Cheques checking out

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Those of us who have been merrily swiping and clicking for years will not be perturbed cheques are expected to have checked out in New Zealand by the middle of this year.

Some businesses, stung too many times by the old line "the cheque’s in the mail", are unlikely to shed a tear.

News photographers will be hoping the cheques’ demise will herald the end of invitations to the novelty cheque presentation favoured by fundraisers for many a good cause. (It is not that they do not value the effort; it is just difficult to get a compelling photo from such predictable occasions.)

Those who find spelling the word cheque difficult and wonder why we could not have used the American check will struggle no more.

For those who have spent decades using cheques in their everyday life, however, and who may not have easy alternatives, the phasing out of cheques is a real concern.

The unreliability of internet access in some rural areas has been raised by Rural Women New Zealand which would like to see cheques kept until every rural household has access to reliable internet and consistent cellphone coverage. (The Government’s rural broadband scheme is expected to be completed in 2023, reaching 99.8% of the population.)

The women have written to the banks’ chief executives to that end.

It would seem unlikely the banks will change direction, given that they say only about 1% of customers use cheques and the decrease in volume and value of the cheques means the cost of processing them is too high and, presumably, would need to be subsidised by other customers.

A Rural Women NZ board member from Loburn, in North Canterbury, told of being penalised for making a late GST return after her shaky but expensive internet connection let her down. She got the money refunded but described the experience as a "pain".

There will be other customers without smartphones or other internet access who do not wish to pay for such technology. They may be able to set up direct debits for regular payments, but one-off or occasional large bills may be more difficult for them to sort out, particularly if they have limited access to transport and are a long way from a physical bank.

Does anyone want them to resort to withdrawing large amounts of cash when they eventually get to a bank and then storing it under the mattress for future use? Is there a risk some people will be at risk from unscrupulous family members or friends "helping" them?

Questions remain about whether the banks are doing enough to engage their cheque customers, rural or otherwise, to make sure they are OK with the phase-out.

There will be trialling of banking hubs, providing basic services for the six major banks. Twizel and Nelson are the only two in the South Island, and it remains to be seen whether that model will be extended into a wider regional banking service.

In the meantime, since there are so few active cheque users, a personalised approach to them from the banks to make sure they have acceptable alternatives to cheques does not seem far-fetched.

Our major banks have not had a good record of communicating change well. Perhaps it is time to remedy that. Cheque users might be a tiny minority, but they are still customers.


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