David Prosser: Blame shops for demise of the cheque

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The Independent Online

Outlook For those people angered by the decision of the Payments Council to move towards the abolition of cheques in 2018, it will no doubt be tempting to lay the blame at the door of the bad old banks – not least because the body's board is stuffed full of the finance industry's representatives.

Still, while the banks do have something to gain from getting rid of cheques – the cost of processing them – the prime mover in this affair has actually been the retail industry. The dramatic drop in cheque usage we have seen in recent years is partly a result of the widespread acceptance of electronic payment technology, but also reflects the fact that increasing numbers of retailers, including all our major supermarkets, no longer allow customers to settle up by cheque.

The reason is simple enough. Cheques are expensive to process for retailers too – both in terms of bank charges and the fact they often slow down shop assistants working on the tills – so they would prefer customers to use cash or cards instead. In many cases, the retail trade now insists on customers paying that way.

It is not a risk-free move. While the perception is widely held that banks do not always value their customers as highly as they might, retailers, certainly in the case of the supermarkets, have generally enjoyed a better reputation. It may be true that a only a minority of customers want to use cheques, but why antagonise them for a relatively small saving?

No wonder that retailers tend to talk loudly about the dangers of fraud, rather than their desire to save money, when bad-mouthing cheques. And no doubt they will be happy to let the banks take the blame for yesterday's decision.