Like in neighboring Germany and Austria, cash is still king in Switzerland. According to the results of the latest Swiss National Bank (SNB) survey, conducted in the fall of 2020, 97 percent of Swiss citizens still keep cash in their wallets or at home to cover daily expenses, which is significantly higher than most countries.
Forty percent of transactions are still conducted in cash, which is also higher than many of Switzerland's more cashless European neighbors, such as the United Kingdom (about 15%), Sweden (less than 10%), and Norway (3-4%, the lowest level of cash use in the world). But this is down from about 70% three years earlier. Moreover, in terms of transaction value, debit cards have recently surpassed cash as the payment method with the largest share for non-recurring payments.
Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has given additional impetus to this shift from cash to cashless payment methods.
While the use of cash is declining in Switzerland and the rest of the world, the Swiss people will soon have the opportunity to vote on the indefinite storage of banknotes and coins.
Two weeks ago, the Swiss Freedom Movement (SFM) chaired by Richard Koller announced that it had collected enough signatures (111,000) to trigger a national vote on preserving cash for posterity. If passed, the initiative would require the federal government to ensure that coins and bank bills are always available in sufficient quantities. In addition, any attempt to replace the Swiss franc with another currency - perhaps a reference to a digital central bank currency (the "e-Swiss franc") - would also have to be put to a popular vote.
Here is their reasoning: while the federal law on currency and means of payment unambiguously states that Swiss banknotes must be accepted in payment by anyone without restriction, the Federal Council believes that the freedom to contract is paramount. This means that the customer and the seller can agree on a different means of payment. This is a good thing. But the question inevitably arises as to whether the buyer is really free to do so. If, for example, the SBB only sells cashless tickets, what choice does the consumer have? Or if one is looking for a parking space and the parking garage only accepts payment by card?
The Free Swiss Movement believes that cash is playing a diminishing role in many economies, with electronic payments becoming the default for transactions in increasingly digitized societies, making it easier for the state to monitor the actions of its citizens.
The Swiss Libertarian Movement therefore decided to launch the popular initiative "Cash is Freedom" with the aim of guaranteeing freedom through cash and asked the Confederation to ensure that sufficient coins or bank bills are always available.
Under the Swiss system of direct democracy, the proposal would become law if approved by voters, but the government and parliament would decide how the law would be implemented. A referendum date on the cash initiative has not yet been set. According to Swiss Info, none of the main political parties support the initiative.