21 March 2018
Lu Zurawski


Lu Zurawski - ACI Worldwide

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Was the EBU responsible for the war on cash in Sweden?

13 May 2016  |  2993 views  |  0

I came across an interesting article about Björn Ulvaeus in this month’s Wired magazine. I hadn’t realized how much of an anti-cash crusader the former Abba star had become. 

Perhaps the early signs were there - Abba rose to fame with “Waterloo” - possibly a reference to MasterCard, whose European HQ is at Waterloo near Brussels. Bjorn wrote “Money, money, money” and "Knowing You, Knowing Me”, giving further hints about his interest in online spending and ID authentication protocols. I also suspect that the lesser known song “Ring, Ring” is a nod towards phone banking and mobile payments. 

It looks like Sweden is the new battlefront for electronic payments. Card usage has always been relatively high, but the rise of Swish, a mobile-initiated account to account transfer service has taken off, used not just for Person-to-Person, but also by small businesses too. Bjorn and his fellow campaigners ought to be happy. But they will have been disappointed about recent Swedish central bank announcements regarding its commitment to cash. 

Unfortunately things are about to get very serious for the Swedes. On the 14th May, they host the mother of all chaotic competitions, organised by the EBU.

Although easily confused with payment regulatory bodies, the EBU is the European Broadcasting Union. And it’s time for over 200 million Europeans to watch Europe go to war over music – it’s the Eurovision Song Competition again. The very same completion that was won by Abba in 1974.

I say Europeans. But the boundaries of EBU are somewhat elastic. The event is popular in Australia for example – they even have a competitive entry. And for the first time ever, this event is being broadcast in the US this year - the Americans may even watch it as they have dispatched Justin Timberlake as a guest performer. If any of you have American colleagues (as I do with corporate HQ in Florida), I’d challenge you to explain Eurovision to them. Let me know how it goes. It may be a slow burner, but once it catches on, Eurovision could be big in America.

I have explained to my American friends that the song competition is a microcosm of the whole EU project – it’s a quasi-political environment that used to be run by France and Germany, until they got tired of organizing it all. The UK came along and had a few victories, before everyone got fed up about Iraq and started to give them “null points”, in particular all the new eastern European countries who just block vote for each other (as do the Nordic/Baltics). The French carry on trying to be sophisticated. The Irish know how to sing and have won it more than any other country, but 5 years of hosting Eurovision nearly bankrupted Ireland so now they take care now by sending obscure bands. They also launched Riverdance at one of these events so they shouldn’t complain too much about the balance of payments. The Germans are smart so they send outrageous acts, but sending a drag queen with a beard called Miss Sausage manage to win it for Austria a few years ago, so it’s very difficult to predict what the heck is going on.

As well as being a reflection of Europe as a region, this event could also be a mirror of PSD2 – players in 28 or so countries being forced to perform new routines, being judged by an opaque set of rules, and being left unclear about whether to stick with traditional tunes, or twist with more avant-garde offerings. Not sure of whether it’s a good thing to “win” or not.

Love it or hate it, its difficult to ignore. And, a bit like EBU's Eurovision, the song does not remain the same - occasionally big breakthroughs come and make lasting changes. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but without the EBU, there would be no Abba, no Money, Money, Money and no war on cash in Sweden.



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job title Practice Lead, Consumer Payments, EMEA
location London
member since 2014
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ACI. Bipolar payments expert: Curious/optimist & Realist/skeptic. Still playing with Mondex wallet.

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