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In Germany, there apparently exists such a thing as a Sparbuch (literally: Savings book, apparently comparable to a passbook in the USA), mentioned in this answer. According to a recent news article, 50% of Germans use a Sparbuch, a record high number. It is described (In German) at this Sparkasse website:

Das Sparbuch, bei der Sparkasse – auch Sparkassenbuch genannt – ist eine Sparurkunde. In ihr werden alle Ein- und Auszahlungen sowie Zinserträge einer Sparerin oder eines Sparers vermerkt. Ganz klassisch ist es ist Papierform angelegt und sieht aus wie ein kleines Heft mit mehreren Seiten.

Summary translation:

The Sparbuch is a savings certificate. In it are marked all transactions paid in or out as well as interest earnings. Classically it is on paper and looks like a small leaflet with multiple pages.

Further down on the page, a statement on what to do if this Sparbuch is lost:

Theoretisch kann sich jeder, der im Besitz des Sparbuchs ist, das Guthaben auszahlen lassen. Für eine Auszahlung muss keine Legimitationsprüfung erfolgen. Das heißt, dass nicht überprüft werden muss, ob der Besitzer des Sparbuchs auch wirklich derjenige ist, der das Sparbuch vorlegt.

Meaning:

In theory everybody, who is in possession of the Sparbuch, can get the balance paid. A balance payment does not need any identification. That means, that there is no verificiation, whether the owner of the Sparbuch is the same person as the one presenting it.

That sounds like total madness compared to a regular account, almost as bad as putting cash in a mattress. How does this Sparbuch work compared to a normal savings account? What is the advantage? I must be missing something, because if it's used by 50% of Germans despite the risk of losing the entire balance in a burglary, there must be some advantage?

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    Sparbuch is likely older, than what you call a normal savings account. Oct 29 '21 at 11:04
  • @BernhardDöbler Maybe? But not only do people still use it, but it's also at a record high? Haven't bank accounts been around for a very very long time?
    – gerrit
    Oct 29 '21 at 11:06
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    Note that the source is a survey by bank. According to the same survey, 30% of people in Germany store there savings in cash at home. The article doesn't give any details about the survey but it doesn't look very reliable to me. Maybe they just asked their own customers who physically walked into a branch or did something like that that gives a highly skewed answer.
    – quarague
    Oct 29 '21 at 18:22
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    Sparbuch are old. Their origins date back a few hundreds of years, where the Urkunde was indeed quite important. They long pre-date electronic systems (the first Sparbuch are almost 200 years old, and the concept is even older). Their legal framework is based on the Urkunde.
    – Polygnome
    Oct 30 '21 at 11:10
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    @quarague Even if the numbers are biased, I can confirm that a very high percentage of Germans have a Sparbuch. Mainly because children get is as a gift to store their first savings. It's just a tradition without any real advantage.
    – Chris
    Oct 30 '21 at 11:29
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This is probably mainly for historical reasons. When I was young (born '87 ;) ) and we still had positive interest rates, this was really common. Every child had one and on world savings day one would go to the bank, empty your piggy bank and get last year's interest added as well. A bank employee would enter the new number, put a bank's stamp on it and sign it as well. And that is basically how a Sparbuch works, employees manually change the numbers on a sheet of paper.
It was also common that grand parents would open a Sparbuch account when their grand children were born, deposit some money and gift this to the child at some point. Note that in this case the missing legitation on payout is actually an advantage.

Mind that these originate from a time when everything was done on paper. People would transfer money by filling out a paper form, signing it and throwing it into the post box of the bank. It is hardly likely that these signatures would be checked thoroughly for thousands of customers. Compared to todays standards of PINs and TANs this looks pretty unsecure as well.

So why are those at a record high? In the recent years we had zero interest for savings accounts all over Europe and the thresholds for negative interest have been lowered to a level where middle class people are affected. The Sparbuch was supposed to be a construction where negative interest is not possible for legal reasons and a colleague used (an existing) one to park money from an inheritance until investing it. However, some banks have lately been trying to charge negative interest on it as well.

Other than that there is really no good reason to use a Sparbuch over a standard savings account as of today.

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  • When I was young (born '85) in The Netherlands, I had a kids bank account, since I was 4... interacting with the bank was done on paper, but I'm pretty sure the bank already had a computer where my balance was listed in some form of database. But interesting point about negative interest on regular accounts but perhaps not on Sparbuch.
    – gerrit
    Oct 29 '21 at 19:30
  • Sparbuch is also used by landlords to save the tenant's deposit which they will get back, when they move out. Oct 29 '21 at 19:56
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    My dad opened a "sparbuch" each for me and my sister when we were young and made regular deposits into it. This was in Sweden in the late 80s and the Swedish term was "bankbok". He gave it to me when I turned 18 in the early 2000s and I closed it and transferred the money to my normal bank account. I don't think Swedish banks issue new "bankbok"s anymore.
    – jkej
    Oct 30 '21 at 9:08
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Yes, all the paperwork of a Sparbuch certainly belongs to a different era.
However, I'd also like to add the period of notice to the discussion.

When talking about saving accounts today, we either talk about fixed-term deposits or day-to-day money. A Sparbuch is designed differently: It has no fixed term and you can always deposit money there. If you want to draw cash out, you can draw 2000 € per month. For higher amounts a 3 months notice applies.

Since a Sparbuch is less flexible than day-to-day money, you should expect higher interest rates. However, in practice their interest rates are also low: Maybe because a Sparbuch is typically offered by branch banks - whereas online banks (with better conditions) typically offer day-to-day money and no Sparbuch.

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