Credit: Ben Salter

Banks struggle to bring cheques into the digital age

Low-tech chequebooks remain an important way of paying for millions.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 18 Apr 2016

‘Nobody pays in cheques anymore’, I was told by an amused bank cashier when I went to deposit a recent birthday gift from my grandmother. As people get to grips with mobile banking apps it’s easy to see the humble cheque as a relic of a bygone era, but it remains an important payment method for millions. 

In February alone people paid in more than 29 million cheques, worth a combined £34bn. That pales in comparison to the amount spent on credit and debit card and in cash but it’s still more than a drop in the ocean. So it’s a shame to see that banks are still dragging their feet on bringing them into the digital age.

According to the Telegraph, plans to allow customers to pay in their cheques by taking a photograph with their phone have been put on the back-burner. Although it has been trialled by several banks including Barclays and Lloyds, it would seem the real challenge is in accepting cheques issue by a competitor. The plan had been to introduce the service industry-wide by July but now it could be pushed back as far as October 2017, the government-mandated deadline.

It would be easy to describe this as another example of the big banks’ failure to move as quickly as their hundreds of new digital ‘fintech’ competitors that have sprung up since the financial crisis. But to be fair, these start-ups don’t have the problem of dealing with legacy ‘technology’ like cheques. Atom Bank, a digital only provider of current accounts, has had to seek out a high street bank partner in order to take cash and cheque deposits.

The big banks have been shuttering branches like they’ve been going out of fashion as they try to keep costs low and adapt to an age where fewer people need to visit them. But until they have the problem with cheques ironed out (and allow people to make deposits at ATMs) we will have to continue facing the scorn of cashiers for some time.

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