In praise of … cheques | Editorial

Banks have stopped the cheque card, but it is not time yet to sign and date the warrant killing off the cheque

Today, in one of those small moments of change that delete once routine parts of national life, the cheque guarantee card dies. 1969 – 2011: 40 years of insignificant assistance, more a fiddle and a cause of delay in shop queues than anything better. But where the card has gone, the cheque itself will soon be heading – and this loss should concern us. Banks have declared cheques to be in terminal decline and want to shred them completely by October 2018. They are expensive to process, prone to fraud, used disproportionately by the old and the poor and do not – unlike credit cards – allow banks to take a cut of the transaction. A snappier world of instant digital transactions and pin numbers awaits. But with this arrival, as the Treasury select committee chair Andrew Tyrie has pointed out, will go an easy way for charities and small businesses to take payments. Not every village shop can afford a card machine, and not every bank account holder can remember their pin code. A bit like digital radio, this is a modernisation for which there is questionable demand. The Treasury committee (with characteristic vigour) is now pursuing banks: demanding a cost benefit analysis and collating protests from charities and the public. No one doubts cheques are in decline: but they are still useful and much used (1.4bn were written in 2010). Queuing at a cashpoint is not an alternative. Banks have stopped the cheque card, but it is not time yet to sign and date the warrant killing off the cheque.

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