Swiss Federal Council adopts report on acceptance of cash in Switzerland

Bern, 09.12.2022

During its meeting on  December 9, 2022, the Federal Council adopted the report “The acceptance of cash in Switzerland”, which was prepared in response to postulate 18.4399 from National Councillor Prisca Birrer-Heimo. Cash performs important functions for the economy and society, and the Federal Council therefore considers it necessary to monitor developments in the cash domain closely. However, it rejected the postulate’s suggestion of making the acceptance of cash mandatory. This would be a significant encroachment on the freedom of contract and the fundamental right of economic freedom.

On 17 December 2020, the National Council accepted the Birrer-Heimo postulate entitled “Ensuring the continuing broad acceptance of cash in the future” and instructed the Federal Council to draw up a report showing how the broad acceptance of cash can be ensured in the future.

Growing attractiveness of digital payment methods is weakening the role of cash

Compared to other countries, cash is highly regarded in Switzerland, but its importance is gradually waning compared to cashless payment methods, as shown by a number of surveys and studies. This is primarily due to the growing attractiveness of cashless payment methods in terms of user-friendliness and speed (e.g. contactless payment cards). The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift in the use of payment methods.

Cash performs important functions

Cash not only has individual advantages, it also performs important functions for the economy and society which cashless payment methods have so far not been able to completely replace. It provides the general public with access to central bank money, strengthens resilience to electronic payment system outages, protects privacy, and enables the unbanked and those without access to cashless payment methods to participate in the economy (financial inclusion). The widespread disappearance of cash should therefore be avoided, especially while no equivalent cashless alternatives are available.

Obligation to accept cash neither appropriate nor necessary

In the Federal Council’s view, private households and businesses should generally remain free to choose their payment methods. Therefore, one payment method should not be favoured over another. The federal government and the Swiss National Bank (SNB) have always maintained a neutral position with regard to the choice of payment methods. Against this background, the Federal Council considers the postulate’s proposal to transform the current cash acceptance obligation from dispositive law (where it is possible to contractually exclude cash payments) into mandatory law to be neither appropriate nor necessary at present. Making cash acceptance mandatory would be a significant encroachment on the freedom of contract and the fundamental right of economic freedom, would result in higher costs for some economic actors and could lead to competitive distortions. Such a move is also unnecessary at the moment, because cash remains widely used in Switzerland, the population is generally satisfied with the access to cash and the acceptance of cash is limited in only a few isolated cases. Moreover, online purchases would have to be exempted, as an obligation to accept cash would scarcely be feasible.

Important to monitor developments in the use of cash closely

Nonetheless, given the important economic and societal functions performed by cash, the Federal Council considers that further developments in the cash domain should be monitored closely, in order to identify any need for action in a timely manner and take appropriate and less drastic measures than a mandatory acceptance obligation. For this reason, the Federal Council instructed the FDF to keep it regularly informed of developments in access to cash, acceptance of cash and the use of cash, and of innovations in alternative payment methods, and provide it with options for taking action where necessary. It also instructed the FDF to set up a roundtable comprising all those involved in cash payments (SNB, federal government, banks, retail trade, service providers, consumer associations, etc.).