Trailing Indicator: the death of the personal cheque?

Do we even need personal cheques anymore?

 
Photograph: Shutterstock; iStock
Photograph: Shutterstock; iStock

Beginning last month, customers at Westminster Savings Credit Union in B.C. became the first Canadians to be offered the option of depositing a paper cheque with their smartphone. Snap a photo of the cheque, upload it to the app and, voila, no more waiting in line at the ATM. It’s simple, but it also raises the question: with the proliferation of debit cards, credit cards and e-mail money transfers, do we even need personal cheques anymore? Canadians have been writing fewer and fewer of them almost every year since 1990. And as a means of making small purchases—at grocery stores, gas stations or anywhere else you can think of—they’ve all but disappeared. Still, after crunching some numbers, we discovered that they aren’t disappearing just yet.

AD 1200

Year the first “bill of exchange” (a predecessor to the cheque) is issued by a European bank

1.8 billion

Number of cheques cashed in Canada in 1990, the historical peak

856 million

Number of cheques cashed in Canada in 2011, the most recent year surveyed

$17.3 trillion

Total value of the cheques written by Canadians in 1990

$2.9 trillion

Total value of the cheques written by Canadians in 2011, down more than 80% from 1990

4%

Share of Canadian transactions paid for by cheque in 2011, by volume

40%

Share of Canadian payments paid for by cheque in 2011, by value

One

Number of personal cheques the average Canadian writes for retail purchases each month

$3,300

Average value of a Canadian cheque written in 2011

$44.93

Average value of a debit transaction in 2011

$17.58

Average value of a cash transaction in 2011

2016

The last year the federal government plans to issue paper cheques

82¢

The cost to the government to issue a single paper cheque

13¢

The cost to the government to directly deposit a payment

$17.4 million

Amount the federal government aims to save annually by adopting electronic payments

US$82 million

Value of bad cheques Saquib (the deli king of Staten Island) Khan allegedly wrote to himself during a record 2012 cheque-fraud spree

US$7.2 million

How much the U.S. paid Russia—by cheque—to complete the purchase of Alaska in 1868

Six months

How long it took for that cheque on your fridge to become technically invalid (or stale-dated) according to rules set by the Canadian Payments Association

Source: Canadian Payments Association. Cheque totals include paper payments such as traveller’s cheques and gift certificates

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