It’s not often that I go to another country and feel like, WHOA, this is the future of _______. Coming from the United States – the home of Apple Computers, Silicon Valley, and TV channels that exist for the sole purpose of selling useless gadgets – I tend to think that my homeland is on the cutting edge of technological progress, for better or worse.
When it comes to banking, though, Sweden totally has us beat.
Internet culture defines the world of personal finance here. You do everything with your online banking site, from paying bills to sending money to friends to authorizing governmental forms. And you do it all with a little instrument called the “dosa” (due-sah).
When I log into my bank account, I don’t use a password. I enter my Swedish personal number (a 12-digit number equivalent to a Social Security number), then I enter my PIN into the dosa. The dosa generates a unique 8-digit code after I choose the “log-in” function, and I enter that into a field on my bank’s website. Then I’m in.
The dosa gives you extra security for your bank account: no one can just steal your password and get into your account, and you need both the Swedish personal number and the PIN to the dosa to get the access code to the account. At the same time, there’s no password to remember, which I like because I tend to forget them. I know it sounds stupid, but I have two bank accounts in the US, one in Sweden, two Social Security numbers, two blogs, a credit card, and four email addresses. I get confused.
Online bill payment is nothing new in the US (and probably much of the world), but the way they do it is slightly different from what I was familiar with.
I pay my cell phone bill online, for example. Every month, I get a text message from the cell phone provider telling me that my bill has been delivered to my account. I log in to my bank account, and there’s a special area for incoming bills. I can review the bill from my bank account, save it if I want, or my bank account will archive it. Then I just confirm that I want to pay it, once again using a unique 12-digit code generated by my dosa.
What’s most interesting here, though, is how friends pay each other back for things like shared presents or nights out. Giving cash to each other is obviously an option, but people are just as likely to say “just forward me the money.” Then one person gives the other his/her routing number and account number, and the other person forwards the money into his/her account.
I’ve tried to do this in the US, and I have found it extremely complicated and difficult! First I have to try to forward the money, and it forwards a token amount like 19 cents. That amount shows up in the second person’s account with a code, and then I have to confirm that the money went to the right person by entering the code again. It takes a couple of days for the first money to be forwarded, then you have to collaborate again on the code, then a couple of days for the real amount of money to be forwarded.
Here, I just enter the amount of money I want to send, the person’s name, routing number, and account number, and press enter. Then I confirm that all the information is correct with a 8-digit unique code generated by the dosa. So easy, so painless.
The moment that really brought home just how futuristic the world of personal banking is here in Sweden was when I was talking to a client about his recent trip to France. He was an older gentleman, very well-to-do, and barely able to work his cell phone. All the same, when he was trying to buy some groceries at a shop in France, he was outraged that he had to stand in line while someone painstakingly wrote out a personal check.
In his words:
I mean, a check?! Can you believe they still have those? It’s like they’re living in the Stone Ages!!
I thought of all the government agencies in the US that require payment by check or money order, cringed, and laughed.