MONTREAL— The Canadian Press
Cheques may seem old-fashioned in a world besotted with electronic transactions, but is it time yet to write them off entirely?
Cheques are comparatively costly, take longer to process and are a good deal more bothersome than swiping a piece of plastic. Nevertheless, the paper payment system still has its uses, according to financial experts.
“I think the cheque’s future is downward, but it’s still going to be with us for a while,” said Christie Christelis, president of Technology Strategies International in Oakville, Ont.
Over the last 15 years, the debit card has displaced the cheque almost completely in the retail sector, said Mr. Christelis, whose firm tracks the Canadian payments industry.
“I don’t know many stores that accept cheques these days. If you think about the consumer experience of writing a cheque, it’s time consuming,” he said.
The value of payments with personal cheques used by Canadian consumers is excepted to decline to $113-billion by 2014, down from $144-billion in 2009, said Mr. Christelis.
While it can be cheaper to use online or telebanking to pay bills, schools, summer camps and small businesses all still use cheques.
“It’s a very useful tool,” said small business owner Igor Romanov, who runs appliance repair business ARS International Inc. in Montreal.
“It’s less expensive for the customer and less problems for me,” he said. “I do trust my customers,” he added, noting he has had very few bad cheques.
Without cheques, Mr. Romanov said he’d have to pass on the price of a wireless payment device and the cost of credit card transactions to customers in terms of his prices.
ING Direct Canada CEO Peter Aceto said he would prefer transactions to be “electronic,” but he doesn’t think cheques are going to leave the financial landscape entirely.
“Even though, I think, there’s no doubt there’s a trend that Canadians are using cheques less and less,” Mr. Aceto said from Toronto.
Mr. Aceto said he had hoped to eliminate accounts with cheques. But when ING customers were asked if they could do without cheques, the answer was no, because they needed to “write a couple from time to time,” he said.
“I think our customers feel very comfortable with that direction, it’s just that they can’t be 100 per cent cheque-less yet.”
Mr. Aceto said ING provides its customers with 50 free cheques and free e-mail money transfers, an alternative to cheque writing for consumers sending or paying money to other consumers.
At the Bank of Montreal, cheques are included as part of monthly transactions with a BMO banking plan. If a consumer doesn’t have a plan, the fee is 75 cents per cheque.
Consumers need to know how many cheques they write monthly or yearly and if it’s worth the cost of ordering personal cheques, which can cost at least $35 for 50 cheques and about $40 for 100 if ordered from a cheque-making company.
The United Kingdom plans to phase out cheques by 2018 due to declining use.
Mr. Aceto also said that Canadian commerce would benefit from fewer paper transactions.
“I think at the end of the day, paper has with it issues of security and cost and just inefficiency in general.”
But NEBS Canada, which supplies cheques to small businesses, has found the use of cheques has remained relatively stable in recent years.
“Mostly, it’s for the paper trail,” said Wes Carrington, associate product marketing manager at NEBS in Midland, Ont.
“When you’re doing your accounts payable or payroll, it’s always nice to have that receipt to show that you’ve made the payment,” Mr. Carrington said, noting NEBS continues to improve security features to prevent cheque fraud.
For Marie, a mother of two children, cheques are part of the school routine. She said she regularly writes cheques for school trips, lunches and after-hours care.
“I write about four to six cheques a month to my children’s school, for their summer camps and even for a few bills,” she said. “Cheque writing for me is costly but it’s kind of a necessity.”