More than 750 million cheques are still written every year in the UK but usage has been falling at an annual rate of about 12 per cent since 2008 and, as a form of payment, cheques are overshadowed by cash payments (20 billion), debit card payments (8.4 billion) and credit cards (2.5 billion). But when the banks announced plans to eliminate cheques as a form of payment by 2017, public disquiet forced the Treasury Select Committee to intervene.
Cheques will remain as a form of payment, but both the banks and customers were keen to find ways to make them more effi cient. Under current legislation, banks have the right to demand to see physical copies of each cheque before they will approve payment. This is costly and time consuming because cheques have to be transported around the country from branch to branch or to centralised clearing centres.
The US introduced electronic cheque clearing in the wake of 9/11, which saw planes grounded and payment delays. NCR helped develop Check 21, electronic cheque imaging technology, which allows customers to present digital images of their cheques at branches. The US legalised the printed image of a cheque to be the equivalent of a physical version in 2004.
When the Treasury Select Committee halted the banks’ plans to abandon cheques, NCR saw an opportunity to introduce similar technology into the UK. But it had to present such an initiative as a win-win for the government, consumers and banks and also overcome general indifference to such technology.
There are three main groups that use cheques: older people, small businesses and charities. NCR worked with agency MWWPR to identify how each group would react to cheque imaging and how they would ultimately use it, finessing key messages to resonate with each. In gaining the support of each group, by demonstrating how the technology would help save the cheque and make their lives easier and safer, NCR hoped to mobilise powerful supporters.
A series of one-to-one briefings and large presentations were held with these three main groups, MPs and the Treasury Select Committee. Their concerns were addressed and acted upon. NCR also highlighted the example of the Canadian marketplace, which has a similar payment structure to the UK and recently adopted the technology.
An executive from a Canadian bank attended meetings with UK stakeholders to share his experience and answer questions. The biggest concern raised related to timing the technology’s introduction. If it was too quickly, then the banking industry may not be able to develop the appropriate support systems while too slowly would diminish its benefits.
The revelation that ‘off the shelf’ technology was available mitigated these fears.
The government responded. In June 2014, the Small Business Act passed through Parliament which included a provision to allow electronic cheque processing from 31 July 2016.
The judges felt this was a clearly constructed campaign that interacted with all key stakeholders and achieved its goal.