Announcing the plans on Friday, Norway's number two bank said the move was prompted by falling demand. Only one payment in twenty in Norway is made using notes or coins. This is fewer even than in neighbouring Sweden, which has attracted global attention for its rapid move towards electronic transactions.
The bank described the move in a statement on Friday as an “important strategic step into the digital world”. Handling cash exposes bank staff to security risks and makes it hard for banks to comply with money laundering laws, it claimed.
Only one Nordea branch, Oslo Central Station, still handles cash over the counter. The bank said the service was not sufficiently popular to warrant continuing. Cash will still be available through cash machines (ATMs).
Åse Dahl, bank manager at Oslo Central Station, said customers had adapted to cashless banks.
“We have only seen a marginal increase in transaction volumes in recent years. This is despite the fact that for almost a year Oslo Central has been the only branch of ours to offer this kind of service,” she said.
“Society is getting steadily more digital, and customers want to do as much as possible online or on mobiles,” Dahl told broadcaster NRK.
“The whole of society is going in this direction. The other banks will follow – it's just a matter of time,” she said.
Access to cash in Scandinavia has gained international attention after The Local reported on a campaign against its disappearance, headed by former National Police chief Björn Eriksson.
Eriksson, now head of a lobbying group for the Swedish security industry, argues that cash is a crucial part of society's infrastructure. He alleges that the decision to abandon cash is being made by banks simply to increase profits:
“Something is being privatized without people knowing what the implications of that privatization are.”
People in rural areas and pensioners could be disadvantaged, he said, while security risks were being outsourced from banks to poorly-equipped small businesses.
“People end up sitting with cash that nobody wants to take. When banks don't take cash, it ends up being handled by teenage girls in small country shops, where security isn't as high as in banks.”
Eriksson also argues that the mobile card readers that often replace cash rely on good mobile reception, which is often patchy in rural parts of Scandinavia.
But Per Skorge, general secretary of the Norwegian Farmers' Union, said he was generally positive towards the move towards electronic money:
“Mobile reception is an issue, but then the discussion should be about how to get better mobile reception.”
Customers who buy from farm shops generally want to pay by card, he said. “People don't usually have cash, so it's better if people can pay by electronic means,” he argued, adding that electronic payments helped to prevent tax dodging.