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‘Cash is freedom:’ Why do the Swiss love coins and banknotes so much?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
‘Cash is freedom:’ Why do the Swiss love coins and banknotes so much?
For the Swiss, money in hand is better than a credit card. Photo: Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

While in some ways people in Switzerland are financially progressive — for instance, in terms of cryptocurrency — in others, they still prefer the traditional payment method: cash (and hopefully lots of it).

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During the Covid pandemic, cashless payment methods became widespread across Switzerland, after the World Health Organisation said card payments should be encouraged as a means of halting the spread of the virus. 

Coins and banknotes, on the other hand, were, quite literally, considered dirty money.

Yet old habits die hard.

It is true that credit and debit cards are in many ways more practical, but many Swiss won’t hear of it. Some even want to enshrine the sanctity of cash in the country’s Constitution.

The Swiss Freedom Movement (MLS) group has collected more than 157,000 signatures to launch a national vote (150,000 are required) to prevent the phasing out of cash in favour of credit cards and other cashless transactions that have become popular during the pandemic.

“Cash is freedom and an absolute priority for Switzerland, the group said

“It is contrary to human rights and our heritage of freedom to exclude people who prefer to use cash than a card.”

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For some Swiss, cash is king
 
You may argue (and you would be right) that carrying a wad of money in your pocket or purse is very inconvenient, not to mention dangerous, as it can be easily stolen and you will never see the likes of it again (unlike a credit card, where suspicious transactions can be disputed).

You can also point out that coins and banknotes are filthy — and you’d be right again: it has been proven that paper money can carry more germs than a household toilet.

You could argue all of the above, but you would still not persuade some Swiss to switch from money to plastic.

According to a survey by Moneyland consumer platform, 67 percent of Switzerland’s residents consider cash to be completely indispensable, while 96 percent use cash for payments. 

In fact, you can still see people (though mostly older ones) paying their monthly invoices at the post office with cash, sometimes even with the 1000-franc banknotes.


Bills are often paid with 1,000-franc banknotes. Photo: Pixabay

READ MORE: Why is the demand for 1,000-franc banknotes growing in Switzerland?

Why do (some) Swiss favour cash over credit cards?

There are several reasons, ranging from overabundance of traditionalism to overabundance of caution.

The older generation in particular values privacy and anonymity of cash payments.

“Cash payments offer far greater privacy than other payment methods,” according to Moneyland.

It is a fact that “transactions performed using credit cards, prepaid cards and debit cards are recorded by the financial institutions involved. Mobile wallet transactions are recorded by tech giants like Google and Apple in addition to financial services providers.”

Not having to deal with online merchants is also seen as safer, as confirmed by Moneyland: “As digitisation has progressed, cybercrime and online fraud has progressed as well. Swiss bank and credit card accounts are regularly the target of cyber criminals and fraudsters. Cash can be physically stolen at one location, but ‘digital money’ can be stolen from anywhere, at any time."

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The disadvantages of not owning a credit card.

There are, of course, downsides to not using a credit card.

For instance, you can’t make purchases online, book a flight, make reservations for holidays, or access other services that typically require payment by credit card.


Having a credit card makes buying online easy. Photo: Pixabay

However, cash aficionados have found a way around that, though a more time-consuming and laborious one.

When ordering things online, especially from Swiss merchants, they click the ‘send the invoice’ option. Once the bill arrives, they pay it at the post office.

Reserving a flight or holidays involves going to a travel agency and paying for bookings in cash.
 
The financially-astute believe (rightly so) that using cash often prevents impulse purchases and debt.
 
“Numerous studies have shown that consumers spend more when using digital payment methods than they do when spending cash,” Moneyland found.

"Credit cards pose an additional risk for consumers by enabling payment on credit, which often results in debt."

READ MORE: Cashless payments in Switzerland: What is Twint and how does it work?
 

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