Thursday, July 22, 2010

Money: Cheques dying a slow death

New Zealanders wrote one-third fewer cheques last year than they did six years earlier, as consumers opted for quicker payment methods.

Latest estimates from the New Zealand Bankers' Association (NZBA) show cheques now account for just six per cent of all New Zealand domestic payments (excluding cash), and the rate in which they are declining is between seven and nine per cent per year.

Preliminary figures due out shortly show just 134,065,977 cheques were processed in New Zealand during 2009, down from 206,018,930 during 2003.

New Zealand Bankers' Association chief executive Sarah Mehrtens said consumers were increasingly swapping the "cumbersome" cheque book for the convenience and ease of electronic transactions.

Not only was swiping a card a lot quicker, it was also a considerably safer form of paying, she said.

Preliminary figures show eftpos use almost doubled in the six years to 2009, while internet banking trebled during the same period and last year overtook cheques as a more popular payment method.

Mehrtens said anecdotal evidence suggested cheques were most commonly used by people over 60 years of age, and mainly for paying utility bills.

Other significant users were businesses for payments such as supplier invoices and dividend payouts, she said.

Internationally there was a move towards phasing out cheques, with the United Kingdom and Ireland set to remove them from their economies by 2018, the association said.

Mehrtens said it was too early to say if, or when a similar move might be adopted here.

"As an industry banks are continually reviewing the range of payment methods available, and cheque payments are part of that process."

NZBA members were closely monitoring these developments and were "looking for lessons that may be applied to New Zealand," Mehrtens said.

Oil giants BP and Shell both said they stopped accepting cheques several years ago, while Foodstuffs, which operates Pak 'n Save, New World and Four Square, said the vast majority of its stores still accept this form of payment.

Progressive Enterprises said cheques accounted for less than five per cent of all transactions in stores.

The company has no plans to phase them out, a spokesperson said.

BP New Zealand spokesperson Neil Green said the company stopped accepting cheques eight years ago as the rate of use declined, coupled with the introduction of ATMs in stores.

The decision to stop accepting cheques also reduced the risk of fraud, he said.

Foodstuffs general manager of retail Rob Chemaly said most stores accepted cheques when provided with satisfactory ID and a fee of 25c.

Shell petrol stations no longer accept cheques and haven't done so for six years.

"One of the things that our customers value the most is speed of transaction - they quite rightly don't want to be standing in a queue waiting for people to fill out cheques, write their details on the back, provide ID and fill out the stubs.

"Our customers want to get in, get what they want and get out quickly to get on with their day," spokesperson Jonathan Hill said.

Interesting cheques are the only payment method the Department of Building and Housing accepts for residential tenancy bond payments, but is set to move to an online system in the next year or so.

Spokesperson Jeff Montgomery said the move was purely customer driven.

"The feedback we have had from landlords is that the only reason they use their chequebook is for bond payments."

Montgomery said the DBH used to accept cash for bond payments, but this posed a significant security risk.

2009 preliminary figures

Eftpos: 1,191,761,110
ATM: 207,653,954
Credit card: (all NZ issue credit cards used globally): 242,352,783
Credit card: (all credit card transactions in NZ): 248,452,661
Internet banking: 143,074,467
Electronic credits: (includes automatic payments and direct credits): 366,059,140
Direct debits: 120,231,525
Cheques: 134,065,977

By Susie Nordqvist

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