When three gunmen smashed through the skylight of a Stockholm cash depot before escaping with millions of kronor, it set in motion a chain of events that would transform the future of Sweden.
The 2009 "Västberga helicopter heist" is known as the most audacious of a spate of robberies that hit Sweden during the 2000s. Today, its legacy lives on because it cemented the idea among Swedes that cash had become an incentive for crime.
That idea is partly responsible for Sweden becoming one of the top five countries where cash is used the least.
"No cash" signs are a frequent feature in central Stockholm. In 2018, just 1pc of Sweden's GDP was circulating in cash, compared to 11pc across the eurozone.
The trend is being mirrored in the UK. Cash withdrawn from ATMs fell 60pc during the coronavirus pandemic , according to the Bank of England.
Now, both nations are on a quest to understand how a new type of digital currency can stop the countries' central banks being sidelined in the future of money.
"Because of this rapid decline in cash usage, we might end up [in a situation] where the state has no direct role in the payment market and we think that could cause some problems," says the Riksbank's Mithra Sundberg.
Sweden is further along the path than the UK. For the past two and a half years, Sundberg has been leading the OECD's most advanced central bank digital currency (CBDC) pilot, which aims to understand how an "e-krona" or a digital equivalent to cash might work.
‘No way back’
Last week, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, made a step in the same direction , launching a task force dedicated to exploring the "use cases, opportunities and risks" of the country's own digital "Britcoin".
From Sweden's progress so far, Sunak will be able to gauge the sensitive issues that lie ahead, including how CBDC projects create anxiety in the commercial banking sector and the design difficulties that could lead to a compromise on privacy.
Like cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, CBDCs can be based on blockchain. But while bitcoins are generated by "miners" operating without central oversight, CBDCs would be issued by the central bank and pegged to a national currency to prevent wild swings in value.
"What we learnt from Sweden is [creating a CBDC] is more difficult than people believe," says Rainer Böhme, a professor specialising in virtual currencies at Austria's University of Innsbruck.
"Once you commit to one direction, there's often no way back," adds Böhme. "Or the way back is very expensive and involves a loss of reputation and of course reputation and trust are the key assets a central bank has."
Those risks have created a non-committal approach at the Riksbank, even after four years of research.
The pilot project has sketched out several possibilities of how an e-krona could work, including a "token" system where e-kronor could be stored in a digital "wallet" and an "account-based" system where the central bank issues e-krona that people would still store in commercial bank accounts, meaning the difference would be barely noticeable to most.
Sundberg emphasises these ideas are just for testing and the underlying technology could still dramatically change.
Cash usage collapsed immediately after the start of the pandemic, and still hasn’t recovered:
Cautious approach to crypto
Britain is so far copying this ultra-cautious approach, with task force documents describing the project more as a crash course in CBDC finance. "The Government and the Bank of England have not yet made a decision on whether to introduce a CBDC in the UK," the task force's remit reads.
The main issue is that there is little consensus around how a CBDC should function, only loose agreement between the Bank of England and the Riksbank that CBDCs should complement cash, not replace it.
Countries are turning to CBDCs in reaction to a litany of emerging problems. Alongside the decline of cash, there's the threat from private initiatives like Facebook's own digital currency project and fears of falling behind in a global CBDC race some say could create the next dominant currency.
Venezuela also toyed with the idea of using a CBDC to sidestep sanctions while the Bahamas launched its CBDC "Sand Dollar" in October to try to reach the 20pc of its population who still do not have a bank account.
Sundberg says: "We have no decision on whether to issue e-kronor and if there is a decision to issue an e-krona, we don't know how it would be designed yet or what technology actually we would use."
CBDCs would be more appealing if they could improve the current system and the Riksbank expects to test an e-krona system that could work without an internet connection later this year.
"The offline functionality is something that is very intensively discussed in the central bank community right now," says Sundberg, adding she has already been in talks with the Bank of England.
Offline payments would present a major challenge to commercial banks, which are already wary of the growing interest in CBDCs. Research by the Atlantic Council tracked 19 countries with CBDC pilots and a further 42 in research or development.
Morgan Stanley has warned of CBDCs' "disruptive consequences" and the likelihood they would "increase competitive pressures on commercial banks". Swedish banks are also on edge.
Niclas Arvidsson, who researches cashless societies at Stockholm's KTH Royal Institute of Technology, says a future could be possible where: "If people understood the difference and they didn't trust the banks for some reason, maybe more people would choose to store their money in central bank digital currency accounts."
Sunak would likely have to replicate Sweden's conciliatory tone, stressing collaboration, not competition.
Sundberg, for example, emphasises banks "could have a very important role in the e-krona network" and several payment providers will be joining the pilot later this year.
"They will not be excluded," she says. "We will need to co-operate with them and we hope they are interested in doing that." But one area where the two countries differ is on privacy. "Any electronic system will leave traces so this will be possible to trace transactions," says Arvidsson, stressing the main way a CBDC is likely to differ from cash.
"In Sweden this hasn't been a big issue. People have a high trust in the banks and the systems."
But as contact tracing and vaccine passports have shown, Britons are not so trusting.
Sunak will have to emphasise that any CBDCs can balance privacy with the public benefits that come through reduced transaction costs across borders, a tension Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said was preoccupying him at this year's World Economic Forum.
Like the Riksbank, which expects to maintain its cautious tone at least until a parliamentary inquiry is concluded in 2022, the Bank of England would be right to leave the big decisions to politics.
But the Riksbank's main message to Rishi Sunak is more likely to be, there is still an awful lot to learn.
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