With widespread access to high-speed internet access and a well-educated, mostly tech-literate population, Sweden is one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world. It already has some of the most sophisticated digital ecosystem. This is clear when looking at its payments infrastructure, where Sweden may move to become the first cashless society as barely 1% of the value of all payments were made using coins or notes in 2018. In this context, the government has taken an open approach to blockchain technology and has been testing its use in many different aspects of society.
There is no cryptocurrency-specific regulation in Sweden. However, the Finansinspektionen, Sweden’s Financial Supervisory Authority, is of the opinion that bitcoins are subject to its authority, as trade in bitcoins (i.e., offering a site where bitcoins can be bought and sold similar to an exchange) is a financial service and thus subject to mandatory reporting requirements. Furthermore, the Riksbank, Swedish Central Bank, has ruled that “bitcoins are not money.” The announcement explained that cryptocurrencies are not seen by Sweden as equivalent to traditional currencies, referencing a new financial report on cryptocurrencies written by the Central Bank of Sweden staff (March 2018).
In order to ensure continuous harmony between the latest technological developments in the financial sector and regulatory requirements, the Finansinspektionen launched the Innovation Centre (March 2018). This is the first point of contact for businesses that are uncertain about the rules and principles that govern innovations. The centre also acts as a catalyst for testing new business ideas and how these may fit in the regulatory framework. While the Finansinspektionen has no explicit goal in promoting innovations such as blockchain technology, it is based on the principle that regulation and supervision should not constitute an obstacle to developments in the financial sector, provided that consumers and investors alike are protected.
Interestingly, while not regarding cryptocurrencies as a viable means of exchange, Riksbank is considering launching an e-currency (e-Krona). The aim is for this central bank digital currency to offset the decline in cash usage in Sweden. An e-currency would ensure that the general public can still access state-guaranteed means of payment. While Riksbank has already developed the underlying infrastructure for the e-krona, based on blockchain technology, it is not a cryptocurrency. The next steps in the e-Krona project is for Riksbank to:
• Begin to design a technical solution for an e-krona in order to test which solutions are practicable and possible to realise;
• Draw up proposals for legislative amendments needed to clarify the Riksbank’s mandate and an e-krona’s legal standing; and
• Continue investigating the financial aspects of an e-krona.
Domestic application of blockchain
The Swedish Land Registry Authority, Lantmäteriet, is working on a project exploring the possibilities of blockchain as a technological solution for real estate transactions. Lantmäteriet has already registered, on a small scale, land and property on the Swedish blockchain start-up ChromaWay’s private blockchain network. Besides ChomaWay, other partners to the project include telecom company Telia Co. AB and consulting firm Kairos Future. Currently, the time from signing a contract to registering a sale in a real estate transaction can take months. The hope is that blockchain technology could reduce this to a few hours.
The project is split into three phases. Phase 1 developed a theoretical understanding of what blockchain technology is and how it works, and why it would be relevant in the context of the Land Registry Authority. Phase 2 aimed to develop the technology to best respond to the needs and demands from title owners and the Government. Both these phases were successfully completed. The last phase to come is one of experimentation, with the goal of developing a working and efficient Proof of Concept.
While recent testing of the project shows promise, hurdles still remain to blockchain being applied on a large scale across Sweden. Namely, such a transition would involve changes to the Swedish regulatory landscape as digital signatures (necessary for such blockchain transactions) for registering or purchasing properties are currently illegal. This means that though blockchain as a system may work, it would not have a legal value as transactions and contracts signed on a blockchain may not be legally binding. It also remains fairly unclear how the governance framework would work around the Blockchain, with questions of prerogatives and the role of the State in the development of the technology.