Technology has enabled incredible progress. For many of us it’s hard to imagine not being able to communicate, look up information and even manage our bank account from anywhere at any time. Welcome to the digital bubble. Not everyone has access to, or the skills to take advantage of the wonders of all this technology. The digital divide has been on the agenda for a number of years, but recent global events have reignited the conversation.
Today, technology is vital to participate
Technology is integral to our modern way of life. We — and because you’re reading this I assume that you’re in the digital bubble with me — rely on it for shopping, managing our finances and even booking a COVID-19 vaccine. During the global lockdowns the importance of technology became even more evident as people relied on it to educate their children from home, to continue working and keep in touch with loved ones.
In the Nordics, the overwhelming majority of us are connected — fewer than 6% of households in any of the region’s countries don’t have internet access, while impressive, that still amounts to around 1.6 million people. Typically, those without access to the internet are the most vulnerable in society: the elderly and those on lower incomes. It’s these people that we think of when we refer to the digital divide.
Today, more than one in six (16%) Nordic residents do not have access to the technology they need. As the world embraces digitalisation it’s important we don’t leave the vulnerable behind.
But it isn’t just about lack of access to technology, lack of skills can also exclude people from the digital bubble. People that are unable, or reluctant, to use the latest tools are at risk of missing out on an array of possibilities. They are unlikely to be able to get the best deals on products, including financial services, could miss out on educational opportunities and even be disenfranchised in the future.
Understanding the digital divide
The digital bubble is pervasive, but doesn’t currently include everyone. The move to the cashless society is a prime example of this exclusion. For example, just 1% of Sweden’s GDP is circulated as cash. But for many, a move away from physical cash increases their risk of debt, financial abuse or threats to their personal independence.
Digital payments are more convenient for some, but more confusing for others. The elderly in particular can struggle — many have trouble remembering their PINs and other security information and as a result are more susceptible to theft and scams. But with the right support they can embrace new forms of payment.
Gunilla Garpås Westén, Head of Swish mobile payments at Nordea, says: “We’ve seen a spike in the number of over 65s using Swish as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While under lockdown conditions, the elderly became more reliant on younger generations to run errands and buy their groceries for them. They then paid for these services using Swish. Once they’d been shown how to use Swish, the older generation discovered how simple it can be and they’re now more willing to recommend it to others.”
While under lockdown conditions, the elderly became more reliant on younger generations to run errands and buy their groceries for them. They then paid for these services using Swish. Once they’d been shown how to use Swish, the older generation discovered how simple it can be and they’re now more willing to recommend it to others.
Gunilla Garpås Westén, Head of Swish mobile payments at Nordea
How do we build a digital future for everyone?
Many businesses, including banks, are making a push to digitalisation, spurred on by increasing customer demands. But as they start closing more and more of their branches, they need to ensure that they’re continuing to serve all of their customers, not just those that are already comfortable using this new technology.
For many of the most vulnerable in society, new technology is scary because they don’t understand how to use it. As we rely more on digital solutions — like mobile payments and virtual customer service — it’s important that we all take the time to provide training and support to help everyone understand, and feel confident, using this new technology.
Nordea is actively involved in helping to bridge the digital divide and provide people with equal opportunities. This is done through the bank’s Hello Nordics programme and by encouraging employees to take an active role in their own communities.
“All Nordea employees are encouraged to volunteer to support financial skills education,” says Gunilla. “We visit schools and teach students how to manage their finances. And we also visit pensioners to teach them about digital solutions like mobile banking, Swish and Mobile BankID.”
COVID-19 forced a lot of people to embrace technology, some for the first time, others in new ways. But if we truly want to see the digital divide close, we need to be supporting these people further. Helping to develop digital skills will set people up for the future, rather than just surviving right now. The companies that help do that will be best placed to survive in tomorrow’s competitive markets.
 YouGov, Elkjøp Nordic’s annual Tech Trouble survey, 2020
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