A committee of MPs has poured scorn on the UK Payment Council’s plans to phase out cheques. They’re also suggesting the re-introduction of the Cheque Guarantee card. Cheques are in decline, still one billion used a year, but 70% down on peak of their usage. I’ve not written a cheque in around four years. I receive two cheques a year for my birthday and christmas from my gran.
There’s clearly a demographic bias, but most people I know would rather transfer money directly, as it avoids a trip to the bank. Faster payments makes this even better (As I will learn when my bank finally gets around to letting me use the damn things).
I’d argue that in the removal of the cheque-guarantee card actually helps clarify risk: many times I’ve seen online “get them to write their card number on the back so they can’t bounce it”. That’s totally misleading, the guarantee is only valid when the card details were verified in person. On the BBC, a spokesman for the payment council set-out that less than 15% of cheques were guaranteed – so I don’t really think this is a major issue.
The payment council had previously stated that “a new paper based system was being explored”. This has drawn scorn of the form “You mean like a cheque then?”. Well no, because technology has moved on. Can’t we design a cheaper, sustainable system using something newer that meets those important use-cases of the elderly or other vulnerable groups?
Cheques have a centralised clearing centre, do we still need that? Why are we still posting cheques about the place? Why not have a QR-Code (sorry for the cliched inclusion) meaning that a cheque can be scanned and automatically routed to issuing bank for approval? (EDIT: you could of course use the existing magnetic ink characters for this)
I think that some kind of “send money to a phone number” tie up with faster-payments will be a killer for many of the situations. The plumber needs paying, you text him the money, his phone beeps, you all move on. Apps like Square show that it’s possible for sole-traders in the US to accept cards (albeit they don’t have Chip+PIN).
The committee report feels change & risk averse, they’re saying a legacy system should continue until it, or those who use it, die.
Just because you need to do roughly the same thing, doesn’t mean that you should stick with decisions made many decades ago – the world moves on.
As my former colleague and not-former friend Chris Young would ask: “what’s the value you’re trying to deliver?”