The other day I was in a shopping mall looking for an ATM to get some cash. There was no ATM. A week ago, there was still a branch office of a local bank – no more, gone. A Starbucks will replace the space left empty by the bank. I asked around – there will be no more cash automats in this mall – and this pattern is repeated over and over throughout Switzerland and throughout western Europe. Cash machines gradually but ever so faster disappear, not only from shopping malls, also from street corners. Will Switzerland become the first country fully running on digital money?
This new cashless money model is progressively but brutally introduced to the Swiss and Europeans at large – as they are not told what’s really happening behind the scene. If anything, the populace is being told that paying will become much easier. You just swipe your card – and bingo. No more signatures, no more looking for cash machines – your bank account is directly charged for whatever small or large amount you are spending. And naturally and gradually a ‘small fee’ will be introduced by the banks. And you are powerless, as a cash alternative will have been wiped out.
The upwards limit of how much you may charge onto your bank account is mainly set by yourself, as long as it doesn’t exceed the banks tolerance. But the banks’ tolerance is generous. If you exceed your credit, the balance on your account quietly slides into the red and at the end of the month you pay a hefty interest; or interest on unpaid interest – and so on. And that even though interbank interest rates are at a historic low. The Swiss Central Bank’s interest to banks, for example, is even negative; one of the few central banks in the world with negative interest, others include Japan and Denmark.
When I talked recently to the manager of a Geneva bank, he said, it’s getting much worse. ‘We are already closing all bank tellers, and so are most of the other banks’. Which means staff layoffs – which of course makes it only selectively to the news. Bank employees and managers must pass an exam with the Swiss banking commission, for which they have study hundreds of extra hours within a few months to pass a test – usually planned for weekends, so as not to infringe on the banks’ business hours. You got to chances to pass. If you fail you are out, joining the ranks of the unemployed. The trend is similar throughout Europe. The manager didn’t reveal the topic and reason behind the ‘retraining’ – but it became obvious from the ensuing conversation that it had to do with the ‘cashless overtake’ of people by the banks. These are my words, but he, an insider, was as concerned as I, if not more.
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