Any day now, if Moore’s Law continues its course and the UK’s role as fintech innovation Ground Zero is confirmed, I’ll be paying in a cheque by mobile phone. I can’t explain why.
Last year, the UK’s Minister of Finance (for historical and traditional reasons known here as Baronet Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer) gave a speech on payments in the UK. Banking Technology (in a piece “State Banking”, April 2013) rather unkindly reported that some of what he said was “at odds with reality”, perhaps not taking into account that Chancellor is a political role, and is not given to an expert on payments or finance. Anyway, in that speech the Chancellor talked about plans to bring new and better services to Britain and gave the specific example of the cheque as one of these services. I tried at the time to explain to baffled onlookers just why the man in charge of the world’s fifth largest economy should be going on about cheques in 2013:
Even the most rudimentary analysis of the economics would reveal that cheques are a waste of time and money. I wonder if it is rooted in demographics? Newspapers such as ‘The Daily Mail’ and ‘Daily Telegraph’ focused on the plight of the elderly who would be unable to pay their cleaners or their gardeners without cheques[From The Future of Cheques in the UK – bobsguide.com]
The Chancellor’s vision for the future of the British payment system began to bear fruit not quite a year later when the UK government began consultations on new legislation to permit the use of smartphones for remote cheque deposits, allowing UK banks to process cheque images for the first time. My own bank planned to take advantage of such.
Barclays Bank says it will begin pilot trials of remote cheque deposit technology ‘early in the New year’.[From Finextra: Barclays to pilot mobile cheque deposits as UK Government proposes rule change]
I’ve been a customer of Barclays since 1977 and I have quite a few different accounts with them. Current account, savings, ISA, credit cards, the usual sort of mix. So I was naturally very excited to read about the development, even though I couldn’t really imagine that anyone would be sending me a cheque for any reason. After all, the UK has one of the most advanced payment infrastructures in the world. We have the Faster Payment Service (FPS), which means that you can transfer money from any bank account to any other bank account instantly and I use that and PingIt, which is Barclays mobile front-end to FPS, all the time. It works really well and I really like it.
Fast forward a year and naturally when Barclays had to close one of my accounts and remit the balance to another of my accounts they… printed out a check and mailed it to me. Seriously. In 2014. You don’t believe me? Here it is.
Still, not to worry. I’m sure I’ll remember to put the cheque in my bag tomorrow and some time laster in the week I’ll probably walk past a Barclays branch and remember and then I’m certain to go in and pay it in. But wait. I noticed this excellent news.
Ahead of Christmas, Barclays is giving [Premier Account] one million customers the ability to pay in cheques remotely by taking photographs with their phones.[From Finextra: Barclays extends cheque imaging pilot to one million customers]
As a Barclays Premier Account customer of long standing, I rushed to my Barclays mobile app to give it a try. But search as I might, I couldn’t figure out how to do it. So if anyone out there knows how to scan a cheque using the Barclays mobile app, could you drop me a line thanks. Meanwhile, it will soon be two years since the Chancellor made his bold and visionary speech about speeding up cheque clearing (presumably not because it is easy but because it is hard) and I’m now only days (I hope) away from seeing his vision turn into reality in my very own kitchen. Although, to be honest, I’d rather Barclays had just transferred the money electronically.
The British government (inexplicably) want “cheques to have a crucial role in the ongoing success of the UK”. I don’t understand why and I strongly suspect they don’t either.[From Cheques and checks are both going nowhere]
Well, when I said that it was a flippant and tangential comment, so I thought I’d better investigate further. I decided to open up the latest Payments Council “detailed commentary on cheque use” (October 2014) and study the topic in considerably more detail.
Unfortunately, I was unable to give the document the attention it merits due to pressure or work, but I will get back to it soon and will, of course, report in full.