The Check: Still Thriving After All These Years

Have you seen the headlines? "Check use plummeting" "Check may not be in the mail" "Check writing seen as thing of the past." You've read plenty of stories about the demise of the check since the Federal Reserve released findings of its study of the payments system in 2001, then revised it last year. The study revealed checks have declined from about 85 percent of non-cash payments in 1979 (the year of the last study) to about 60 percent today. Behind the headlines.

 

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Have you seen the headlines?

  • ''Check use plummeting''
  • ''Check may not be in the mail''
  • ''Check writing seen as thing of the past''

You've read plenty of stories about the demise of the check since the Federal Reserve released findings of its study of the payments system in 2001, then revised it last year. The study revealed checks have declined from about 85 percent of non-cash payments in 1979 (the year of the last study) to about 60 percent today.

Behind the headlines

Certainly, electronic payment forms - including e-payments, debit and credit cards, and online banking - have made a dramatic impact. But while a drop off in check use may capture headlines, a closer look at the Fed study reveals the check to be remarkably resilient:

  • Overall check use has increased 54 percent since 1979.
  • Of the 80 billion non-cash retail payments made each year, some 50 billion are by check.
  • Almost 90 percent of U.S. households have a checking account
  • Of the $55 trillion combination of checks and electronic payments, 86 percent is attributable to the check.
  • The money that's attributed to checks has nearly doubled - from $24 trillion in 1979 to nearly $48 trillion today.
  • A check is 65 percent more likely to be used than all electronic payments combined.
  • Consumers continue to favor checks for record keeping, budgeting, person-to-person payments, convenience and familiarity.

The ''high-tech check''

Nearly 80 percent of checks are now verified at the point-of-sale, providing convenience and security for consumers and business. The Internet is the check's fastest-growing ordering channel. Consumers can view styles, make personal choices, and order - at the same time.
Digital imaging and online banking programs already allow many consumers to view cancelled checks. The proposed Check Truncation Act (Check 21) would facilitate electronic check truncation and allow an image of a check to be the legal equal of the original check - making for a more efficient check processing system.

Signature verification systems and new account screening software are popular fraud prevention strategies. Look for a padlock icon on your check. The symbol means your check contains security features recommended by the Check Payment Systems Association (CPSA), the check industry's leading trade group. For example, the SAFECheck Supercheck, designed by former master forger Frank Abagnale, contains 12 security enhancements.

Staff training programs - such as the newly introduced Liberty-MyDAS fraud education module - are also effective in the fight against fraud.

A matter of choices

Your members may want the convenience of Internet banking and bill pay. But that doesn't mean they don't like the check. In fact, the checking account remains the key to building member relationships:

  • CUNA Research indicates most credit union members consider their primary financial institution (PFI) to be the location of their checking account, and members will buy more products and services and borrow more money from their PFI.
  • The checking account provides a solid source for low-cost funds.
  • Increasing your checking account base leverages the fixed costs of branches and your back-office operations. If you can double the number of checking accounts, you can cut your fixed costs per account in half.

Strong future

The Federal Reserve is ''redesigning its infrastructure for providing both paper and electronic check services.'' The Check Modernization initiative is a ''comprehensive strategy to standardize and reengineer our check infrastructure over the next several years.'' Why the investment?

''Twenty years ago, many predicted that paper checks would by now become obsolete. We now know that - despite all the technological advances - the power of consumer preferences has resulted in a very different outcome. Paper checks are likely to continue as a dominant form of consumer payments, which means we need to develop more efficient ways to clear checks than the traditional sorting and delivery of paper.'' (Source: the Federal Reserve's Financial Services Web site: www.frbservices.org).

Is the check going away? A closer look at another headline helps answer that question:

''Check Writing Seen Being Reduced in Foreseeable Future''

The headline appeared in the Wall Street Journal. The date: Feb. 10, 1966. The lesson: More than 37 years later, don't count out the check

 
 

Sept. 29, 2003


Comments

 
 
 
  • I wish check printing would coordinate better with this trend. We seem to still have the same ratio of checks to deposit tickets as we did 10 years ago. The check isn't gone but customers are using fewer. Meanwhile the number of deposit transactions are about the same.
    Anonymous
     
     
     
  • I gave this article a low rating not because it was "not interesting," but rather, because the author has a vested interest in presenting this point of view. The statistics have been presented in a believable way, but in reading this article, I can't help but believe that the author is not presented a balanced view, based upon who it is coming from. This is obviously not a neutral party. Therefore, I find this article to be self-serving and not credible.
    Anonymous
     
     
     
  • The same thing for branch office banking. Wasn't the physical (bricks and mortar) office going to disappear now that transactions can be done on the internet and atm machines? Bah, humbug.
    Anonymous