The move follows a decision by the Eurocheque umbrella organisation to wind itself up in 2002. This reflects the rapid decline in the acceptance of Eurocheques by banks and retailers throughout Europe over recent years as cross-border use of cash dispensers and credit cards has become more widespread.
Following Lloyds-TSB and NatWest, which have already informed customers of the move, HSBC wrote to customers last week telling them that Eurocheque cards will no longer be issued after December 2000. Barclays is expected to write to its remaining Eurocheque customers shortly informing them of the impending demise of the Eurocheque guarantee cards.
Eurocheques transformed the lives of frequent travellers when they were introduced in the early 1980s as a cheque guarantee system allowing card holders to withdraw cash from bank branches and pay bills directly from their bank accounts throughout Europe.
In some countries like Germany and Belgium where there was no universally recognised check clearing system, Eurocheques quickly took over as a medium for settling domestic transactions. However, attempts to develop Eurocheque cards as the basis for a credit card and ultimately electronic payments system never really took off. The two credit card networks Visa International and Mastercard have both developed their own international electronic payments systems and are accepted almost universally worldwide.
The majority of British banks are members of the Cirrus network which allows customers to use cash machines throughout Europe. Banks are also now aggressively promoting Maestro, an electronic payments system which enables customers to use their cash cards to pay for goods and services in retail outlets abroad in the same way as Switch is used in the UK.
Most debit cards issued in the UK now have the Maestro and Cirrus logos on them as a matter of course and can be used anywhere in Europe.