around by the homeless, selling the homeless magazine Situation Stockholm outside tube stations.

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